Festival-goers sink their teeth into Venice Beach

All photos Liz Hampton/Catalyst

During the weekend of April 8, thousands of sharks teeth were found on Venice Beach, just 18 miles south of Sarasota. But the teeth weren’t found in the breakwater or in the sand — they were across the street, behind the municipal airport at the 19th annual Venice Beach Shark Tooth Festival.

“We just decided we needed to go — it’s the only one of its kind!” Marlene Webber said. She and her husband Ted were first-timers at the festival despite having lived in Venice Beach for the past four years.

“It’s much more impressive than I thought it would be!” exclaimed Ted.

What grew out of a popular Venice Beach pastime — shark tooth hunting — has turned into a tradition that brings shark teeth and fossil vendors from around the country. This year, the festival hosted over 100 vendors and eight bands to entertain the crowds around the food area.

“We used to be on the other side over by the airport, over by Sharky’s restaurant,” said festival manager Maggie Riggall. “We lost our parking over there, so we were able to move over here to these festival grounds. And we’ve been able to expand, which has been great! So every year we keep adding and trying to make the festival better and better every year. This year we are full! We sold out in arts and crafts, we sold out in marketing booths, so this year we have been very blessed.”

Riggall became involved in the festival about six years ago as the county coordinator for the Special Olympics in Sarasota County. The proceeds of the past 11 Shark Tooth Festivals have been donated to the Sarasota Special Olympics. Since the 350 people needed to put on the Shark Tooth Festival are volunteers from the community, all of the proceeds from the entrance fee and vendor payments go directly to the Special Olympics. Venice is one of the few cities in the United States that has its own Special Olympics training facility and of the funds from the Festival go towards updating and maintaining the training equipment.

“All of the proceeds go to the Special Olympics of Sarasota County,” explained Riggall. “We don’t have to pay a promoter. We don’t have to someone who needs to get a cut to put the festival. What we do with the money is sometimes we have to pay for training facilities and one thing is that in Venice we have the Special Olympics training facility. We are one of a kind in the United States for a training facility for the Special Olympics.”

But what attracts most people to the Shark Tooth festival is, of course, the shark teeth.

One of these fossil fanatics is Mark Havenstein. Havenstein began searching for shark teeth with his father as a child. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in geology, Havenstein began working in the international mineral trade, managing a company that traded with Brazil and South Africa. Because of the networks he created while working for that business, Havenstein is able to bring some very interesting specimens to the Venice festival.

“I sold agates and amethysts and big amethyst geodes and quartz crystals to rock shops all over the world,” Havenstein said. “So when I started my business in 1992, I had the network already set up. We started scuba diving for fossils. Whatever we collect we sell.”

There is a lot to be seen at the Venice Shark Tooth festival. With wares ranging from fossils to necklaces to cowboy hats, the festival appeals to a wide range of spectators and all for a charitable cause.

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