The Huntington Beach Rotary Club's Surfboards on Parade float, cruises down the parade route during the 110th Huntington Beach 4th of July "Waves of Freedom" Parade on Main St. on Friday. (Susan Hoffman, HB Independent / July 5, 2014)

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Thousands of people kicked off the Fourth of July weekend by flocking to Huntington Beach on Friday to watch the city's annual parade.

Every balcony, sidewalk, street median and RV rooftop offered a perch for eager spectators ready to cheer on military veterans, local politicians and radio personalities.

Those people who didn't want to brave the crowds had another option this year. Local ABC affiliate KABC was broadcasting the event to viewers in Southern California, a first in the city's history.

But the die-hards had another reason to show up: NFL Pro Bowl tight end Tony Gonzalez. The football player, who grew up in Huntington Beach and recently retired from the NFL, was this year's grand marshal. He was accompanied by his family, including his grandmother, who turned 96 on Friday.

"I'm looking forward to seeing all the people that I went to school with and all the old faces," he said. "It's going to be fun."

Just minutes before having to board his float, Gonzalez did a quick round of pictures and autographs with fans.

Seth Morton, 13, of Huntington Beach had waited since 6 a.m. to try to get a football signed and had started to have doubts that the football player would cooperate.

"He told me, 'Mom, he's not going to sign my football!'" said Debbie Morton, Seth's mother. "I kept telling him that he will and to just be patient."

Seth's patience paid off. His Kansas City Chiefs football was signed by Gonzalez, who played for the team for 12 years. The teen was left in a daze, glancing at his new souvenir as he tried to comprehend what had just happened.

Helping Gonzalez and his family board the float were Sgt. Jose Acuna and Sgt. Thomas Lathrop, local Army recruiters.

They were looking forward to meeting and helping the NFL star and were happy to celebrate the Fourth of July in Huntington Beach.

"It's good to be here with family and celebrate Independence Day and not forget the people who are still out there in combat," Acuna said. "We have to remember them also."

Spectators up and down Main Street seemingly filled every open space to get a view of all the floats and cars. To secure a good spot, people had to camp out starting the night before.

Resident Sharon Zarkos, 59, took a different route and used her RV as her own private vantage point.

She parked her vehicle at Main and Acacia Avenue on Wednesday and left it there, via a city permit.

"In the past, it was impossible to find parking spaces, let alone a place to stand and watch, so I came up with this plan," Zarkos, 59, said with a laugh.

With Zarkos on the RV was Nina Rasmusson, a former exchange student from Finland who was visiting.

Rasmusson, 44, said she was enjoying the celebratory atmosphere, especially since her home country doesn't honor its Independence Day in such fashion.

"You wouldn't know it was Independence Day, except for the fact that everything is closed that day," she said.

Rasmusson would like to see Finland take a page out of America's book when it comes to marking a national holiday.

"I love it," she said. "We should celebrate it the same way."