The Rivers Family

Gasparilla Season arrives in Tampa Bay every year with cannons blazing as Florida's only fully functioning pirate ship, the José Gasparilla, sails into downtown loaded with hundreds of colorfully dressed pirates. The annual invasion goes back to 1904 and is the lead-in to a parade down Bayshore Boulevard that involves more than a hundred floats, thousands of riders and millions of beads. With 300,000 or more spectators, the Gasparilla Parade of Pirates ranks as the third-largest parade in the U.S. At the heart of the spectacle, members of Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla leave their ship at anchor and climb aboard their own elaborate floats -- floats that are conceived and built by the members of the Rivers family: patriarch Hewett and his sons, Tim and Chris.

Hewett began his job 25 years ago when he retired from maintaining fighter jets at MacDill Air Force Base. Tim, an artist, and Chris, a boat builder, joined him about a decade ago. Together, they have built a legacy for Tampa Bay's signature festival that brings join to hundreds of thousands of spectators every year and will last far into the future.

After two years of work, how does it feel to see a finished float finally take to the road in the Gasparilla parade?   At first, there is a little bit of relief when all the effort, overtime, and stress is finally over and the float works as designed. Then there’s a pretty big sense of pride when we watch the float travel down the parade route and watch the crowd react. There’s nothing like getting immediate feedback from over a hundred thousand people!  

What are some of the lessons you guys have learned that you carry over from one float to the next?  One thing we learn is how best construct a float that is rigid to keep from buckling/cracking during Parade Season. We want to build strong and safe floats that hold up over time and in all sorts of weather conditions. Each new float gets a little better as we continue to learn more about proper materials and construction.  Another thing we’ve learned over time is how to use different light-weight, molding materials to accentuate each float’s artistic design while also minimizing weight and maximizing strength and safety. We want our floats to be safe and last for decades.

What do you tell people your job is when they ask what your do?  We tell them we are float builders, which is sometimes funny because on many occasions they will respond by saying “did you see that new float in the Gasparilla Parade?” We  say….”Yes, in fact we built it!”