Bicycling as a vehicle for community building

By: Jack Cormier

If your idea of time on the bicycle means pedaling like mad, this one ain’t for you.

But if you’d like to add a leisurely bike ride into the mix – as well as a water ski show, a photo to share with your friends and perhaps a pint and a bite at a local microbrewery – then saddle up.

Welcome to the monthly Winter Haven Slow Roll, an idea that mixes community, history, food and fun together with a dose of healthy living.

“The Slow Roll here was inspired by the Slow Roll in Detroit,” said organizer Chris Sexson, the president and publisher of the Sun Media Group, a collection of community newspapers and magazines in Polk County. “My wife Amy attend the Detroit Slow Roll a number of times. And while it might be a larger route with a few thousand attendees, we were inspired by its combination of healthy activity and community building. It is a win-win.”

In Winter Haven, the Slow Roll starts at 5:30 p.m. on the third Saturday of the month at The Bike Shop, 249 3rd Street S.W.

“It’s a slow, very chill ride through the streets of Winter Haven to Lake Silver,” said Sexson. “We stay as a group and wind our way to Martin Luther King Jr. Park on Lake Silver.”

Not coincidentally, the third Saturday of the month is also when the Cypress Gardens Water Ski Team, motivated by their desire to keep the history of water skiing alive in Winter Haven, presents their free water ski show.

A favorite of locals and visitors alike, the gathering for the water ski show has a small town carnival feel to it. Locals bring lawn chairs and blankets, perhaps hit the concessions stand for a T-shirt or hot dog, and interact with friends both new and old while the team performs.

“Long before Walt Disney World, there was Cypress Gardens,” said Dave Dershimer, the vice president of the ski team. “We want to pass on our show water skiing legacy to the next generation while sharing it with the public.”

But the slow roll is far from done. After the show the group rides back through Winter Haven, stopping along the way at one of the numerous murals in the city for a group picture before stopping for the evening at Grove Roots, a local microbrewer in downtown Winter Haven, where more food – thanks to a rotating roster of food trucks – and, of course, drinks are available.

“Winter Haven, with its urban walkability, bike trails and bike culture was the perfect place for us to launch a Slow Roll,” said Sexson. “When you can add in the amazing Cypress Gardens Ski Show at Lake Silver and finish at Grove Roots, I thought, I’d do that – and so the Winter Haven Slow Roll & Ski Show was born.”

The Winter Haven Slow Roll – as well as the Cypress Gardens Water Ski Team show on Lake Silver – happen on the third Saturday of each month. The public is welcome to participate in either, and there is no cost.

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