HEBER SPRINGS — The theme for the 28th Anniversary World Championship Cardboard Boat Races in Heber Springs on Saturday might be hard to accomplish: Keep Calm and Paddle On.
Things tend to get a little hectic for competitors in the annual event.
“They’re definitely not calm, but we did that to kind of open up the theme,” said Julie Murray, new executive director of the Heber Springs Area Chamber of Commerce. “Last year, it was superheroes. We like the idea, one, to align with pop culture going on right now and just to open up the theme to see how creative people can get.”
The event, which begins with the races at 10 a.m. Saturday at Sandy Beach on Greers Ferry Lake, is a major fundraiser for the chamber.
Rafts and canoes created out of corrugated cardboard and made to look like trucks, ships and crazy concoctions will compete on Greers Ferry Lake for honors such as The Captain’s Award for the most creative team and boat.
People come from other states to compete. Last year, teams from Missouri, Tennessee and Texas were in the mix.
“We’ve had even some international participants in the past,” Murray said.
The Pride of the Fleet Award is given to “engineering marvels” — boats that actually float — according to the Heber Springs Area Chamber of Commerce website. Motors are not allowed.
Even the boats that sink can win an award — the Titanic Award is given for the “best and most dramatic sinking.”
Race-day registration is $50 for one or two people and $55 for teams.
“Most teams register the day of,” Murray said.
Cotton Rohrscheib, 40, of Conway, said he and co-workers at his marketing agency, Pleth, raced a boat one year.
He described it, laughingly, as “the most embarrassing day of my life.”
Rohrscheib said the Heber Springs Chamber is one of his longtime clients, “and they talked me into it one year.”
He and his team borrowed a cardboard boat, reinforced it and decorated it to look like Spider-man, he said. It was called the USS Webmaster.
“We got out there, and we felt really good, and the first heat, we got smoked,” he said.
Their competition? A team of 8-year-old girls.
“Their dads had built them a boat. I think they were engineers at Kimberly-Clark or something. I said, ‘Take it easy; let’s just make this fun.’ It was about halfway through this race, and we’re struggling to keep up. The little 8-year-old girls just paddled on away. They beat us by a quarter of a mile,” he said.
“They were just so sweet and nice about it; they smoked us,” Rohrscheib said, laughing again at the memory.
He hasn’t raced since.
“That was all we wanted. We went home and put ice on our wounds and lived to tell about it,” he said.
Murray, who started at the chamber in late June and moved to Heber Springs almost 16 months ago, said she hasn’t seen the cardboard boat races.
“I tried last year by boat and couldn’t get anywhere near them. The lake is almost as crowded as it is during the Fourth of July to watch the fireworks. Close to 1,000 cars were parked last year,” Murray said.
For landlubbers, a treasure dig will begin at 10 a.m., as will a volleyball tournament, with registration at 8:30 a.m. A watermelon-eating contest will begin at 11. Other children’s activities will be available as well.
Although attaching the name “World Championship” might seem like an exaggeration, it’s not bragging if it’s true.
The event has been filmed and broadcast nationally on TV networks, including ESPN and the Fox Sports Network, as well as on German TV.
In 2010 and 2013, the event was named by TripAdvisor as one of the Top 10 Wackiest Summer Events.
Murray may get to see the cardboard boat races this year, but she said she’ll be working at the event wherever she’s needed.
“I’ll be a floater,” she said. No pun intended.
Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or firstname.lastname@example.org.