Elk Grove’s surreal and literally homegrown sport will return to the emerald-green waters of Elk Grove Regional Park’s lake on Oct. 2.
The giant pumpkin regatta will be held at noon and will be the grand finale of the 28th annual Elk Grove Giant Pumpkin Festival. Last year’s race was cancelled, due to organizers’ concerns over attracting large crowds during the COVID-19 pandemic.
As per tradition, courageous skippers will perform the nautical feat of attempting to row boats crafted from the hollowed-out and deseeded shells of giant pumpkins. They will race their boulder-shaped vessels across the lake to take a flag from a volunteer on the dock before racing back to the finish line at the Strauss Island bridge. The first place winner will receive a $350 cash prize.
“It’s such an Elk Grove thing,” said Elizabeth Rhoan, a recreation supervisor from the festival’s organizer, the Cosumnes Community Services District (CSD). “It’s like, ‘Of course, we’re going to race (giant pumpkins) across the pond for bragging rights.’
She mentioned that a good giant pumpkin ideally weighs between 600 and 800 pounds.
John “The Shark” Gayton hopes to compete against his friend Robert Cook, who happens to be a seven-time regatta champion in Elk Grove. He joined the race three years ago, and unfortunately ended up in the drink.
“Well, I think I did very well even though I tipped my pumpkin over about 20 feet from the finish line,” Gayton said.
The Galt resident is also growing a beast of a pumpkin in his yard for the festival’s centerpiece, the giant pumpkin and producing a weigh-off contest that will be held at 10 am on Oct. 1.
Last year’s winner was Napa grower and multiple-champion Leonardo Urena who grew a 1,623-pounder and won a $7,000 cash prize.
Rhoan said that she’s expecting between 30 and 50 growers to compete in this year’s contest. She noted that giant pumpkin champion and guru Gary Miller, who she calls the “Dumbledore of the giant pumpkin world,” will be a celebrity judge.
“He’s a very generous person and he’ll help anyone grow a pumpkin,” Rhoan said. “He’ll give you advice – he has no secrets, he’ll share what he knows.”
Over the years, the giant pumpkin challenge attracted growers from across California and even from as far away as Wisconsin. This Elk Grove event will be held the week before the prestigious giant pumpkin contest in Half Moon Bay. Rhoan said that unlike the Half Moon Bay event that only has its contest in a parking lot on a Monday, the Elk Grove contest has a festival around it.
Aside from the pumpkins, the Elk Grove festival will also have its traditional giant produce contest. Growers are challenged to raise the largest versions of fruits or vegetables such as squashes, melons, tomatoes, and gourds. Rhoan mentioned there will be a “petting zoo” set up at the festival for children to curiously touch giant pumpkins and other produce.
Gayton said that his first pumpkin weighed 700 pounds when he made his contest debut in 2019. He uses seeds given from giant pumpkin growers and thoroughly prepares his soil by adding seven yards of compost and growing cover crops in his patch to replenish the soil’s nutrients every fall.
Gayton’s personal best was his 1,436-pounder that he grew last year.
He said that after the contest ends, he likes to display his pumpkin in his front yard for trick-or-treaters to behold on Halloween.
“I just enjoy watching the kids come by and see how big the pumpkin can get,” Gayton said.
See if his pumpkin will win the crown when the festival kicks off on Oct. 1.
In addition to the giant pumpkins, there will also be the traditional scarecrow contest, live music, food trucks, and a pumpkin patch sale.
There will also be an opportunity for kids to decorate pumpkins and then have Cosumnes firefighters drop them from a three-story tower. Nothing announces autumn’s beginning like the Cosumnes Fire Department’s “splat-o-lantern” tradition.
EG Giant Pumpkin Festival returning Oct. 1-2
The Elk Grove Giant Pumpkin will be held at Elk Grove Regional (9950 Elk Grove-Florin Road), at 10 am on Oct. 1-2. Admission is free and parking is $10 at the park. For more information, visit www.YourCSD.com.