Tim Ramsberger is an organizer. As the former president of the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg and the current deputy director of Visit St. Pete/Clearwater, he knows about putting together special events.
Ramsberger is also an outdoorsman. A native of St. Petersburg, he is used to being on the water. That's how he befriended former Tampa Bay Times outdoors editor Terry Tomalin about 15 years ago.
Tomalin died May 19, and his 56th birthday would have been Nov. 25. Ramsberger didn't want this time of year to pass without recognition.
So he organized a paddle across Tampa Bay in Tomalin's honor. Tomalin was an avid canoer and kayaker, and he took Ramsberger on a few trips.
Working with Bruce Denson, Darry Jackson and Kurt Ott, the group finally settled on a date. The "Paddle Across Tampa Bay" honoring Tomalin will be held Sunday, with a short ceremony honoring Tomalin then a 71/2-mile paddle from Picnic Island in Tampa to North Shore Park in St. Petersburg.
"We wanted to find a way to continue the one part of Terry's life that connected us all," Ramsberger said. "He was the guy who always looked for adventure and reached out to various groups for the adventures. He was never short of ideas, and that's what I liked about him."
Indeed, Tomalin had many adventures on the water. He kayaked on just about every river in the state. George Stovall had been on most of those adventures, including a 350-mile paddle from Fort De Soto to Key Largo in 2001.
"That's when I first met him," Stovall said. "By the second day, we were paddling together."
Stovall also remembers a trip in an outrigger canoe from Key Largo to Bimini. Then there was a trip down the east coast of Florida from New Smyrna Beach to Melbourne. A paddle from the Georgia state line to the Gulf of Mexico on the Apalachicola River. And a paddle in a 24-foot mahogany dugout canoe from Cedar Key to Tarpon Springs.
"We definitely had some adventures together," Stovall said. "That's why we need to do this. We need to keep his memory alive."
Stovall said he will paddle in a two-man canoe with Tomalin's son, Kai.
The paddle is open to everyone, though it is suggested that only experienced paddlers do the 71/2-mile trip. There is also a 3-mile paddle that starts at 10 a.m. at North Shore Park. Paddlers head out 11/2 miles to meet the others, then return to the park.
The 1-mile trip across the grass flats of Tampa Bay is open to all skill levels.
None of the paddles are competitive, Ramsberger said. The point is to be on the water enjoying one of Tomalin's favorite activities.
"This is something we can have fun with and keep Terry's adventurous spirit alive," Ramsberger said.
He also stressed that one thing they can't control is the weather. Windy conditions could make the paddling much more difficult. But that's all part of being outdoors.
"Terry was kind of unpredictable, and this is an unpredictable thing we're doing," Ramsberger said. "Nobody's organized anything like this yet."