Nine-year-old Nora Ghandhi of Madison had never sat in a pumpkin, let alone raced in one, but the Giant Pumpkin Regatta held at the University of Wisconsin on Saturday was enough to convince her to do it again.
“I want to race again next year and the year after that and the year after that,” she said.
Dozens of spectators gathered on the Memorial Union Terrace to witness the fourth annual Giant Pumpkin Regatta, a fall event put on by the Horticulture Department and Hoofers Sailing Club.
“The Pumpkin Regatta is an annual celebration of fall and of several university clubs coming together to enjoy a day on the lake,” said Hoofers’ Sailing Vice Commodore and event coordinator Bridget Maniaci. “It’s a really neat event. You can enjoy an afternoon on the Terrace while watching people race in pumpkins.”
Two-time racer Maniaci said traditionally, the regatta is kicked off by a competition between horticulture students and members of Hoofers. It is then opened to the public for anyone to race.
The event consists of many heats of two or three participants. Each participant is given an inner tube, half of a carved-out pumpkin and an oar.
Once the pumpkin is fitted into the tube and the race is started, a paddle is used to maneuver the captain and their ship out onto Lake Mendota, around a buoy and back to the Terrace.
Participants used a variety of strategies, employing either the “molecular crouch” or the “leg hang” to sit in their pumpkin.
The shores were packed with spectators throughout the event, and many found themselves getting caught up in the excitement of the race with shouts of “Stroke! Stroke!” or “Get your feet out of the water!” Cheers and whistles erupted every time a pumpkin crossed the finish line.
No one appeared as excited to be there as horticulture professor James Nienhuis, who kept things moving with a megaphone and energizing cheers.
“It’s unusual,” Nienhuis said. “It’s sort of weird. At the same time, it’s just simple fun with no pressure or admission fees. Just laugh, enjoy the fun and challenge your friend or your significant other to a pumpkin race. It’s the simplicity of it that I like.”
Nienhuis sees the event as a great way to extend horticulture beyond the classroom.
“It’s a way of getting the students involved in a hands-on way,” Nienhuis said. “It gives them a sense of ownership in the classroom. I can’t tell you that it is an educational activity, but it gets the students to be a little more relaxed and comfortable with each other.”
UW senior and Horticulture Society President Nathan Urben sees the event as a great way to get the word out about horticulture.
“The event really works to get people interested in horticulture. It’s always an interesting event, and we had a great turnout today,” Urben said. “It’s so great that it’s here at the Union because you can get a beer, a brat and see a pumpkin regatta all in one spot. That doesn’t happen anywhere else.”