Famed ‘Punkin Chunkin’ contest may be heading to Ocean City

Punkin Chunkin is a decades-old tradition in southern Delaware, started by some guys who had too many leftover pumpkins after Halloween and decided it’d be fun to see who could launch one the farthest. A small field in Lewes eventually gave way to bigger fields in Sussex County until an accident in 2016 put the event on pause.

But this year the organizers are vowing to bring the Punkin Chunkin World Championships back, hinting that they could move out of Delaware because of insurance concerns. The group also said it needs at least 600 acres of space to launch pumpkins that, in some cases, can travel close to a mile through the air. A possible landing point for the event could be Ocean City, Maryland.

“There is a concept to bring it to Ocean City,” said Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan. “It’d be a different type of event if — in fact — it was brought to Ocean City.”

But Meehan said right now the town is still studying the idea to see if the event could work there.

“They’re proposing to put the machinery, the cannons, out on the beach parking lot” along the inlet, Meehan said.

Team “PumpkinHammer” watch their trebuchet as it fires in the Punkin Chunkin 2006 World Championship in Millsboro, Del., Friday, Nov. 3, 2006. (AP Photo/Jim Dietz)

The pumpkins would then be launched into the Atlantic Ocean.

“We have to make sure that that’s something the Coast Guard will approve because that area out there is part of the channel that leads into the Ocean City inlet, so there’s navigational concerns,” Meehan said. “That’s the number one thing that has to be looked at.”

But even if that approval is gained, Meehan said other logistical issues have to be looked at before the town embraces the idea.

The event has gained a raucous following over the years and would likely be somewhat tamer if it moves to Ocean City. But Meehan cited annual events held in the city each year as reasons to think it would still be a success if Punkin Chunkin moved.

Following three diesel horn blasts, a pumpkin is blasted out of the 100-foot barrel of Second Amendment as the “punkin chunkin” team practices Saturday, Oct. 13, 2007, to retain its world championship title, in Howell Mich. (AP Photo/Livingston County Daily Press & Argus, Gillis Benedict)

“I think it might attract some people that never saw Punkin Chunkin before, that are just frequent visitors to Ocean City,” said Meehan. “It’s a successful event in its own right, if we can put our mark on it, if we find that we can put this event on in the manner that Ocean City is used to putting on events — make it safe, make it fun — then I think it might be something that moves forward.”

The ocean makes for a feasible landing zone since the pumpkins would pose no environmental hazard and much of the marine life that would be threatened by the pumpkins heads south before it gets cold in November, though he concedes there could be other environmental concerns that would need to be addressed. He said there are different ways to measure the distance they fly, whether it’s GPS tracking or the use of lasers.

“If we can’t stay a Delaware tradition, we hope to become an Eastern Shore tradition benefiting from laws in Maryland and Virginia for nonprofits. If all else fails, it is our hope to continue to be an American tradition,” a message posted online by organizers said.

Meehan said organizers would like to hear the town’s position on hosting as soon as possible, since the event would be held about six months from now if it’s a go. But for the moment, everything is contingent on what the Coast Guard would say about it. If approved, it appears likely the town would start discussing logistics with organizers to see if it can work.

John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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