NEWPORT BEACH — Five years ago, Geoff Landon stopped decorating his Christmas tree and started decorating his boat instead.
Since then, Landon has given up on the tree altogether. Now he spends thousands of dollars and thousands of hours stringing lights, building sets, and painting scenery for his 42-foot powerboat, Unpretentious Too.
Last year, Landon and his friends built a 30-foot-high mountain out of cheesecloth, paste and flour. Then, using a computer to control thousands of lights, they created a simulated waterfall flowing down the face of the mountain. They added a 25-foot-tall inflatable Grinch and assorted other balloon figures, and towed a huge platform that extended the boat's length to a whopping 92 feet.
All that was enough to beat out nearly 200 competitors and earn Landon the sweepstakes award in the Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade. And this year, Landon is back. Although he will not reveal exactly what he and his friends are creating for the 83rd annual parade, which runs Dec. 17 through 23, Landon promises that spectators won't be disappointed.
"We actually came up with the idea for this year's theme last December," he says. "And in July and August, we started getting things down on paper, figuring our lengths and widths."
Landon, who lives in Newport Beach and owns a company called Motivational Fulfillment and Packaging Services in the city of Commerce, is proud of the fact that he hires no professional decorators to help him. Help comes from such friends as Todd Cowley, who runs a boat service business in Newport Beach.
"Geoff dragged me into it," says Cowley, who describes his involvement as a labor of love. "My family has always loved Christmas. And I love seeing the expression on people's faces when they see us go by."
Landon, Cowley and other volunteers work on the project in the 54,000-square-foot building that houses Landon's business.
"Last year's (creation) was very difficult," Landon says. "This year's is going to be interesting, but so far last year's was the most difficult we've done. We had to build a whole platform over the top of the boat. This year we are able to use most of that. The display this year is in excess of 40 feet long. I am not going to tell you exactly what it is, but it is about 18 feet tall, and it will have special effects, both sound as well as lighting."
When last year's display was finished, Landon says, it took five trucks to cart everything down to Newport Beach. "Then we had to go over to one of the shipyards and use a crane to load it," he says.
Although Landon prefers not to reveal how much his extravagant parade decorations cost, he did say that just one balloon figure can run $2,000. "I don't think the money that goes into it is the point," he says. "Material-wise it is not that much, but how much do you value your time?"
To create the desired effect in this year's parade, Landon says, he plans to use about 4,500 lights and has already arranged to rent an extra generator to power them. He uses on-board computers to create the dazzling effects such as last year's waterfall.
The result, according to Landon, will be worthy of a boat parade that has become what he calls "one of the greatest spectacles that Southern California has." Landon believes the parade is a special treat for kids and is doing his best to make sure that more children get to see it. That's why he started "Kids' Night" two years ago and invited 500 children from Orangewood Children's Home, Children's Hospital of Orange County and various other organizations down to watch.
"Everybody gets to see this parade who lives in Newport," he says, "but there was a whole group of people we thought were left out--the kids."
So, Landon began soliciting donations from boat owners to help buy out the 500 seats in the Jaycees' grandstand viewing area for one night. Then he got a friend to donate money for buses to transport the children to Newport Beach.
"The whole thing was all Geoff's idea," says Carol Spaeth, Landon's girlfriend and the person in charge of putting "Kids' Night" together. "That first year we raised about $800 or $900. Geoff paid for all the rest and even bought T-shirts for the kids."
This year, Spaeth says, Newport Beach restaurants are being asked to provide T-shirts for "Kids' Night," which is being held on Dec. 18, and a caterer is donating snacks and soft drinks. "We still need to raise $2,500 (to pay for the 500 seats). We hope that will come from the boat owners, and Geoff will pick up the rest," she says.
In addition to organizing "Kids' Night," Spaeth, who works for a motorcycle apparel firm in Newport Beach, also helps decorate the Unpretentious Too. "It is tons and tons of work," she says. "And every year I swear I hate December, but when you're done and you're out there, it does something to you. Especially on 'Kids' Night.' I get out there and I hear all the cheering and I have tears in my eyes."