Meet Marni Lutz

Recreational Supervisor, Pumpkin Regatta Host

Marni Lutz is a recreation supervisor with the Consumnes Community Services District and is the host of the annual Elk Grove Giant Pumpkin Festival, which encompasses the Pumpkin Regatta. She has been involved with planning the festival for 15 years and has led the festival for the past four years. She entered the Pumpkin Regatta in 2016 and took second place!

Sea: How did this race begin?
Lutz: This will be the 12th Pumpkin Regatta at the Elk Grove Giant Pumpkin Festival. The Elk Grove Giant Pumpkin Festival began in 1994 as a small harvest celebration and official California weigh-off site for a national Giant Pumpkin contest. The festival grew larger each year and so did the pumpkins! In 2006, festival organizers were looking for ways to bring more pumpkin attractions to the event. They searched online and found a pumpkin regatta held in Nova Scotia, Canada, and decided to recreate it, since the festival takes place around a small lake.

How does one make a proper pumpkin boat?
Skippers have the opportunity to test their pumpkin in the water before they carve it. Pumpkins are buoyant but it’s impossible to guess which part of the pumpkin will be floating above the water. So skippers mark the waterline with a permanent marker and then remove the pumpkin from the water and begin preparing the pumpkin with reciprocating saws, hand saws and shovels. They’ll climb into the carved pumpkin while it is on land to make sure there’s enough room for their legs and torso.

Where do the pumpkins come from?
The pumpkins come from the Giant Pumpkin Weigh-Off held the day prior. While the three heaviest pumpkins must remain on display throughout the weekend, the pumpkin growers who didn’t win gold, silver or bronze can decide if they’d like to enter their pumpkin in the regatta. A few returning pumpkin growers even grow pumpkins specifically for the regatta. The top three finishers win prize money and bragging rights.

How heavy was the largest pumpkin boat?
In 2017, one of the pumpkins in the competition weighed more than 1,000 pounds and held two skippers, making it the first tandem pumpkin boat to race in Elk Grove.

Any strategies to win the race?
It is important to pace yourself, because paddling the heavy vessel gets very tiring very quickly. There are no guarantees when you’re relying on a gigantic fruit to carry you across a lake — but it is always entertaining! In 2015, six skippers participated but three tipped over as the race began. In 2016 and 2017, four skippers started off the line but only three finished because one pumpkin boat capsized.

How can participants make the pumpkin water resistant?
They just carve the pumpkin, jump in and start paddling! The 1,000-pound pumpkin shells are surprisingly seaworthy, but they are very difficult to steer. Some pumpkins veer off course and end up soaking their skippers in the lake’s fountain. Some pumpkins tip over and force their skipper to swim back with the boat in tow.