Matt Zopfi tattoos Melody Tseng’s back at the Inked Hearts Expo at Blue Lake Casino and Hotel Sapphire Palace on Feb. 4. Zopfi works with Black Sands Tattoo and has been tattooing for 11 years. Photo by Megan Bender.

Inked Hearts leaves mark


Tattoo artists and enthusiasts looking for a good time flocked to the Blue Lake Casino last weekend for the ninth annual Inked Hearts Tattoo Expo. Hosted by Amy and Ted Marks from NorCal Tattoo in Arcata, the event featured multiple contests, pageants, local vendors and, of course, plenty of ink.

Gucci, a 35-year-old carpenter from Monterey, comes to Inked Hearts every year. Inked from head to toe, Gucci does not only come for the tattoos, but to see the friends.

“I love Inked Hearts,” Gucci said. “It’s nice because everyone gets to know each other. It’s getting better every year.”

Gucci’s skin sported the pieces which won best black and gray and the best back awards. The trophy was awarded to his artist Juan Gonzalez from Exclusive Ink in Salinas.

A man who calls himself Gucci shows off his Jackie Robinson tattoo, which won the “Best Black and Grey” award at the Inked Hearts Expo at Blue Lake Casino and Hotel Sapphire Palace on Feb. 4. Gucci’s tattoo was done by artist Juan Gonzalez. Photo by Megan Bender.

Other awards for the show included best leg, best traditional, best arm, best tribal and best in show. All winners received one-of-a-kind trophies crafted by local artist Ken Beidleman of the Kinetic Sculpture Lab.

Tattoos were not the only draw for attendees this year. Other events included the hot guy/hot girl contest, the Super Bully Bowl dog pageant and the “hot wings of death” challenge sponsored by Humboldt Hot Sauce.

During this entertaining spectacle, a group of eight contestants were required to choke down 12 spicy chicken wings in three minutes to compete for a $250 cash prize, a trophy and a $500 gift certificate from NorCal Tattoo.

Three sweaty, watery-eyed winners took to the challenge. NorCal Tattoo was kind enough to give them each a $500 gift certificate.

One winner, Bill McBroom, said he wasn’t in it for the money or the tattoos. He plans to give the gift certificate to his daughter.

“I got the trophy and the bragging rights,” McBroom said. Then, quoting a sign made for him, “Pain is temporary. Glory is forever.”

Fortuna resident, Nate Peake, 25, came to support McBroom, his girlfriend’s dad. He was very proud of his performance. Peake said he was also excited about the rest of the expo and was maybe planning to get a tattoo while he was there.

“A lot of phenominal artists are here,” Peake said.

Beyond providing eclectic events and a haven for tattoo heads, Inked Hearts helped to support the local economy. Ted Marks, owner of NorCal Tattoo and owner of the show, said the event helps support not only Blue Lake Casino and NorCal, but many other local businesses as well.

“It makes all the tattoo shops see a boom for the next couple of months,” Marks said. “The people who come spend their money in town, a lot of money gets poured back into the community.”

Marks said this was by far the biggest turnout for Inked Hearts and he was extremely pleased with this year’s event. He is already planning for the 10th anniversary in 2019. This event is important because tattooing means everything to him.

“It means I get to show what I love,” Marks said. “I get to show the culture that embraced me and didn’t judge me. Being a part of that fuels me and motivates me. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”

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