Thunder Beach History… Gather round the campfire, and let me tell you the story of how the Thunder Beach Motorcycle Rally, in Panama City Beach, Florida first started…
Back in 1999, a small group of bikers riders from the Macon, Georgia HOG chapter rode into Panama City Beach each year – cruising along the coastline of the World’s most beautiful beaches just seemed like a good idea… The chapter of bikers had been coming for years, informally – but finally decided to give it a name, and make it a yearly event. And so it was, in the Spring of 1999 when the Macon HOG chapter, along with Garry Hundley of the Sandpiper Beacon jointly organized the very first “Bike & Beach Bash”.
The first crowd wasn’t very large, but what it lacked in numbers, it made up for in enthusiasm. As the years went by the group, who stayed loyal to the Sandpiper Beacon Beach Resort (the original home to the Thunder Beach motorcycle rally), grew larger and larger. Even the Tourism Development Council saw the potential of a motorcycle event in Panama City Beach, and how it could benefit the local economy.
The year 2000 saw the event grow pretty significantly, and in the Spring the event was renamed “Thunder Beach“. The number of bikers in attendance also grew – to roughly 2,500, many of whom were locals. The promoters at the time decided to change the length of the 2001 rally from 3 days to a full bike week… 9 days.
The very first Thunder Beach Fall Rally took place in September, 2001 on the grounds of an NHRA drag strip north of Panama City. This time, Pro Harley Dragsters showed up and entertained the crowds who had a great time. Still, the rally took place in the shadow of the recent 9/11 disaster, just two weeks earlier – and the turnout was lower than anticipated.
The years went by, and the event grew in popularity and reputation, in part due to efforts made by official lodging sponsors like the Sandpiper. So by the Spring of 2005, Thunder Beach was enjoying more and more attention from national parts and bike manufacturers. Big names were now being linked to the Bike Rally, including Samson and Boss Hoss, Iron Horse, Big Dog, Redneck Engineering and Don Grey Customs.
Pretty soon, something had to change to accommodate all these vendors, who now wanted to be a part of the Rally. So, Spring 2007 saw the majority of vendors relocated to the Frank Brown Park Special Events Facility, just a short ride away from the original home of Thunder Beach; the Sandpiper Beacon.
Thunder Beach / Bike Week has come a long way from it’s humble beginnings as a simple annual ride for a small group of biker enthusiasts. The future looks good, especially with businesses like the Sandpiper Beacon always at the forefront, leading the way with the best live (free) entertainment on the beach. With a reputation for always having the best bands, including internationally known acts like Mustang Sally, as well as offering on-site vendors, bikini bike washes, street-side bike parking, trailer parking, free BBQ cookouts for guests, and live music in the beachside Tiki Bar day and night – Thunder Beach has a good home.