FORT LAUDERDALE — Navigating the six locations and $3 billion worth of boats and marine products that make up the present-day Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show, it's hard to imagine the event was ever smaller and simpler.
But industry veteran Max Hazelwood, 81, has been coming to the show for 50 years and can recall when a 60-foot boat was considered big and the show took place mostly along one pier.
“The one show that I like the most is the Fort Lauderdale boat show,” Hazelwood said Friday at a booth in the 400/500 tent at the show. “Everybody in Fort Lauderdale is enthused with boating. This is an area where your passion is boating.”
Australian-born Hazelwood is president of Welmax Marine USA, a privately owned and operated import/export marine service company. He was at FLIBS manning the booth for General Ecology, which provides water purification systems to the marine and other industries.
One thing that hasn’t changed through the years, Hazelwood said, is that the Fort Lauderdale show is the place to introduce new product to consumers and the industry.
“The introduction of a new product is a skill and a talent, and you take it to the place where people know what you’re talking about and the passion just builds from there,” the former president of new-boat sales for Bertram said. “A lot of shows wave flags and gimmicks and balloons and things. You don’t need it in Fort Lauderdale.”
If you’d asked him 50 years ago whether he ever thought FLIBS would become the show it has, he said he always knew it was a special event.
“I knew this thing was here and it wasn’t going to go away. How big it’s become is quite a surprise. Fifty years ago, a 50-60 footer — that was a good boat. Now you’re looking at 200-250s,” he said.
If he has any complaints it’s that you can no longer see the show in a day, and that’s hard for some people. Also, he wishes the show would feature more sailing. However, those are small criticisms, he admits.
“Over the 50 years I’ve watched it just grow and grow and grow,” Hazelwood said. “It’s interesting every year to come to this show and see the growth taking place.”
— Beth Rosenberg