It’s pumpkin racing season again. All over the world, giant pumpkins are carving out giant pumpkins for racing. Locations include Nekoosa, Wisconsin, Windsor, Nova Scotia, Tualatin, Oregon, Damariscotta, Maine, Burlington, VT, Elk Grove, California and Hampshire, England. This list is not comprehensive, and it seems like this sport is growing in popularity, especially among competitive pumpkin growers. These folks aim to grow big pumpkins, some well over 1500 lbs. It seems you can carve a pumpkin boat from a 600+ lbs, but the bigger the better. The Windsor, Nova Scotia race appears to be the largest race drawing over 50 contestants, as well as the most advanced, with both a paddled and motorized catagory. This Wall Street Journal article notes that the first pumpkin boat was made by Wayne Hackney of Winchester, NH in 1996 when traveled 2 miles across Candlewood lake in Connecticut.
An interesting trend is how boat racing has begun to influence the breeding and growing of pumpkins. James Nienhuis a U. Wisconsin professor of Horticulture has crossed the Atlantic Giant Pumpkin (a racing favorite) with a pink banana squash to improve its shape. Leo Swinimer of Novia Scotia, a champion racer, has developed techniques to coax a better a boat shape out of his giant pumpkins.
This year, the sport of pumpkin boating was taken to a new level when JR Hildebrandt of Nekoosa, Wisconsin paddled 150 miles down the Wisconsin river in a pumpkin over 8 days to raise money for the Tri-City Children’s Dream Foundation. Hildebrandt’s pumpkin was outfitted with a small propane heater and a bailer. He capsized 5 times during the trip, and ultimately had to switch to a new pumpkin after his first was overtaken with and refused to float. A grower in Stoughton saved the day with a 605 lb replacement for the waterlogged 760 lb pumpkin that started the race. In response to the switch, Hildebrandt reported, “That was like going from driving a Cadillac to driving an Escort.” Clearly, no two pumpkins make boats alike. Read the full story.