This years race has a decidedly international feel

by: JAIME VALDEZ - Brent Savage makes his way past other pumpkin paddlers on the Lake of the Commons. Savage placed first in the Pumpkin Growers competition in the fifth annual Pumpkin Regatta.At this year's Giant Pumpkin Regatta, all bets are off in the Grower’s Race, says participant Larry Nelson. The reigning champion of pumpkin-boating, Steve Deletas, will be absent due to his recent record-breaking harvest: His nearly 1,800-pound pumpkin won him a trip to New York City, where it will be carved in public, says Nelson.

“He’s a heck of a rower,” Nelson says. “He won’t be (at the West Coast Pumpkin Regatta) this year so we’re open for a new champion.”

Nelson is no slouch himself. This year, the Albany machinist will be hauling a 1,468-pounder to what will be his third Regatta. He owns nine acres of land (although, he says, a half an acre will do for growing one of these giants) and claims there’s no real secret to raising an oversized pumpkin “other than hard work and luck.”

It’s something of a numbers game, too. Nelson typically grows about six large pumpkins, knowing that the fast-growing fruit is likely to split apart. He pollinates the pumpkins at the beginning of July and harvests them shortly before the race.

These aren’t just any species of pumpkin, says fellow grower Jim Sherwood: They’re of the Atlantic Giant Pumpkin variety, developed by Howard Dill of Nova Scotia.

Sherwood, a past president of the Pacific Giant Vegetable Growers organization, describes the fast-paced Regatta preparations: After the “terminator weigh-off,” participating growers place their pumpkins in the Lake at the Commons and have less than two hours to make them seaworthy, in a sense. This involves a frantic but careful scooping — growers save as many of the valuable seeds as possible.

“It’s kind of like a NASCAR pit stop,” Sherwood says.

Then it’s off to the races, or “heats,” although Sherwood describes himself as “more of a stable guy.”

“I will bring some ‘horses’ to the race,” he says. “I raise them, and then I let other people race them.” He describes rowing a hollowed-out pumpkin as “trying to paddle a barge around a lake.”

The 15-minute race is fairly grueling, Nelson agrees. “You’re tired at the end. You’re beat.”

The Regatta began as a way for PGVG to mark the end of the harvest season, Sherwood says. Only a handful of pumpkin regattas are held worldwide — which explains why one special guest, Japan’s champion pumpkin-grower, will be making the trip to Tualatin.

Carl Switzer of Tualatin’s Parks and Recreation Department said there is a decidedly international feel to this year’s Regatta, with China’s Central News Agency sending a reporter to cover the event.

It isn’t exactly commonplace to see racers in costume pedaling these large orange vessels. Nelson admits that prior to his involvement with PGVG, he didn’t even know pumpkins could float.

The ninth annual West Coast Pumpkin Regatta takes place Saturday, Oct. 20, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., at the Lake at Tualatin Commons, 8325 SW Nyberg St., Tualatin. For more information, visit


8 a.m. Pumpkins arrive

9 a.m. 5k Regatta Run

9:45 a.m. Awards ceremony for 5k run

10 a.m. Terminator Weigh-Off

10:30 a.m. Mz. Pearl's Variety Clown Show

11 a.m. Costume Contest

11:30 a.m. Mark Benthimer Magic Show

12 p.m. Mz.Pearl's Variety Clown Show

12:30 p.m. Village Inn Pumpkin Pie Eating Contest (register at the information table beginning at 10 a.m. Limit 10 per age group)

1 p.m. Mz. Pearl's Variety Clown Show

1:30 p.m. Mayor Ogden's Welcome

1:45 p.m. Tualatin High School Cheerleaders Pep Rally

2 p.m. Pumpkin races begin

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