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Gondola owner has rowing in his blood

He labels himself as "Venetophile," or someone obsessed with everything dealing with Venice.

No, not the city in California, but the water-locked city in Italy.

When Tim Reinard, owner of Sunset Gondola in Huntington Beach, was 11 years old, he stumbled upon a book his family owned with the picture of the Piazza San Marco on it.

The Long Beach native was immediately hooked and when he turned 19, he had the opportunity of visiting the city he had read about as a little boy.

"I enjoyed reading about the place and its history," Reinard said. "People would give me Venice-related gifts for Christmas."

After working in New York for a company that supplies tax software for accountants, Reinard decided to pick up and move back to Long Beach where he currently lives.

He had nothing but free time after paying off all his debts and picked up small jobs to keep busy.

Then 14 years ago, a friend who was a gondolier suggested he try rowing a gondola.

"I gave it a go and that was that," Reinard said about falling head-over-heels for a newly discovered passion. "Anyone who starts to row will be hooked for life and will be a gondolier for life. It just gets in your blood. There's no other thing like it."

That's when he decided to open Sunset Gondola in Huntington Harbour in 2006, where he now shares his love of Venice with the public.

Reinard has a fleet of four gondolas that travel 10 miles of waterway in the harbor.

Each vessel is authentic, meaning they were made in Venice under Ente Gondola guidelines, the governing body of gondolas worldwide.

They are made of 280 pieces, comprised of eight different types of wood and decorated with various bronze ornaments.

"If you go to different [gondola] companies [in the United States], they don't have the different carvings on the boat," Reinard said.

Each boat has its own name. There's Nelly, Michela and Fabio. But the gondola that has heads turning is his recently acquired Ducati red vessel, Rossa.

Large bronze seahorses can be found on the side of the boat while the white ferro, the front ornament, sits atop of the gondola's front tip.

The bright red vessel was purchased by Reinard who received it on Dec. 19. It had been part of an art exhibit called "Venice in Venice" in 2011.

The Getty Museum partnered with the Venice Biennale, a major art exhibition in Italy, for which each side sent art pieces to one another.

Rossa was one of those art pieces donated by the Getty. American artist Billy Al Bengston – based in Venice, Calif. – painted the traditionally black-colored vessel to its current trim.

Since the gondola was going to be painted a different color, clearance by Ente Gondola was needed, Reinard said.

"This is the only [gondola] that the Ente Gondola said could be red, just for the show," he said.

After the exhibit ended, Huntington Beach surfwear company Quiksilver acquired the gondola. Not knowing what to do with it, the company made an offer to Reinard and he gladly accepted.

He wouldn't say how much he spent to purchase Rossa, but said that an authentic gondola made in Venice costs an average of $100,000.

Though he was lucky enough to get a hold of the rare gondola, it wasn't quite ready to cast off into the water.

The planks on the boat had shrunk to the point where it was letting in too much water to even float after sitting in Quiksilver's warehouse for nearly a year.

Reinard let the gondola sit in the harbor, allowing the planks to swell and made the necessary fixes to get the boat ready.

His Ducati red gondola hasn't given any rides to Huntington Beach guests yet, but Reinard thinks the boat will be the main attraction for his business come Valentine's Day.

There are 22 authentic, Venice-made gondolas in the United States and Reinard said he is fortunate to have four to his name.

Helping Reinard with the rowing are his 100 freelance employees and a friend he met on the East Coast.

Rich Corbaley, 20, of Long Beach has worked for Sunset Gondola for about a year and a half after moving down from Oakhurst, Calif., a city outside of Yosemite National Park.

Like his boss, Corbaley was introduced to gondolas by a friend who was seeking a replacement and was just as eager to learn.

After taking three months to learn the basics, he became more confident in himself and fell in love with rowing.

"The first cruise went fine and everything went well. The people enjoyed it," Corbaley said. "Ever since then it's been a lot of fun. I've got to say that the people always bring me back."

Adam Alves, 20, of Providence, R.I., met Reinard at a gondola competition held by La Gondola Providence in his hometown last May.

Never having been in California, he was offered to come and visit and to stay with Reinard's family for a bit. Alves couldn't refuse.

"He offered me a place to stay and I said, 'Of course I would come down and visit you in California,'" Alves said. "I'm glad I was able to meet him and Rich and it's really a great experience to be out here."

He said learning how to row and steer a gondola is rigorous work and can't be learned overnight.

"It takes three months to learn to go straight, a year to figure out you don't know what you're doing and three to five years to get pretty good," Reinard said.

Rowing requires the gondolier to be focused at all times and is a major draw for Reinard.

"You can spend your entire life practicing and never learn everything there is to know about rowing," he said. "It's like a really great book that doesn't end."

Because not many people outside of Venice can row properly, those who can earn the respect of the natives.

"When some old [Venetian] local says you're the man, you can believe it," Reinard said.

Now 44 years old, Reinard still hasn't lost his enthusiasm for Venice and everything it stands for.

Having gone to the City of Canals many times, he tries to bring a slice of the city he fell in love with back to Huntington Beach.

"We don't have radios on the boat. Everything we own is a radio or a noise maker," Reinard said. "We sell piece and quiet."

Sunset Gondola is at 16370 Pacific Coast Hwy. More information is at sunsetgondola.com.

anthonyclark.carpio@latimes.com

Twitter: @acocarpio

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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