SANTA MARIA, Calif. - The 74th annual Santa Maria Elks Rodeo began in true fashion with a star-spangled salute to local law enforcement and the military and then kicked off with an all-star professional cowboy competition.
For the first time in the long history of the Elks Rodeo, the top professional rodeo cowboys in the world came to the Elks Unocal Event Center to compete in the inaugural Wrangler Champions Challenge, including local boy Cody Snow from Los Olivos.
"Yeah for sure, I'd like to win my home town rodeo, everyone wants to win their hometown rodeo", Snow said before the competition began.
The four-day Santa Maria Elks Rodeo attracts tens of thousands of visitors of all ages from near and far.
"Year number one for this one", said rodeo visitor Amanda Madison while holding her baby daughter Paige, "hopefully next year she can ride the little ponies, maybe pet the little animals."
"Second year for me", said another visitor who was with two other friends, "first year for me, coming down, had to, first day, it's a blast, beautiful, wish it was like this all the time."
"It just kind of brings everybody close together, all the community kind of rallies around one another to put on a show for the Elks I guess", added visitor Lane Lewis.
Rodeo Way outside the main arena is a prime location for the lucky vendors looking to cash in on the huge crowds.
"This is my 19th year, so its obviously pretty important", said vendor Richard Reinert.
This year there's a global audience looking in.
"CBS Sports international, Wrangler Sports Network, we're streaming live", said Elks Rodeo organizer Phil Harwick, "my brother who lives in New Zealand has been there most of his life can finally get to see the Santa Maria Elks Rodeo, I think that's pretty neat."
The Elks Rodeo is an annual tradition that captures the cultural spirit and history of the old west in the Santa Maria Valley and is passed on from generation to generation.
"Its really exciting, the thrill of all the people here", said flag bearer Alex Emerick.
"It's a sleeping giant but its awoken now", said rodeo supporter Cotton Rosser who's been participating in the Santa Maria Elks Rodeo for nearly 50 years.
Friday night will feature the announcement of the winner of the annual Elks Rodeo Queen competition.