APOLLO BEACH — Even on a foggy Wednesday morning, the newest addition to seven-acre Pine Key — better known as Beer Can Island — rises from the mist along the mainland shore of the Apollo Beach Nature Preserve.
It’s a floating tiki bar, the size of a tennis court, docked there by Beer Can Island’s new owners — the talk of the local boating community with their recent purchase of the popular party and camping spot.
They’re hearing playful jealousy, for the most part, from people saying they would have bought the island had they known the owners were willing to sell for just $63,650. And then there are the follow-up questions: Who are these guys and how did they end up with their own island?
"It just kind of happened," co-owner Cole Weaver said with an aw-shucks smile as he walked visitors through his new getaway and business venture. "We’re just four guys who want to have a good time."
The path to this venture runs through the owners’ carefree yet hardworking natures. It was not so much a business plan that brought them here as going with the flow and welcomg the chance to get their own hands dirty.
Standing 6-foot-7 with an athletic build and scraggly beard, wearing baggy jeans and a t-shirt, blond hair tucked under a trucker’s hat, the 32-year-old Weaver looks like Patrick Swayze as Bodhi from 1991’s Point Break, minus the thieving streak.
Splitting his time between Colorado and the Tampa Bay area, he lives on a boat docked in Gulfport when he isn’t camping in a tent on his new island.
He appears to have no worries, not even about the musings of those who wonder whether his ownership group Tiki Bay Bar LLC will be open to lawsuits by keeping the island open to the public.
"We just hope everyone wants to have fun and not ruin it," he says with a shrug.
How about a hurricane wiping out his investment?
"We’ll still own the submerged property, so we’ll still be able to anchor the tiki bar."
Pushed for a timeline on a grand opening, he says simply, "We just want to do good for the island."
Raised in Denver, Weaver says he always preferred wake-boarding, scuba diving and making money lifeguarding to snow skiing and the mountains.
Now a real estate agent in Colorado with a history of fixing and flipping homes, he came to Tampa 18 months ago to look at boats for starting a charter business.
Then he met Russell Loomis, the man with the plan.
A native of Wisconsin who moved to the Tampa area in 1995, Loomis took a backpacking trip to Peru in 2008 that was supposed to last a few months.
Seven years later, he finally returned to Tampa with a wife, two kids and an idea.
He’d read about Richart Sowa, known for turning 150,000 plastic bottles into a floating island off the coast of Cancun and thought, "Why not one here?"
The first person he pitched was James Wester, a Land O’ Lakes native and friend of 15 years. Wester has a background in night club promotion and subcontracting, making him a perfect partner for the project, said Loomis, now a 40-year-old software developer living in St. Petersburg.
"Had anyone else called me with the idea, I’d have thought they were full of it," said Wester, 40, known as DJ West. "But I knew Russ was going to do it with or without me, and I wanted to do something unique."
Weaver joined the team next. His friend Colt Blattner from Denver had also once lived in Peru and during his time there met Loomis.
When he heard Weaver was going to Tampa, Blattner suggested his two friends meet. And upon learning of Loomis’ idea, Weaver said, he scrapped his plans to start a charter business and got in on building an island.
The original design would double as a houseboat for rentals.
Then they visited Waterworld, a floating bar in Destin, and its owner gave them some advice. "He told us to make it a bar," Weaver said. "So, we did."
With the help of friends, they built Tiki Bay Island, a floating, motorized tiki bar platform built on top 258 55-gallon plastic drums.
Weaver estimates it cost $112,000 to complete and is worth $350,000.
It was initially parked among the mangroves at 13300 Gandy Blvd. in St. Petersburg, opened in March to host private parties. But neighbors complained about the noise, so off the trio went in search of a new home.
They needed a fourth financial partner so Loomis reached out to friend John Gadd, a Virginia native and former Tampa resident coincidentally living and playing music in Denver but who had never met Weaver.
"It sounded great, a place that was our own space," said Gadd, 40. "I never pictured we’d get a real island."
The property was not for sale, Wester said.
"The last owners were more, like, helping us out. If we would not have built Tiki Bay Island they would have said no. But they liked what we were doing and that we had a plan to nurture the island and improve it."
They can’t sell alcohol on the island yet, but they open the docked tiki bar as a place for visitors to lounge.
They’ve created walking paths through the island by clearing fallen trees.
And gone are the piles of trash that littered the island’s green center, 70 bags full. All that remains are a few scraps here and there and a cross-shaped wooden headstone memorializing someone named Tommy Jackson.
"We’ll keep it," Weaver said, noting that he checked and there is no body. "Make him famous."
As for Weaver, fame is not what he’s after.
By 1 p.m. Wednesday, the fog had cleared and a few boaters pulled up to Beer Can Island. As they sat at the tiki bar and sipped beers they had brought, they finally brought up the question of who owned the place.
"I don’t introduce myself to people on the island as the owner," Weaver said. "I just want to hang out."
Contact Paul Guzzo at [email protected] Follow @PGuzzoTimes.