Big Bay Boom founder has a soft spot for blowing things up — and for the smiles that follow
In the beginning, almost 20 years ago, the Big Bay Boom was a tiny spark in Sandy Purdon’s imagination.
Now it’s one of the biggest fireworks shows on the West Coast, drawing up to a half-million people to San Diego’s waterfront.
Purdon, general partner at Shelter Cove Marina, produces the show, which means raising the money, selecting the fireworks vendor, coordinating the myriad details, and keeping his fingers crossed that there’s no repeat of the 2012 fiasco, when a computer glitch set off all the shells at once.
Wednesday’s show, involving about 12,000 fireworks launched off four barges anchored in the bay, is scheduled to begin at 9 p.m. and last about 18 minutes, with accompanying music simulcast on 1090 AM and 105.7 FM.
It will also be televised on Fox 5 in San Diego and KTLA 5 in Los Angeles, beginning with pre-fireworks programming at 8 p.m..
Information about parking and other logistics is available at the event’s website, bigbayboom.com.
Purdon took a few minutes Tuesday to discuss how the show became a labor of love for him that has raised almost $900,000 for the Armed Services YMCA.
Q: What keeps you going with this?
A: That’s a good question. I better start thinking about that. I guess I don’t have anything better to do on the Fourth of July than blowing things up. I spent nine years in the Marines blowing things up and I continue to do it as a civilian.
Q: Where will you be watching the show?
A: At our house (in Point Loma). We have a group that watches from there: sponsors, local dignitaries, people who helped get the thing going.
Q: I understand your house had something to do with the show happening in the first place.
A: It did. We were building the house in 2000, 2001. I’d always realized there were no fireworks in the bay and I thought, “Wouldn’t it be nice to have a fireworks show?”
I was just finishing up as president of the Port Tenants Association and I went to Joe Terzi, who at the time was manager of the Sheraton, and I said, “I think this would help bring in people. The convention center is dark. Let’s do a fireworks show.”
He said, “Here’s $5,000.” Then I went to the Port of San Diego and told them I had my first private contribution and they should get on board because they were going to benefit from it (through revenue flowing into hotels, restaurants and shops). They’re the title sponsor now.
That first year, it was a $40,000 show. Now it’s a $650,000 show, and it gets bigger and better every year.
Q: What’s bigger and better this time?
A: There will be a few unique colors in the display. People who watch the fireworks closely every year will probably notice, but it’s a subtle difference.
Q: It seems like every year there’s something new in the way the fireworks spiral up or fall toward the water after exploding. Anything new along those lines?
A: Yes, we’ve had smiley faces and things like that. But I don’t want to give anything away. You’ll just have to watch, either in person or on TV.
Q: Some years you’ve asked for special music, like marking the 50th anniversary of the Beatles coming to America. Anything like that planned this year?
A: My daughter has a lot to say. She keeps up music and I listen to her. We’ll have the Sousa marches and the traditional music, and then work in some more current stuff. But again, I don’t want to say too much. You’ll just have to listen.
Q: The show in the past has usually been about 18 minutes. Same this year?
A: Yes, right in that neighborhood.
Q: How many shells will be going off?
A: I don’t know, but I can tell you how much they weigh. It’s 12,000 pounds of fireworks, divided between the four barges, so 3,000 pounds on each.
Q: Is Pyro Spectaculars from Rialto doing the show again?
A: Yes, they are. We put it out to bid every year, and they got the contract again. They’re doing about 400 shows, including the Macy’s one in New York (the largest in the nation, 25 minutes and 75,000 shells fired from seven barges on the East River).
Q: I read somewhere that you hoped the one here might someday rival the Macy’s show. How close are you?
A: Oh, we’re about 20 percent of the way there. There’s Macy’s, and there’s everybody else. It’s hard to raise that kind of money – millions and millions of dollars.
Q: I’ve seen this one billed as the largest on the West Coast. Is that correct?
A: It’s within the top four or five in the country, and certainly one of the largest on the West Coast.
Q: What do you hope people get out of watching the show?
A: I just hope they get a real good feeling about their country.
Q: What do you get out of watching it?
A: I just love to see a lot of happy faces, people smiling.
Q: What are your feelings now about the “Big Bay Bust” fiasco from 2012, when all the fireworks went off at once?
A: That was the best thing that ever happened.
Q: How so?
A: We were on the TV news for two nights, all across the country, even in Russia. Some of us still go back and look at it on our website (bigbayboom.com). It brought enormous attention to our event.
But we wouldn’t want it to happen again.