KEY WEST, Fla. (CBSMiami) — Dozens of contestants blew their own horns in Key West Saturday, but none did it better than 76-year-old sailing buff Bill Ochse of Ocean City, Md. 

Ochse won the men’s division of the 51st Annual Conch Shell Blowing Contest, held in the tropical garden of the Oldest House Museum on Duval Street.

Winners of the quirky “conch honk” contest are chosen in multiple age groups for the quality, duration, loudness and novelty of the sounds they make.

How did Ochse separate himself from the other blowers?

Ochse played a “drum roll” and march excerpt on his fluted, pink-lined shell. He said he had performed once in a conch orchestra.

In another age group, 13-year-old Taylor Nasser of Key West won by blowing a lengthy blast while hula-hooping.

Don’t be surprised that kids can do it so well.

“You don’t have to blow hard,” Ochse advised. “You just have to keep your lips vibrating.”

The top group entry was the Boca Chica Conchestra, whose 24 members performed a conch-shell accompaniment and offbeat dance to a recording of Jimmy Buffett’s tropical anthem “Margaritaville.”

Blowing into the mollusk shells was a tradition even before the island’s settlement in the early 1800s. At that time, the local economy was largely based on salvaging shipwreck cargoes, and sailors attracted attention by blowing piercing blasts on the shell. 

“When you cruise, the conch horn becomes an important instrument,” said Ochse. “That’s the way you greet other boaters when you come into a harbor, and at sunset you blow the conch horn to salute the setting sun.

The contest was conceived by the Old Island Restoration Foundation, founded in 1960 to advocate the preservation of Key West’s culture and historically significant buildings.

Native-born islanders are called Conchs, and the Keys are nicknamed the Conch Republic.

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