October 2014

VapeBlast 2.0: Lessons from the Lone Star State

“Who brought a pack of cigarettes?!” yelled Jason Heminger, Jason’s Juice Joint proprietor, to a throng of enthusiastic vapers. Quickly enough, a pack of Camels rises above the crowd, in the hand of a recent convert. Jason eyed them with a smile. “How attached are you to those?” Not very, as it turns out. The offer of a free tank leads to the lucky former smoker stomping the analogs underfoot to cheers and laughter. This is the vape community at its finest, and a great improvement on Heminger’s earlier shenanigans: the man seemed to have an unhealthy fondness for giving out women’s tank tops, mostly to heavy set men, then having them wear them on the spot. I guess no one told him they look better on the ladies.

What else would you expect? Heminger is a Texan, and this is Texas. San Antonio, Texas, to be precise, and you should expect at least three things from Texas: heat, attitude and bigness in all forms. At VapeBlast 2.0, put on by coordinators Kenny and Sarah Brittain, we got all three. The August sun beat down with a vengeance, the outside temperature reaching 113 degrees on my car’s finely calibrated thermometer. The attitude was there in force; larger than life personalities and costumes thrived, and despite a disappointing lack of cowboy hats, the facial hair on the men—even on a couple of the women—was spectacular. You want big? Fill your gas tank at Buc-ees, just off I-35, at one of their 120 gas pumps. Yes, 120 pumps. Then go inside and grab a beverage in a convenience store so huge, it could host its own climate system with enough space left over for college football..
The San Antonio Event Center enjoyed its own weather, maintaining a pleasant-smelling haze all weekend. The lone exception was an unfortunate explosion, which left the atmosphere at SAEC slightly acrid. The big boom went off around 8 p.m. on Saturday, and yours truly wasn’t there to witness it first hand, as I was eating steak at the time, and I regret nothing. Here is the most common of a half dozen different versions of the story.

During the second round of the cloud competition, one vaper got the switch stuck on his Mutant clone. The battery promptly heated up, and the owner of said Mutant dropped it to the floor. When it hit the ground, it exploded, sending scraps of mod flying high enough to leave tiny puncture holes in the ceiling tiles. The type of battery is unknown, and there is a possibility that the switch had been modified; no one is totally sure because there wasn’t much left of the thing. Instantly, Facebook and Youtube blew up (pun intended) with the news.

Phil Busardo, attending his second VapeBlast, was not pleased. Less than two hours earlier he had talked battery safety with an intimate crowd gathered for a fun Q&A, emphasizing that builders need to stay conservative. Then this.

No one was seriously hurt. San Antonio’s police and fire departments showed up promptly and reacted with relief at the lack of damage. The Event Center staff was equally relieved and understanding. The cloud comp was cancelled in favor of a battery safety class given on Sunday by the staff at Coval Vapes. And, several vendors came together to give the competitors some very nice prize packs to make up for the elimination of their event, particularly Moon Mountain Vapor and Cuttwood.

“Fortunately, it was a reminder to be careful, and nothing worse,” Event Coordinator Sarah said. “We probably won’t hold official cloud competitions at VapeBlast events after this.”
The strong actions are encouraging, but the incident too clearly says that work needs to be done educating vapers, encouraging care and demanding accountability. Whoever dropped the mod did not stick around to own up to his or her mistake, which hurts the community as a whole. Every vaper should be glad that no children were allowed to be close and local press coverage was lighter than at the Lewisville event.

This is a single poor mark on an otherwise fantastic event. The burning question here is, how did VapeBlast 2.0 stack up against VapeBlast 1.0, held in Lewisville earlier this year? The comparison is a little unfair. The SAEC is a bigger venue, and it played host to a tremendous festival of all things vapor related. Thousands of attendees enjoyed the attention of more than 60 vendors that came in from far and wide, from Boise to Baltimore to Shenzhen, China, each offering schwag by the bagful.

“They put on a great event,” a smiling Heminger said. “We’re happy with all the space, and really happy that they verify ages and keep everyone over 18. Those two things make for a big improvement, and I’m seeing VapeBlast get better and better.”

Several vendors and VapeBlast veterans like Heminger who attended Lewisville, praised the new venue for its improved lighting and superior layout.

Sarah and Kenny loved the turnout. “We learned some lessons from the last convention,” she said. “It’s bigger but more cohesive, not sectioned off from one area to the next. We were able to place the main stage in the center, which made for a better environment.”

There was, indeed, only one actual separation of space. A front room was used, in true Texas fashion, to put up a bar. And several vendors gave away koozies, so your beer stayed cold. God bless Texas.

The atmosphere felt both celebratory and theatrical. Some of vaping’s biggest personalities, like Phil Busardo, Dmitris “The Vapingreek,” and Richard “VapingwithTwisted420” roamed all over the place. Austin Hopper, “Sauce Boss” and CEO of Cuttwood, took on the role of MC, announcing giveaways and raffles in waves of growing magnitude. The raffles, in particular, drew lots of attention: juice, hats, bags, shirts and some very nice mods flowed at a continuous rate into the hands of everyone smart enough to sign up prior to the event online, or sign up with vendors on the spot. Dovpo raffled off half a dozen of their much loved E-Mech mod, local juicemaker Notorious Liquids gave away a dual battery 18650 box mod built by Cloud Nerds in New Jersey and Pip from Suicide Bunny gave out prizes like shirts and full lines of juice on the main stage, along with autographs and lots
of hugs at her
booth. Did I say
free juice? There
were too many
vendors handing it
out to list them all,
but of particular
note, Baker White
celebrated the
launch of their Odin
line by giving out
15 ml bottles of joy.
The award for the most elaborate display goes to Lazarus Vintage, premiering their new Valley of the Kings line. Cleopatra rode to the main stage on a sedan chair carried by the Lazarus staff, in the best tradition of convention craziness, but their booth stole the show by carrying the Egyptian theme over the top. The wall covered in hieroglyphics and full size statue of Horus watched over the new line of juice, along with a treasure chest filled with 7000 ml of their original Seven Wonders line, a bounty that will soon be placed up for auction. Proceeds will go to benefit wounded warriors and cancer research.

The enigmatic Sir James, marketing lead and partner at Lazarus, gave warm accolades to the event.

“The atmosphere is great here, very open, very friendly. The organizers made this an event to remember, and the launch of our Valley of the Kings line went better than expected, so well that we now plan to push up our release date to early September,” Sir James smiled as he said this, certainly aware that allowing people to try the flavors but not buy them yet is a form of Geneva Conventions-grade torture.

Julie Woessner from CASAA shared some time on the main stage, as well, emphasizing the organization’s role as a consumer group, not an industry group.

“We represent vapers everywhere, and we’re starting to see some progress. Legislators are figuring out that this is developing as an industry, that’s it is safer, that we haven’t grown a third arm or anything.”

One smart mouth next to me chuckled at that comment. “Speak for yourself, lady.”

Again, it’s Texas.

Everyone had fun, that much was clear. And aside from the explosive lesson in battery safety, there is little to fault. The layout could have been improved still, as some vendors ended up in hard-to-find places. And while new juice was everywhere, there were only a few new mods to see. But all in all, San Antonio was the place to be on this weekend, and local vapers raved about it. Sarah told me that they may host four events yearly in Texas starting as soon as next year, which would continue the process of turning the Lone Star state into a Mecca for enthusiasts on every level. Let’s see it!