Johnny "The Shark" Gayton of Galt celebrates his victory at the giant pumpkin regatta, Oct. 2. 

After three years since the last Giant Pumpkin regatta, four contestants competed in this year’s race at the 28th annual Elk Grove Giant Pumpkin Festival in Elk Grove Regional Park on Oct. 2.

As per tradition, “skippers” row boats made from giant pumpkin shells.

This year’s match mixed two veterans who had competed in past regattas, and two newcomers. The main goal was to be the first to row across the lake to the dock to receive a racing flag and back to the starting line near Strauss Island. Three of the skippers managed to row across to the finish line, while one sunk into the lake.

A new winner took the crown as Johnny “The Shark” Gayton of Galt won first place. This was his second shot at the regatta after competing in 2019. Gayton grew a 530-pound pumpkin in his yard and used it for his victorious run this year.

“It feels great,” Gayton said. “I’ve been waiting for this event all year.”

Seven-time champion Robert Cook of Stockton had the lead, but on the way back, they were neck and neck until Gayton got ahead while Cook and Ciera Dulgar vied for second place.

Cook joked that Gayton’s victory was revenge from the last regatta as he tipped over Gayton. Despite coming in second place, he said that it felt great because the contestants gave their prize money to the Firefighters Burn Institute.

Among the newcomers in this event was third-place winner Ciera Dulgar, a therapeutic recreation supervisor for the Cosumnes Community Services District. Dulgar said that there was an opportunity to raise some prize money she wanted to win for the Recreation Adventures (RAD) program, which is the CSD’s adaptive and inclusive recreation program for individuals with disability.

Dulgar said that with this being her first time doing the event, she had no idea what to do. But she noted that she would take part in it again as a fundraiser for the RAD program.

“It was a lot of fun,” Dulgar said. “I definitely got tired on the way back. The pumpkin is really heavy, and it’s hard to push through the water.”

For Cosumnes CSD senior park maintenance worker Eric Sturges, he said that the experience was a lot of fun despite the pumpkin sinking at the beginning of the race. He noted that this was his first pumpkin regatta, and that he could do better next time.

“The effort was there, the pumpkin was not, so we went for a swim,” Sturges said. “It was awesome seeing all these people with their kids with smiles on their faces.”