20th Pumpkin Regatta draws thousands to Windsor, with future of Lake Pisiquid in the back of many peoples minds

20th Pumpkin Regatta draws thousands to Windsor, with future of Lake Pisiquid in the back of many people\s minds
20th Pumpkin Regatta draws thousands to Windsor, with future of Lake Pisiquid in the back of many peoples minds
It was a brisk Sunday as a fleet of giant, hollowed-out pumpkins made their way across the chilly waters of Nova Scotia’s Lake Pisiquid.

It’s part of what has become a unique tradition, one that residents in the Municipality of Windsor and West Hants — along with visitors from across the Atlantic region — have taken part in every year for the past 20 years.

Competitors sit in massive, hollowed-out pumpkins — often painted or decorated in an array of colours — and paddle across the lake using canoe or kayak paddles.

“Giving yourself lots of cushions so you’re not puncturing through, lots of knee support and cushions in there,” said Tony Wood, who was making his second attempt in the regatta. He came in second place last year.

Tony Wood paddles a giant pumpkin on his way to winning the 20th annual Windsor-West Hants Pumpkin Festival regatta on Lake Pisiquid in Windsor, N.S., on Sunday, Oct. 14, 2018.

Participants in the 20th annual Windsor-West Hants Pumpkin Festival regatta paddle a giant pumpkin on Lake Pisiquid in Windsor, N.S., on Sunday, Oct. 14, 2018.

Chip Paterson, known locally as Pumpkin Head, paddles a giant pumpkin in the 20th annual Windsor-West Hants Pumpkin Festival regatta on Lake Pisiquid in Windsor, N.S., on Sunday, Oct. 14, 2018.

Participants in the 20th annual Windsor-West Hants Pumpkin Festival regatta paddle giant pumpkins on Lake Pisiquid in Windsor, N.S., on Sunday, Oct. 14, 2018.

When you’re racing in a gourd, coming in first isn’t always the main thing on your mind — especially when the temperature is in the single digits.

“Life is about adventure so you might as well try new things, and you never know, you might win. Who knows?” he said.

It turns out that the second time was a charm for Wood: he was the first one to reach the finish line during this year’s event.

WINDSOR, N.S. – Tony Wood, winner of the 2018 Pumpkin Regatta (singles), with a time of nine minutes and 48 seconds, took the lead early and didn’t look back.

“The conditions were better than last year, we had a bit of tailwind, the sun was out, I didn’t find it too bad,” Wood said.

“He’s my archrival,” Wood said with a laugh. “He’s super awesome, he’s a very supportive winner and loser depending on what year you catch him. I implemented some of his great tips this year.”

Wood has been training rigorously, although admittedly, not solely for the regatta, although it didn’t hurt.

“I train daily for health reasons, but it does lend itself to this race,” he said. “My brother-in-law and I built a callisthenics gym in my backyard, with kettlebells, pull up bars, and more. And a lot of biking.”

Wood, who also own the Spoke & Note in downtown Windsor, said the regatta is a unique event that draws thousands to the area.

He said he’s concerned about what could happen to Lake Pisiquid as Highway 101 twinning discussions continue.

“It would be very sad if this was one of the last times we did this race because of this highway twinning,” he said. “I also care about the ecology, and I just hope that if we’re in so much a rush to push this through, that we can find a solution where the environment can be looked after and also have a lake to enjoy too.”

Alex Griffin, who came in second place in his second year participating, wearing a princess costume and wig, said his favourite part of the regatta was making children laugh and smile.

“The parade, and all of the kids come to see it, so it’s not the race for me, it’s about making all of the kids laugh,” Griffin said.

“It was amazing, I didn’t make it across last year, I capsized,” he said. “All I wanted to do was get to the other side and I came in second.”

Griffin, who’s originally from England, lives in Wolfville. He’s lived in Nova Scotia on and off for about 10 years.

Leah Early, 15, Cassie Horne, 15, Julia Hoogerwerf, 15, and Kerensa Johnson, 16, were part of the first quad pumpkin. They made it to the finish after briefly getting their giant pumpkin stuck on the bottom.

Hoogerwerf said it was hard work, but added that it felt good to make it across, especially after many prophesized that they wouldn’t make it across Lake Pisiquid.

“It was really hard to row the pumpkin because it was so heavy, it took a lot of muscle,” Hoogerwerf said.

For all four paddlers, who live in Windsor, this was their first time across the lake in a pumpkin, although they’ve all had paddled canoes and kayaks before.

There were definitely times where we were frustrated with each other,” Horne said. “But we worked through it.”

Their pumpkin was painted with a 1960’s theme, all of the paddlers were wearing tie-dye outfits.

“People have come all the way from Austraila, this is on some people’s bucket lists, it’s kind of extraordinary,” Allen said. “Winning the World’s Weirdest Sport probably helped too.”

But still, Allen said she is concerned about the marquee event’s future, with the potential impact of the Highway 101 Twinning Project, which threatens to alter Lake Pisiquid.

“When you build your community around a manmade lake for 50 years, and then all of a sudden to have that torn away, totally threads the very fabric of what we built – our economic development, a pending housing development, we’ve got all kinds of businesses that promote the lake,” she said. “If you have a trickle of water in there, it’s not going to be the same whatsoever.”

“We need to maintain our lake,” she said. “We want an enhanced fish passage, but we think there’s technology today that can accommodate that.”

“We’ve always heard about it and just never had the opportunity to, but we were close by so we figured we would just take a look,” she said. “It was really great, fun for the kids.”

She said they’re planning to come back in the future, and come early enough to take in the parade.

“Seeing all of the boats was pretty neat, I mean wrapping your head around someone riding a pumpkin alone is something,” she said. “The bouncy castles were also a big hit.”

Pat Szczepanowska, with her family, including two visitors from British Columbia, were wearing knitted pumpkin tuques.

“We’re just big supporters of the regatta,” Pat Szczepanowska said. “The regatta and the lake is very important to us. Save our lake.”

“We’re here visiting family and we just came along for the ride,” Szczepanowska said. “We went to see the boats getting prepared yesterday, so I’m really excited to see the regatta.”