Oregon Field Guide

Pumpkins, paddles and costumes: Folks hit the water for October fun in Tualatin

By Noah Thomas (OPB)
Oct. 31, 2023 1 p.m.

For nearly two decades, paddlers have raced giant pumpkins across the Lake of the Commons

Every October, the city of Tualatin hosts an event that some might think is a bit bizarre: They take 1,000-pound pumpkins, carve them into boats, and race them across the Lake of the Commons.


The catch? They have to wear Halloween costumes.

The West Coast Giant Pumpkin Regatta has been going strong for 19 years, attracting onlookers from all over the country. Local growers donate massive pumpkins to the festival. Once they’re hollowed out, dump trucks haul away the guts. An adjoining festival offers a variety of pumpkin-themed activities and entertainment including a driving range, magic show, and full marching band.

With a rigorous lottery system, only 25 of 158 applicants were chosen to participate in the race this year. The competitors came dressed as superheroes, an astronaut, Princess Leia from Star Wars, Bob Ross, a banana, and one paddler dressed up as multiple characters from the Wizard of Oz.

Tom Powers of Eugene has been applying for years and finally got in. Donning a full-body otter costume and carrying a sign that says “I otter win,” he was excited to paddle in his first-ever pumpkin regatta Oct. 22.

“Normally you’ll find me paddling out on rivers or on the ocean,” Powers said. “But now I’m gonna be paddling in a pumpkin. I’m gonna do my otter most to go out and have a good time.”


Powers raced against 13 other paddlers in a competition called “balderdash,” where contestants have to paddle to a series of buckets place placed around the lake. Inside the buckets are blue balls and paddlers must grab one ball from each before finishing the race.

Thousands of spectators line the edges of the lake, waiting for the race to begin. Powers and the other paddlers squeeze awkwardly into their pumpkins and are handed paddles. They’re told to row to the starting line and await the countdown.

Soon a voice can be heard on a loudspeaker: “Fans are you ready?”

Cheers erupt from the crowd.

The countdown begins, “Five, four, three, two, one... go!”

The paddlers start to paddle furiously. The lopsided weight of the pumpkins makes progress slow for many. Powers is in the middle of the pack. After about 15 minutes, the race is over, with Powers finishing in a respectable 5th place.

“That was the most fun I’ve had paddling for a year or two,” he said. “That was so amazing”