Asked why he traveled from Osage Beach, Mo., Wednesday for yesterday’s Sunsation Powerboats 40th Anniversary Sun Run on Lake St. Clair in Michigan, Performance Boat Center’s Brett Manire offered an answer that would become a recurring theme during the celebration of the company’s 40th anniversary. And it had nothing to with the booming popularity of the brand carried by the dealership he co-owns with Mark Waddington, who became a member of the Sunsation owners group in January.
With new and vintage models in the mix, the Sunsation Fun Run celebrated the success of a 40-year-old brand. Photos by Pete Boden copyright Shoot 2 Thrill Pix.
“Sunsation is built and supported by an amazing group of down-to-earth people,” he said.
Some 90-plus faithful Sunsation owners, including 40 CCX owner Dave Burgess of St. Clair, Mich., and 350 participants in Wednesday’s welcome party at Sunsation’s Ira, Mich., facility and the Thursday Sun Run clearly agreed with him. The mix of Sunsation models in the event—co-sponsored by Mercury Racing and Speedonthewater.com—included closed-deck, sterndrive boats from some of the earliest days of the company founded by Wayne Schaldenbrand to 2022 model-year center consoles with the latest Mercury Racing 300-, 400- and 450-hp outboard-engine power.
A longtime owner of noteworthy go-fast powerboats such as famed 45-foot Cigarette Racing Team V-bottom dubbed Maximus, Burgess entered the Sunsation fold when ordered his Stephen Miles Design-painted 40-footer two years ago.
The largest gathering of Sunsation boats in the company’s 40-year-history took to the waters of Lake St. Clair yesterday.
Like Manire, Burgess nailed the common thread among the Sunsation faithful.
“These guys, Wayne, Joe and John Schaldenbrand and the employees are very well-liked here and around the country,” said Burgess, as he idled away from the Sun Run’s starting point at Cabana Blue restaurant in Clay Township. “I have known them my whole life and I just always liked them and watched what they do. The 40 CCX center console was the first one that really grabbed me and I think it’s the best one out there.
“I just love it,” he continued. “It has to look right—the boat has the right look. It runs right. It’s balanced. No bow lift, gets right on plane, best hardtop in the business, all of that—they are good boats to do everything with.”
Sunsation’s Joe Schaldenbrand (facing the camera) conversed with a few Sunsation team members—Kyle Miller (an owner in the company), national sales manager Ryan Wenk and lamination supervisor Alex Menzies—before the Sun Run began.
Sunsation’s well-documented transformation from a semi-custom sportboat company to a center-console-specific company almost 10 years ago was born of economic necessity. The sterndrive sportboat segment had been fading through the early 2000s and the recession of 2008 made sustaining in the segment that much harder. But the Schaldenbrand brothers embraced their new future with the same commitment and go-for-it attitude that made its sportboat line thrive before its was discontinued and replaced with the Center Console Xtreme (CCX) series in 2016.
So gloomy was the weather prediction for yesterday’s Sun Run, meaning thunder, lightning and nonstop rain dominating the forecast, that most of the Sunsation owners and their guests at the Wednesday night party doubted the run would happen. And though it drizzled through much of Thursday morning and thunder carried ominously across the waters of Lake St. Clair, the bulk of the storm shifted direction and the fleet departed the Cabana Blue restaurant before noon.
John Schaldenbrand briefed the boat captains on the course and safety matters before the run began.
“I had a chat with Mother Nature and she pulled through for us,” said Joe Schaldenbrand, the president of the company, before the drivers’ meeting at the open-air waterfront hot spot. “I was a little bit worried.
“Yesterday’s party at the factory was spectacular,” he continued. “It exceeded my wildest expectations. We had a very good group of people working on this and they pulled it off flawlessly. It was one of the best events we’ve ever put together.”
Given that the company has been building boats for four decades, that was high praise from Schaldenbrand. He and his brothers, Wayne and John, as well as Sunsation’s longtime employees, have seen the best and worst of times. And though business is booming now, they never take it for granted.
Enjoy more images from Sunsation’s 40th Anniversary Sun Run.
“You remember the ups, you remember the downs—you remember all of it,” Joe Schaldenbrand said, then laughed. “What we do and never lose sight of, especially during an event like this, is that the reason we are able to do this is because of our customers. And whether they have a new boat or something from 1988, we treat them all the same way, with respect and gratitude. They are the reason we’re here.”
Decked out in special Sunsation-branded dry-fit V-neck shirts, Sunsation employees were everywhere at Cabana Blue. Those who opted to attend the Sun Run were given a paid day off, and most were treated to rides for the days with Sunsation sportboat and center console owners.
Despite a forecast for stormy weather, the show went on at the Sunsation Fun Run.
While John Schaldenbrand led the drivers’ meeting before the run, his brother, Wayne, stood next to famed powerboat interior designer Gary Bridges, who has known the Schaldenbrand family for 30 years and has been handling Sunsation interiors for more than a decade.
Wayne Schaldenbrand looked around the packed venue and beamed. He simply couldn’t stop smiling.
“I never thought about making it 40 years,” he said, then chuckled. “You blink your eyes and it’s just here.”
For Wayne Schaldenbrand and his girlfriend, Renee Mariotti, yesterday’s Sunsation 40th Anniversary Sun Run was pure joy.