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Boatload of attractions at 57th annual show

Karen Dybis
Special to The Detroit News

With a brighter economy, local home prices improving and Metro Detroit automakers announcing sizable profit-sharing checks for hourly workers, organizers of the 57th annual Detroit Boat Show say it seems fitting that this is one of the largest and most opulent productions in the event's history.

Profit-sharing checks are one significant reason people attend the show, organizers say, but they also come for attractions like Kid Rock's "Cowboy" boat, a "selfie station" and free entry for millennials, as well as must-see demonstrations like a live wakeboarding show.

"There is a lot of pent-up demand from the recession and now, with the improving economy, many people are ready to start spending on things that are important to them — and we know boating is important to the people in Michigan," said Nicki Polan, the show's manager and executive director of the Michigan Boating Industries Association.

At 350,000 square feet, the Detroit Boat Show takes over Cobo Center from Saturday through Feb. 22. The show is 50,000 square feet larger than in 2014 and a full 150,000 square feet larger than 2012, Polan said. Upscale sailboats have returned, and manufacturers are bringing 35 new models to introduce, Polan added.

The show's exhibitors are buoyed by several years of healthy sales. The U.S. recreational boating industry is estimating a 7-8 percent increase in sales of new powerboats in 2014 with continued growth of an additional 5 percent in 2015, according to the National Marine Manufacturers Association. This is the industry's third consecutive year of steady growth coming out of the recession.

Still, show organizers are doing their best to attract younger consumers.

On Monday, anyone 30 or younger will get in free, in hopes of snagging millennial shoppers. There also will be a first-ever "selfie station," encouraging users to post their snaps on Facebook and other social media.

The Detroit Boat Show features hundreds of boats for fishing, skiing, wakeboarding and cruising.

One highlight of this year's show is the multipurpose boats, Polan said, which manufacturers are promoting as a way to blend specialty rigs with water-based entertaining.

The show's pontoon lineup, sporting high-end amenities, also is an attention-grabber. Today's models are more like "luxurious living rooms," Polan said.

"They've got grills, television sets, swivel stools and even recliners," Polan said. "Some have bars where there is an upper rail to hang glasses and room for someone to stand behind them and serve drinks."

Crowds also are drawn to the "Queen of the Show," or the 45-foot Sundancer Sea Ray from Colony Marine of St. Clair Shores. Priced at $875,000, the boat has a large lounge, a full galley kitchen with granite counters, a master stateroom and a media room with theater seating.

"Not everyone can take it home, but it's fun to see," Polan said.

For those looking for personal watercraft, there is a full array of paddle boats, kayaks, paddle boards and inflatables.

A rise in interest in these affordable options for playing on Michigan's many waterways is the reason Silver Spray Sports of Fenton will be among the 150 exhibitors.

"Paddle boarding is great exercise, and it's fun for the whole family," said Silver Spray Sports co-owner Patti Smith.

"We find that most people don't buy just one board. If they do, they come back and buy one more for each of their family members."

Certified PaddleYoga instructor Whitney Burnash will conduct a demonstration of how this water skiing champ mixes paddle boarding and exercise.

Her show at the Rail Jam pool Saturday, Sundays and Monday includes headstands, which she says are easier on the water.

"The thing about doing a headstand on water is that if you fall, you just fall into the water," said Burnash, who teaches classes and leads summertime paddle-boarding excursions as well. "The experience is much different than (doing yoga) in a gym or in a classroom environment. It's very relaxing and peaceful."

Karen Dybis is a Metro Detroit freelance writer.

57th annual Detroit Boat Show

When: Saturday through Feb. 22

Where: Cobo Center, Detroit

Hours: Saturdays: 11 a.m.- 9 p.m.

Monday: 11 a.m.-6 p.m.

Tuesday through Friday: 3 p.m.-9 p.m.

Sundays: 11 a.m.-6 p.m.

Admission: $12 for adults; children 12 and under are free with an adult. Save $2 per ticket if you buy tickets in advance on