In these shoes? I don't think so!"

These words from a Kirsty MacColl song came to mind as I watched the contestants pose on stage wearing sexy bikinis and high heels. You are so not going swimming in those outfits...

Moldovan contestant Darina
charmed the onlookers.

Hawaiian Tropic, the well-known maker of sun care products, has held regional pageants in Las Vegas for several years, but the 2004 International Finals is an even bigger event. A total of 89 contestants came here from around the world to compete for the title of Miss Hawaiian Tropic 2004. The 21st annual event was held at the Treasure Island Hotel Casino, known as "TI" since its extensive renovation last summer. The event included dancing, singing, costumes, evening gowns, and, of course, bikinis.

Competition swimsuit" and "swimsuit competition" are two very different things. The former is a sturdy suit that stays in place when its wearer is swimming or diving. The latter involves more, uh, minimalist outfits that look like they might not stay on if their wearers waded into the pool.

Get Your Beach Gear HereFortunately — for the contestants, anyway — the swimsuit competition involved no swimming. Instead, the ladies paraded on a poolside stage during the preliminaries and on the deck of the pirate ship Song in front of the TI during the finals. The preliminary phase also had the ladies modeling "country costumes" from the places they represented. These ranged from traditional (a European maiden costume, albeit with a sexy garter showing), playful (a modified Canadian Mountie outfit with a miniskirt) to festive (an extravagant Mardi Gras costume with green plumage), to elegant (a satin gown in the colors of a country's flag). The regular eveningwear competition took place during the finals, along with another swimsuit phase.

The final evening's events are
onboard the Song in front of
the TI & featured a mock battle.

The pageant included a lot of rehearsals and a few fun events. One contestant told me about the "Survivor Challenge," which involved some actual swimming. It allowed the girls to compete in teams, build friendships, and relieve the stress of the preliminary phase.

During the stress of the finals, the contestants got to have some more fun as they joined several cast members from The Sirens of TI to give a dance performance on the decks of the two ships. They had to be patient during several "takes" of the opening number, as the event was being filmed for television. Later, several contestants gave individual performances: ladies from Australia and Poland performed very athletic dances; the Czech contestant did a creative sleight-of-hand act while dancing, and the contestant from Antigua sang a challenging pop tune.

Hawaiian Tropic founder
Ron Rice presented the "Little
Miss" and "Little Mister"
awards during the show.

Hawaiian Tropic owner and founder Ron Rice attended the pageant, and during the finals he presented special awards to winners of the local "Little Miss" and "Little Mister" Hawaiian Tropic competition. The awardees ranged from two to fifteen years of age, and the winners of the international finals (to be held this summer in Laval, Canada) will attend children's charity events and can appear in advertisements for the company's sun care products for kids.

Ron introduced them as "the future of Hawaiian Tropic." He also introduced distinguished friends in the audience and members of his own family. Far from a seamy or "spring break" atmosphere, this pageant had an air of wholesomeness and class, reminiscent of last year's CarnaVé 2003 pageant. We can joke about ditzy "beach babes," but I was impressed by the intelligence and poise of the international contestants with whom I spoke.

The contest was narrowed to 15 semifinalists, and awards were presented to Miss Congeniality (Bahamas) and Miss Photogenic (Australia). The "Dream Body" award, sponsored by TrimSpa, went to the contestant from Moldova.

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The final swimsuit competition took
place on the deck of the Song.

Mr. Rice returned for announcement of the top five finalists. The crown for Miss Hawaiian Tropic 2004 went to Ashley Smith of Jacksonville, Florida, with runner-up awards going to ladies from Vietnam, Panama, Hungary, and St. Martin. Ron congratulated Ashley on her perseverance; she had competed several times before and was first runner-up in 2003.

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Women compete in the Hawaiian Tropic pageants for different reasons. Some are pursuing long-term modeling careers which would greatly benefit from their placing high in this event, while others simply enjoy the adventure and the opportunity to be international ambassadors in a friendly, social environment. The common denominator was the good time had by all. Modeling is a busy job, however, and most of the contestants I met were headed to the airport the morning after the finals. Too bad — it had been a busy week, and they probably would have liked to slather on some Hawaiian Tropic, kick off their high heels, and take a swim.

Feature and all photos except opening shot by Robert LaGrone, Las Vegas Entertainment Editor.

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