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Colorado ‘Conch Honker’ Follows in Dad’s Footsteps to Win Key West Contest

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KEY WEST (CBSMiami/FKNB) — A Colorado man won the 52nd annual Conch Shell Blowing Contest in Key West Saturday using the same shell his father used to win the same contest in 1986.

Michael Cox of Pueblo, Colorado was declared the winner.

Nicknamed the “Conch Honk,” the quirky event drew contestants eager to share in a Key West tradition, testing their “pucker power” by trying to make music using the fluted, pink-lined conch shell.

“In 1986 my father, James ‘Whistle’ Cox, was about the same age that I am today, so it was on my bucket list to come to Key West and do my duty and reclaim the family trophy,” Michael Cox said.

(Courtesy: Rob O'Neal/Florida Keys News Bureau/HO)

(Courtesy: Rob O’Neal/Florida Keys News Bureau/HO)

Cox, 38, won the men’s division title by blowing a melodic two-toned blast that lasted about 30 seconds on his father’s shell — followed by part of the 1935 classic “Summertime” on a smaller shell.

Conch shell blowing has been practiced in the Florida Keys for generations. Early settlers blew blasts to signal that a sinking ship had been spotted offshore, and native-born islanders are commonly called Conchs. The shell of the sturdy sea mollusk is a symbol of the island chain, which is also known as the Conch Republic.

The contest attracted hopeful conch “honkers” ranging from age 3 to 77, as well as multi-person ensembles. The group division winner was the Boca Chica Conchestra, a group of more than two dozen people who performed a wacky takeoff on the Village People’s “Y.M.C.A.”

Entrants were judged on the quality, duration, loudness and novelty of the sounds they make. While most could only produce blasts or squeals, two intrepid “conk honkers” managed recognizable excerpts from Nikolai Rimsky- Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumblebee.”

(©2014 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Florida Keys News Bureau contributed to this report.)

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