Pumpkins aren’t just for pie and carving anymore.

They’re also for hurling, dropping, smashing, boating and driving.

That’s just some of what you’ll see beginning this Saturday in Damariscotta, when a week’s worth of wacky, pumpkin-themed fun fills the town for the annual Pumpkinfest & Regatta.

The event started on a whim in 2006, when a few friends decided to attach a motor to a hollowed-out giant pumpkin and try their luck in the harbor.

“The first one was 754 pounds,” said Alan “Buzz” Pinkham, one of the event’s founders (or, as he calls himself, “head instigator”). “We snuck into town and launched it at the public landing. I say ‘snuck,’ but you don’t really sneak anywhere with a 754-pound pumpkin with an outboard motor strapped to it.”

By the time they were ready to launch it, an impromptu crowd, which Pinkham estimates numbered more than 200, had gathered to see the spectacle.

From, there the event — and the pumpkins — have only grown. The current record for largest pumpkin at the festival is 1,471 pounds.

This year, the festival starts at 10 a.m. Saturday for the amateur pumpkin growers weigh-off. The following day, the professional growers will have their weigh-off, with $10,000 in prize money at stake. All week long, there will be boat-building events and pumpkin-painting events.

But it’s on Saturday, Oct. 6, when things get really serious. That’s when the distance-shooting event — otherwise known as the Pumpkin Splash Down — takes place in Nobleboro.

Spectators will be able to watch as the 2009 world champion team “The Big 10” hurls giant pumpkins across a field. The team travels from Pennsylvania and New Jersey to show off their specialized skills.

Yes, it’s a day of smashing pumpkins — literally.

“People can’t believe what they’re seeing,” Pinkham said.

Later that day brings the official Giant Pumpkin Parade, the Underwater Pumpkin Carving contest, the Pumpkin Pie Eating contest and the Pumpkin Dessert contest, among many other activities.

On Oct. 7, the event’s namesake, the Pumpkinboat Regatta, hits Damariscotta Harbor at 2:30 p.m. If land-based races are more your style, you can catch the Pumpkin Derby at 9 a.m. that morning.

But the day’s weirdest event is the Pumpkin Catapult & Hurl, which takes place from 9:30 a.m. to noon in Nobleboro. The target: A car that’s seen better days.

“It’s amazing what a 10-pound pumpkin at 500 miles per hour can do to a Lincoln Continental,” said Pinkham. “They did figure out that if they didn’t shoot the wheels out from under it, it’s easier to get it out of the field afterwards.”

Pinkham owns Pinkham Plantation, where each spring Pumpkinfest organizers give away 500 to 600 pumpkin seedlings. The giveaway is intended to encourage people to grow giant pumpkins, which will then be weighed at the festival in the fall and used throughout the event as boats, art objects and real-life smashing pumpkins.

About 150 of those seedlings make it to giant pumpkin status and show up at the festival weigh-in.

“We finish it up on Monday, when we do the drop,” Pinkham said. “The drop” involves hoisting giant pumpkins 200 feet in the air with a crane and then letting them smash onto a car below.

“They like it at the recycling center better if we have it crushed,” Pinkham said. “We do it green. We make sure we drain all the fluids out.”

A couple of years ago, the sacrificial car was a retired police cruiser. Festival organizers raffled off the chance to hoist the pumpkins that would smash the car. “It’s surprising how popular the raffle was,” Pinkham said.

When asked why the festival has grown over the years, adding ever more outrageous events, Pinkham said, “there are awful long winters up here in Maine, so each year, we think about what we could do.”

More than 20,000 people attend the festival over the course of the week, and news reports about Pumpkinfest have appeared across the country and around the world.

“It’s just a great time to celebrate nonsense,” Pinkham said. “People spend their whole lives trying to make sense of things. But don’t worry about that. Just come up and have fun. Don’t try to make sense of it.”

Because when it comes to smashing pumpkins, the appeal defies logic. And gravity.

Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: AveryYaleKamila

 

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