Sun, fun and record crowd enjoy West Coast Giant Pumpkin Regatta
(This story has been updated to reflect the largest attendance ever -- as well as the winners -- of the West Coast Giant Pumpkin Regatta.)
Before the West Coast Giant Pumpkin Regatta race began Saturday afternoon at the Lake at Tualatin Commons, Tyler Knoedler and his daughter found a spot near the railing surrounding the lake to watch the event. A five year resident of Tualatin, Knoedler said it was his first time at the event and was excited to finally see it and "pretty impressed how big these pumpkins can get."
Knoedler joined thousands of other spectators on a warm, sunny day to watch grownups squeeze into the massive gourds as they prepared to paddle around the manmade lake for a prize that, according to one official, is nothing more than "bragging rights."
Soon it was time to begin and cheers rose up when paddlers from the first of four heats, in this case members of the Pacific Giant Vegetable Growers, were sent off by emcee Drew Carney of KGW-TV
Soon a winner emerged – a paddler dressed as Buddy the Elf from the movie "Elf," aka Gary Kristensen of Happy Valley.
Raising his paddle and not breaking character, a victorious Kristensen paid homage to his character by pulling out and eating a container of spaghetti covered with maple syrup, candy corn, and candy canes
In the background, Carney announced the first overturned pumpkin, reminding the crowd, "No one has ever won a race falling outside of a pumpkin."
"It's about time I finally won," Kristensen said shortly after disembarking from his pumpkin, noting this was his sixth attempt. "Maybe I'll run laps around the Christmas Tree."
Meanwhile, Tualatin Police Chief Bill Steele said he was looking forward to having his officers take on members of Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue set for the third heat of the day.
"It's a great experience. Not something everyone gets to do for sure," said Steele. "We are pumped to be out here and take on our comrades in the fire department."
Proudly displayed next to the VIP tent was the pride and joy of the event, the second largest pumpkin in the world for 2018, weighing in at a 2,469 pounds. That behemoth was grown by Steve Daletas, former president of the Pacific Giant Vegetable Growers. Daletas said he planted the pumpkin on April 15 and harvested it on Friday.
"We're taking it home, putting it in front of the house," said the Pleasant Hill resident who has never missed a regatta.
"This is my favorite event," said Daletas. "How can you not have a smile on your face with what you see here?"
Next to the huge pumpkin, Ron Barker talked about what it takes to get ready for the race. Barker said he used a large serrated spoon to scoop out an estimated 150 pounds of pumpkin innards from his 1,055-pound gourd. And while some might think the guts of the pumpkin are just something you throw away afterward, quite the contrary is true. They are highly prized. As an example, in 2010, a 1,810 pound pumpkin produced only 25 seeds, said Barker. Each seed sold for $1,600. "This is awesome!" said Jim Sherwood, one of the founders of the West Coast Giant Pumpkin Regatta as he surveyed both the crowd and perfect weather. "There's gotta be 20,000 people here."
Many were saying it was likely a record turnout.
Ross Hoover, Tualatin Parks and Recreation Department director, said he was pleased to be part of his first regatta after being hired by the city last summer, explaining to a magazine writer from Japan that one of the paddlers came from as far away as New Zealand.
While the regatta was the grand finale of the day, earlier events included a Regatta Run race at Community Park, a pumpkin weigh off, a costume contest and a pie-eating contest.
"This Regatta was fantastic this year," said Heidi Marx, event specialist for the Tualatin Parks and Recreation Department. "We had amazing weather, the largest crowd ever, the second heaviest pumpkin ever grown in the United States, and thousands of happy families creating memories and enjoying a free community event."
First place winners of the West Coast Giant Pumpkin Regatta included:
• Heat One (Pacific Giant Vegetable Growers): Gary Kristenson – aka Buddy the Elf. He is a member of the Pacific Giant Vegetable Growers and was paddling the pumpkin that he grew.
• Heat Two: Tualatin resident Derek Droege, aka Eeyore
• Heat Three: TVF&R vs Tualatin Police. TPD won
• Heat Four: Lottery Winners – Portland resident Robert Gutierrez, aka Day of the Dead.