“Float fairies” double the bubble for 2024 expo

Organizers prep for 38th annual beachcombing event set for the first weekend in March

People who plan to peruse coastal beaches for weird and interesting treasures in the coming weeks are twice as likely to find Japanese glass fishing floats buried in the brush than last year.

With a similar magic of the pixie who might place a pair of quarters under the pillow of a snoozing nine-year old in exchange for an uprooted molar, float fairies and float wranglers grace Grays Harbor beaches in February to hide hundreds of blue and green bubbles in the sand dunes.

This year they’ll be working overtime.

Starting Friday, Feb. 16, 800 round glass floats will be hidden on the North Beach. That’s twice as many as the fairies delivered last year.

The delivery is in anticipation for the first weekend in March, when the annual Beachcombers and Glass Float Expo at the Ocean Shores Convention Center will enter its 38th year.

Any glass floats found in the next few weeks can be brought to the convention center from Friday, March 1 through Sunday, March 3. There, beachcombers can register the glass orb and enter their name in a drawing to win a much larger float as a prize.

The massive scavenger hunt is only part of the storied event that celebrates the many aspects of beachgoing in the Pacific Northwest. The first weekend in March will feature vendors from California to Alaska with a beach bent, and people will have a chance to enter their coastal crafts into competition for dozens of judged categories.

Formerly billed the Beachcombers Fun Fair, this second year of the new event will have an emphasis on glass floats, said Alan Rammer, longtime beachcomber and marine educator who helped put together the original event in 1985.

“Everyone loves finding floats,” Rammer said. “Even though they’ve been planted by the wranglers and the fairies, it’s a real glass float. It’s a thrill.”

The translucent and hollow glass-blown spheres, which were used by fisherman to keep nets afloat, first captivated Rammer 54 years ago on a family vacation in Hawaii, when a hotel concierge told him and his brothers about the bubbles they might be able to find in the sand dunes. Later, as a student at the University of Washington, Rammer befriended Amos Wood, the author of a book on searching for Japanese glass floats and the “godfather to all beachcombers,” Rammer said.

Rammer, who worked for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife for three decades, would go on to co-author two of his own beachcombing books, price guides for glass floats.

But it wasn’t until last year that the floats would become the focus of the annual event. After the event’s board chair got sick in 2021, which put the fun fair in jeopardy, Rammer partnered with John Shaw, director of the Westport South Beach Historical Society, to create a new nonprofit called Beachcombers Heritage, which now runs the expo.

The historical society was experienced in orchestrating float hunts, which included “wild” releases — dropping crates of floats into the ocean just off the coast and letting the waves deliver them to shore naturally.

Shaw said people would often share memories of finding floats from their childhoods.

“We found people just loved it,” he said.

Beach item displays at the event have always operated under the rule that all items must be found naturally, instead of purchased. Recognizing that much of the beachcomber culture involves buying and trading, Rammer said this year’s contests will include a new “masters” category where bought items are permitted.

Meanwhile, collectors can buy and sell items in the “parking lot lounge,” the nickname for the convention center lobby where people are permitted to peddle beach finds, named after the attempts of former event-goers to sell floats from their tailgates in the parking lot outside the event.

“We decided, let’s bring them indoors and incorporate them,” Rammer said.

On Sunday morning the beachcombers will turn their attention from treasure to trash and run a “dash for trash.” Once participants fill bags with as much random trash as possible, judges will award a prize to the person with the piece of trash deemed most unusual.

The real prized items, the glass floats from a warehouse in Japan, were originally used as fishing floats, Rammer said. Their value has tempted thieves to pack dozens of the balls into a gunny sack and carry them away, which is highly discouraged.

“We’re asking for courtesy and respect allowing others a chance to find one,” Rammer said. “Don’t take too many.”

Participants can return floats they find to the convention center until the last day of the festival on Sunday.

Three days before the release, the identity of the float fairies, and where they will hide their treasures, remains mysterious.

“We want it to be a little bit magic,” Shaw said.

Contact reporter Clayton Franke at 406-552-3917 or clayton.franke@thedailyworld.com.

The Daily World file photo
Glass floats will be on display and for sale at the 2024 Beachcombers and Glass Float Expo at the Ocean Shores Convention Center, March 1-3.

The Daily World file photo Glass floats will be on display and for sale at the 2024 Beachcombers and Glass Float Expo at the Ocean Shores Convention Center, March 1-3.