by Jamie Rich | February 24, 2020

What’s Your Florida Icon?

How our experiences in the Sunshine State shape what we consider Florida "icons"

Founder and editor in chief Jamie Rich. Photography by Mary Beth Koeth

We stirred a bit of controversy among our readers over the last few weeks. 

We asked you which Florida icons reign supreme in our Fresh Squeezed newsletter. Each week we sent out new matchups: Key lime pie versus stone crabs; Everglades versus Weeki Wachee Springs; manatees versus flamingos; Marino versus Shula. Spurrier versus Bowden? Those are still fighting words. 

Even in the office, we couldn’t agree on who to include in our football poll. 

It’s an exercise we look forward to each spring: deciding which classic Sunshine State symbols, pastimes and figures to include in our pages.  

Flamingo’s first edition flew into the world four years ago with a story about an endangered icon: the Apalachicola oyster. The writing and photography in “Where Have All the Oysters Gone?” still stand out as some of our all-time best. The piece won Flamingo a top award that year from the Florida Magazine Association. We reported on the active but dwindling oyster industry in Apalachicola, a place where locals once climbed oyster shell mounds as high as sand dunes.  

Today, as expected, the shell mounds are gone, along with the wild oysters that once thrived in those Panhandle waters. Hurricanes, oil spills, overfishing and a decades-long battle with Georgia over water usage all played a part in knocking down this piece of beloved history. While the Florida versus Georgia rivalry has moved from the gridiron to the U.S. Supreme Court, reengineered glimmers of hope are rising up from those salty seas. 

A new crop of entrepreneurial oyster farmers are growing the classic shellfish in a more controlled environment. In this issue, our writer Steve Dollar heads back to the Forgotten Coast to examine the rebirth of the Panhandle bivalve and to taste its new iteration in his feature “From Seed to Saltine.”

Reinvention pops up as a theme throughout this issue. In our cover story “Under the Hood with Hurley Haywood,” writer Moni Basu gets personal with the sports car racing star, who, after 40 years, is finally living his truth. Our piece “Ship Shape” by Nila Do Simon profiles rising star artist Monique Richter, whose faux finishing and gold leafing transform sportfishing boats into works of fine art. Then we delve into the complicated world of honeybees in “The Battle for the Bees” by Eric Barton and learn why Florida is at the center of their survival story and what we can do to help. 

Aside from storied icons like Haywood and Marino (the winner of our football poll by a hair), a new generation of future sports heroes find themselves at the pinnacle of their success. Our interview with newly crowned world-champion surfer Justin Quintal reveals a talent on the precipice of what looks to be a legendary career. Could Quintal be the next Kelly Slater of longboarding? One thing is for sure, we’ll be rooting for the “burly Floridian with the dancing feet.” 

We each have impassioned views, shaped by our unique existence here, of what constitutes a Florida icon: the sports we play (surfing or football), the town in which we live (Key West or Perdido Key), how long we’ve been here (generations or weeks), the hobbies we pursue (boating or reading), the music we listen to (Jimmy Buffett or Camila Cabello) and the food we eat (Cubans or casseroles). 

But no matter what you eat or where you live, we’re all Floridians. It’s critical that we celebrate our diverse experiences, find common ground and most importantly make room for reinvention. Like those new-fangled oyster farmers, you never know what or who might emerge as the new symbols of our Sunshine State.