Smashing Pumpkins’ Record

Photo courtesy Facebook/Charity Rusch Marshall

It’s official. Thirteen months after paddling a massive, homegrown, 919-lb. pumpkin (yes, pumpkin) 15.09 miles down Washington’s Cowlitz River, Charity Rusch Marshall received a note from Guinness recognizing her as the official Guinness World Record holder for paddling a pumpkin. The official designation arrived Nov. 9.

Marshall, from nearby Castle Rock, Wash., set the record for longest paddle in a pumpkin on Oct. 9, 2016, when she navigated her Sasquatch-sized squash more than 15 miles down the Cowlitz River from Al Helenberg Memorial Boat Ramp in Castle Rock to the confluence of the Columbia River at Gearhart Gardens in Longview. Ironically, just a week after her 2016 feat, Minnesota’s Rick Swenson allegedly paddled his 1,100-pound pumpkin 26 miles down North Dakota’s Red River, but it hasn’t been verified by the record tallying company.

“He hasn’t been recognized by Guinness,” Marshall told her local newspaper, The Chronicle. “I don’t know if he’s going to end up getting it, but for right now I hold the record.”

A member of the Pacific Giant Vegetable Growers Club, Marshall regularly grows the largest pumpkins she can, with her personal best a whopping 1,500 pounds. She spends hours hollowing them out herself to get them paddle ready. She also regularly participates in Tualatin, Oregon’s annual West Coast Giant Pumpkin Regatta, which this year saw more than 20,000 spectators come out to witness paddlers stroking giant squashes (Marshall took third this year):

Like Charlie Brown’s Linus enjoying his fleeting fame championing his behemoth Great Pumpkin, Marshall — long an advocate of growing the giant orbs and what you can do with them afterward — found herself the subject of a media blitz after last year’s record-setting paddle, and is prepared for the one likely to follow now that she’s cemented her stature in Guinness.

“I have so many people to thank, including my family, husband Lance, and everyone who was out there with me in the kayaks or just cheering me on waving from the bridges,” she told The Chronicle.

Photo courtesy Facebook/Charity Rusch Marshall

Q&A with the Pumpkin Paddling Queen

Age/occupation: 44/stay-at-home mom
Years paddling pumpkins: Four
C&K: What first inspired you to paddle one?
Marshall: Our club, The Pacific Giant Vegetable Growers, holds The Terminator weigh-off in Tualatin, Oregon, which is also part of The West Coast Giant Pumpkin Regatta. It’s quite the event. Around 25 of us hop inside our pumpkins and race them around the lake commons. I have participated in this wacky event for four years now, usually finishing in the top three! I am very competitive, even when rowing a pumpkin.

Do you paddle conventional watercraft as well?
I’ve been paddling off an on all my life. My dad used to take us canoeing when I was growing up. That experience probably helped me paddle a pumpkin. I’m not scared of that kind of stuff. We also have a couple of Old Town fishing kayaks that we use. One’s red and the other is green; I should have gotten mine in orange. I actually went down the river on them several times beforehand to learn the route. There are a lot of sandbars, strainers and twists and turns. You don’t want to run it blind in a pumpkin.

How do they handle compared to a canoe or kayak?
Compared to a kayak they are very cumbersome. A kayak has only a few inches of draft compared to a pumpkin, which can have 12 to 18 inches or more.

Any tricks to paddling one?
Well, you’re paddling a 1,000-pound pumpkin, plus my weight, which makes it pretty heavy. It’s hard getting it to the left and the right quickly, and getting it where it needs to be. They’re not super fast. I’ll sit in it on a neoprene stadium seat, but a lot of times I’ll have to kneel and paddle for all I’m worth. I did hit a sandbar once, and another time I snagged a fisherman’s line. He said, ‘Yay! That’s the biggest catch of the day!’ But they’re very buoyant and hard to sink.

Are they hard to balance?
Not really. But I did go to our local store and bought the longest paddle they had. The paddling strokes are more or less the same, but you have to decide how to sit. They’re tippy from front to back, not side to side. There’s always a heavy point, either in the front or the rear, so you’re constantly adjusting.

Is it hard to get all the gunk out first?
It’s not too bad. You just cut a hole (the meat is about 8 inches thick) and take the gunk out with a regular pumpkin scoop as you would any other pumpkin. There’s just a lot more of it. It takes about an hour. The pumpkin weighted 966 pounds before we cleaned it and about 700 pounds after, so we had about 266 pounds of goop.

Do you think you can paddle one farther than 15 miles?
I think you could go for as long as you wanted to sit in a pumpkin. They last a couple of days, but they might get a little funky after that. As long as Rick Swenson (Minnesota pumpkin paddler who allegedly paddled his 1,100-pound pumpkin 26 miles last year) doesn’t get recognized by Guinness, I’m not under a huge amount of pressure to go sit in a pumpkin for that long again.

How’s it feel to officially have the record in Guinness?
It’s absolutely amazing. I never would have guessed pumpkin seeds would mean so much. It’s magical.

The article was originally published on Canoe & Kayak

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