1,794.5-pound pumpkin sets new event record

TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Charity Marshall guides her Wicked Witch pumpkin during Tualatin's annual Pumpkin Regatta.

This story has been updated from its original version.

The West Coast Giant Pumpkin Regatta delivered prizes to gourd-growers and glory to pumpkin-paddlers at the Tualatin Commons Saturday.

As many as 20,000 people, according to organizers' estimates, turned out for the annual festival, headlined by its namesake series of races in which competitors in hollowed-out pumpkins try to paddle their way from the north end of the Lake of the Commons to the south end and back again.

For all its whimsy, pumpkin-paddling is seriously tough. Casle Portner, an avid kayaker who runs a Facebook group called Church of the Double-Bladed Paddle, laughed when asked after her race whether it is harder to paddle a kayak or a pumpkin.

“It was really, really hard,” Portner said of her pumpkin-paddling experience, adding, “I paddled 72 miles in a (kayak) race in May. That was a piece of cake.”

Two paddlers in the open heat of the regatta came all the way from Australia especially for the event after reading about it online. As it turned out, they did pretty well — Mel Joy placed third in the heat, and her husband Dean Pilton placed fourth and won a “good sport” award.

“It lived up to what we thought it would be,” said Joy afterward, beaming.

“It was so much fun,” Pilton agreed.

TIMES PHOTO: MARK MILLER - This enormous pumpkin grown by Steve Daletas set a new record for the West Coast Giant Pumpkin Regatta, weighing in at 1,794.5 pounds.Although Larry Nelson, last year's defending champion in the growers' heat of the regatta, made a strong bid to repeat, Aloha's Mike Walton triumphed.

There were some enormous pumpkins to be seen Saturday — the biggest and heaviest being a whopping 1,794.5-pound pumpkin grown by Steve Daletas of Pleasant Hill, who set a new Oregon state record for pumpkin weight earlier this month. His entry in Saturday's “Terminator Weigh-Off” at the festival was the largest Tualatin has ever seen, beating the record he set at last year's event by more than 75 pounds.

Walton attributed the huge sizes of the pumpkins to both the specially bred “Atlantic Giant” variety used and the hot summer weather the West Coast experienced this year.

“Heat helps,” said Walton, whose own entry in the weigh-off came in at a respectable 636 pounds.

Some growers, Walton said, go so far as to artificially heat the soil in which their pumpkins grow in order to get them to gain weight rapidly.

The Pacific Giant Vegetable Growers, of which Nelson is president, provided pumpkins for the event.

Pumpkins were celebrated in many ways Saturday.

Kid-friendly activities like pumpkin bowling, in which the bowler tries to knock down a set of pins with a pumpkin — harder than it looks, with “alleys” on slightly sloping brick and “balls” of irregular shapes and weights — and pumpkin golf, in which the golfer tries to hit a plastic golf ball into one of several plastic jack-o'-lanterns floating on the lake, saw steady traffic throughout the day.

There was also a pumpkin pie contest sponsored by Village Inn, which provided the pies.

Twelve-year-old Faith Saucedo dug into her pie with such gusto — hands, let alone eating utensils, were not allowed for any age group — that she had pie filling up her nose by the time 60 seconds were up and she was declared the winner for her division.

“We have a very competitive family,” Saucedo said afterward, face still covered with pumpkin and whipped cream. She explained, “I want to be a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader. ... My family teaches me to be the best, and they are the best.”

TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Participants start their race at the Tualatin Pumpkin Regatta.The winner of the adult division of the pumpkin pie contest, Allison Dolezal, wasn't even planning to compete. She works at New Seasons Market at Nyberg Rivers, and she spent most of her day slicing and serving pumpkin bread at the grocer's vendor tent at the Pumpkin Regatta. But she took a break for the pie contest and came away the champion.

“It was completely spontaneous,” she said of her snap decision to enter the pie-eating contest. She added, “This is my first eating contest at all.”

Despite cloudy skies Saturday and showers earlier, regatta-goers stayed dry as the rain stayed away during the festival. By the time the races started at 2 p.m., the lake was thronged with spectators on all sides, with more people still milling about visiting vendor and sponsor booths or admiring the giant pumpkins and other vegetables on display.

“I love this event,” Dolezal said. “This is one of the best turnouts I've seen for Tualatin, and it's just been so much fun and everybody's had such good energy.”

An event specialist with the city of Tualatin, Heidi Marx, said turnout was estimated at between 15,000 and 20,000 people — the biggest ever crowds for the Pumpkin Regatta.

Notable results

Pumpkin Regatta Heat #1 (growers)

  1. Mike Walton
  2. Larry Nelson
  3. Gary Kristensen

Pumpkin Regatta Heat #2 (sponsors)

  1. Steven Jarrett
  2. David Decker
  3. Dan Foster

Pumpkin Regatta Heat #3 (inter-agency)

  1. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Portland Division
  2. Tualatin Police Department

Pumpkin Regatta Heat #4 (open)

  1. Elizabeth Baker
  2. Joe Robertson
  3. Melissa Joy

Terminator Weigh-Off

  1. Steve Daletas (1,794.5 pounds)
  2. Jack LaRue (1,676 pounds)
  3. Cindy Tobeck (1,410.5 pounds)

Editor's note: This story has been updated with comments from the age 11-14 pie-eating contest winner and a city event organizer, along with additional photos of the event.

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