APTOS — The World’s Shortest Parade in Aptos started with a small handful of floats cobbled together by residents hoping to put their own spin on a traditional summertime celebration.
Years later, the event still retains its homespun roots and draws thousands of people from across the county – some of them grandparents who came to the event as children – to watch more than 100 groups participate.
It has garnered national recognition as one of the top seven Fourth of July parades by the prestigious Condé Nast Traveler on the magazine’s daily traveler website.
“It is the most wonderful parade in the world,” said Karen Hibble, who shares the title of executive director of the Aptos Chamber of Commerce with her husband John. “It feels really like what people think of when they think of Fourth of July in America.”
This year’s grand marshal is Aptos/La Selva Fire Captain, Greg Hansen, who has been with the department for more than three decades.
Hibble praised Hansen for his years on the job, which included visiting classrooms as the H2O clown to talk about fire safety.
“Greg has been in our fire department for over 37 years, and he has given so much to our community,” Hibble said. “I can’t tell you how many lives he has touched.”
During his time with the department, Hansen said he has provided countless hours of educational programs aimed at helping keep community members safe.
But such endeavors are difficult to quantify when it comes to a firefighter’s role of lifesaver.
“I hope I saved people’s lives, but you don’t really know that you saved someone,” he said.
But when Hansen remembers Jacob Kirkendall, there is no such ambiguity.
Kirkendall was 17 when he was severely shocked after touching a downed power line on Rio Del Mar Beach in June 2009.
When Hansen’s crew arrived, Kirkendall was thrashing on the ground, with the live wire nearby, and firefighters were technically prohibited from going near him until crews could shut off the power.
“But I’m watching this kid die,” he said.
Hansen waited until Kirkendall laid down, and made his move.
“I went in as fast as I could and I pulled him out,” he said. “Like I’m going to be faster than electricity.”
After beating himself up for performing such a dangerous feat, he came to terms with it when he realized he had fully analyzed every move beforehand.
“I saved this young man’s life, but I could have been killed,” he said. “I felt comfortable enough that I could go in there and get him and not die.”
Hansen said he was surprised to hear he had been named grand marshal.
“It’s a real honor for them to recognize me for my services,” he said.
Hansen, who leaves the job on July 14 after a career that spanned 43 years, called his impending departure “bittersweet.”
“It’s never been a job,” he said. “It’s always been a lifestyle.”
The World’s Shortest parade begins at 10 a.m. on July 4, “We start on time, never late, never one second,” Hibble said.
It winds from State Park and Soquel drives to Trout Gulch Road and Soquel Drive.
The day begins with a pancake breakfast from 7:30-10 a.m. in the parking lot of Burger in Aptos. Adults are $10 and children are $5.
The Party in the Park follows from noon until 4 p.m. in Aptos Village Park and features kids’ games, face painting, pony rides, bounce houses, kids’ crafts, food trucks, beer, wine and music by the band Extra Large.
For information visit aptoschamber.com.