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Watersports companies battle for business in Fort Lauderdale




Watersports such as parasailing and paddle boarding keep tourists flowing to South Florida area beaches, but it's far from a day at the beach for some of the firms that provide the fun.

An ongoing battle over paddles and a recent parasail theft highlight just how fiercely some of Fort Lauderdale's watersport companies compete for tourist dollars, especially during Spring Break.

But as some of these companies struggle to survive in a down economy, that competition has become more turbulent and cunning, said Tim Schiavone, longtime owner of the historic Parrot Lounge.

"The beach has always had its flair for competition, but it's become really crazy lately," he said. "It's just like in every industry that's trying to make it in this economy. There are too many dogs and not enough bones."

Mario St-Cyr says his problems with business rivals began about three years ago when the he quit his real estate business in hopes of cashing in on the paddle board craze.


On a recent afternoon, St-Cyr found himself hiding behind a tree in order to take pictures and video of a man teaching a small group of people how to paddle board.

The pictures and clips are among the dozens St-Cyr has taken of his competitors since 2009 when Fort Lauderdale officials awarded his company, Paddles and Boards, an exclusive contract to provide paddle board lessons and rentals at George English Park near Fort Lauderdale beach.

Compiling evidence and calling authorities on competitors who venture into his turf has now turned into a full-time job, St-Cyr says.

"It's become a free-for-all out here," St-Cyr said. "It's like the Wild West."

In 2011, St-Cyr called the city's park rangers 22 times to complain about other paddle board providers venturing into his water turf, park records show.

He says many of the competitors show up without any company logos or insignias and set up on the shore as a rental outlet. They also meet with clients at the park for lessons. Most of the cases end with a police officer or a park ranger asking the group to leave the park, according to the park ranger reports.

Earlier this month, some of his competitors merged and won a Fort Lauderdale bid to provide the same services on a nearby stretch of the beach.

Shortly afterward, St-Cyr appeared before the Fort Lauderdale City Commission to complain.

"They have never played by the rules and now you are rewarding them with their own exclusive contract," St-Cyr told city leaders, who said the other firm won the bid fairly.

Not all incidents end as peacefully.

Wayne Mascolo, owner of Aloha Watersports, one of the oldest parasail companies on the beach, says he is convinced that a competitor was behind a March 1 burglary on one of his boats.

The theft, caught on surveillance video, shows two men breaking into the boat docked at East Las Olas Boulevard and A1A. The two men walk away with one of the parasails that has Mascolo's company name and phone number written across the parachute.

Mascolo said he immediately recognized the men as two former employees. One of them now works for a competitor.

"They didn't want the [parasail]. They knew they couldn't use it around here," he said. "They didn't want me having one right before Spring Break."

On March 14, Fort Lauderdale Police arrested roommates Jamie Tesseneer, 23, and John Mokarzel, 23, and charged them in connection with the burglary. Both told police they were Mascolo's former employees, according to arrest reports.

In a telephone interview this week, Mokarzel said he currently works for Mascolo's competitor, Atlantic Beach Club, but denies he and his roommate were the ones shown on the video.

"[Mascolo] is just trying to embarrass me and my boss," Mokarzel said. "I saw the video and those guys look nothing like us."

A man who identified himself only as the owner of Atlantic Beach Club denied any connection to the incident.

"I have competition taking shots at me all the time and trying to put me out of business, but I never complain or retaliate," he said. "I just try to mind my own business."

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