It takes a lot of work to break the pumpkin paddling world record

Rick Swenson paddles
Rick Swenson of Fergus Falls, Minn., paddles down the Red River in a giant pumpkin Saturday morning as he attempts to set the Guinness World Record for longest distance paddled in a pumpkin.
Photo courtesy of Forum News Service

Growing an 1,100-pound squash is probably the easiest part of setting a world record for pumpkin paddling.

So when Rick Swenson hatched the idea of breaking such a record this spring, he wasn't expecting Guiness World Records to give him 36 pages of rules. But he was up to the challenge anyway.

Swenson works for the Wadena-based Wensman Seed company, but his real agricultural passion is pumpkins — really big pumpkins. After years of cultivating giant pumpkins, the Fergus Falls man still wasn't getting the super massive, almost one-ton monsters that break records.

After perusing the Guinness application in April, he opted to pursue a record in pumpkin paddling.

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At the time, the record was just three miles, so Swenson got to work.

He'd planned to put oarlocks on the gourd and row it, thinking that might make it easier to steer, but the record keepers at Guinness ruled that out. He had to use a kayak paddle instead.

Swenson did carry a battery-powered string of LED lights so he could be seen — turns out it gets dark early by the time of year a pumpkin grows to seaworthy size.

But that wasn't all it took to get the record. Swenson needed as many pictures of his pumpkin paddling as possible.

He also had to get an uninterrupted GPS file to prove his journey happened.

"I had three different GPS devices going, just because I was worried that one might fail," Swenson said.

That's on top of the required two minutes of video each hour. Plus the statements from unbiased witnesses.

"People I've never met before, I had to have come out and vouch that they'd seen me start and finish," Swenson said.

Before setting out on the Red River to attempt the record, Swenson took his two biggest pumpkins — which weigh around 11-hundred pounds each — and floated them around on a lake near Fergus Falls to see which was most seaworthy. Friends and family helped drive the pumpkins up to Grand Forks and slipped the biggest one into the river on Saturday about 7:30 a.m.

His brother, father-in-law and three friends brought a pair of fishing boats to provide support — each with 10,000 watts of lights on board. They trolled behind him in the dark, lighting the way so he didn't run into anything and sink his pumpkin. Supporters also food and brought over drinks as he paddled.

Then came the surprise — the record had changed since Swenson had the idea this spring.

Someone increased the record to eight miles.

Then, as Swenson was over seven miles into his journey, he and his team found out the record had again been broken just a week earlier.

The world record sat at 15 miles, but Swenson was determined to press on — although he conceded there really wasn't anywhere between Grand Forks and Oslo, Minn., to get out of the river.

He figures he made about 2.1 miles an hour between Grand Forks and Oslo, a 26-mile voyage.

"I never actually took my boots out of the pumpkin," Swenson said. "I thought about maybe trying to stretch them over the top, but I didn't want to fall out, so when we finally hit shore, I was ready to get out."

Now, he has to mail in all of his documentation to claim the record. He took his pumpkin to the zoo in Wahpeton, N.D. He usually takes his pumpkins there for the its annual Zoo Boo festival.

But this year, they'll have part of a world record to celebrate.

Still, Swenson knows just how fragile a record can be.

"If I had an email today that somebody broke it, I guess I wouldn't be surprised," he said. "And I don't foresee making it through next year without somebody beating it. That's for sure. But that's alright. There's a lot of punishment being on the water that long. So more credit to 'em if they want to."