For those who are unfamiliar with this pastime, you might think that people who get their jollies firing pumpkins hundreds or thousands of feet into the air using devices like catapults and pneumatic air cannons might be out of their gourds. But the annual Punkin’ Chunkin’ competition has become something of a national craze – especially after the Discovery Science Channel decided to air a special about the event in 2008. TV ratings were strong and media coverage has expanded each year since.
In fact, this year’s event was the 25th anniversary of a competition that began in its first competition with just four contestants. This year, nearly 100 contestants participated in numerous classes – air, centrifugal, catapult, trebuchet, torsion … and yes, human-powered as well.
When we arrived at the competition venue on Saturday morning – basically a large field in rural Sussex County – it became evident quite quickly that the torrential rains from Thursday had turned the viewing area into a sea of mud. As we were slogging our way up to the viewing area and very nearly coming out of our shoes as they sank into the mire, I couldn’t help but think of a work colleague’s story of surviving his own personal Woodstock Festival “soggy adventure” in 1969.
Let’s just say that the mud, coupled with the brisk winds and cold temperatures, made for a “challenging” outdoor environment.
But all that was soon forgotten when the “big guns” began their loudly impressive battery of air-powered pumpkin chunking. All thoughts of Woodstock disappeared and I was instead reminded of my grand-uncle’s tales of World War I warfare in the muddy trenches of Northern France.
I’d love to report that we were able to see the pumpkins as they were launched into the air to land 3,500 or more feet in the distance … but the truth of the matter is that the projectile pumpkins flew so fast, it was well-nigh impossible to see them. The only pumpkin we saw “airborne” was an unfortunate misfire by one of the catapults, which flung the pumpkin only a few dozen feet above ground level and then landed with a sickening thud.
One thing was abundantly clear: all the contestants take their pumpkin chunking very seriously! In all, it was an exciting time, and it made me realize why the activity has become progressively more popular over time. One of my business clients – Kaeser Compressors – sensed the competition’s potential early on and became a supplier of compressed air for several of the contestants’ air cannon machines as far back 1999. Smart move.
And how popular is pumpkin chunking now? Popular enough that today, you can find any number of produce/harvest farms where you or your kids can step behind an air-powered cannon and shoot off your very own pumpkins.
Take a weekend outing. Pick up your pumpkins, Indian corn and mums, purchase some natural apple cider … and smash a few pumpkins for good measure. Some families are making it an annual tradition.
Perhaps the greatest proof of all that this pastime has really made it onto the big boards: Believe it or not, a European pumpkin chunking championship is now being held every year in Belgium.
First Euro Disney … now Punkin’ Chunkin’. For sure, the American cultural takeover of Europe is now complete!