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Soggy fun at Riverfest Cardboard Regatta

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Sunday, June 1, 2014, at 9:52 p.m.
  • Updated Monday, June 2, 2014, at 9:26 a.m.


The wind blew the Loch Ness monster’s head right off, and it sank in the Arkansas River.

The monster lasted only moments, but cardboard mastheads fall apart easily, especially when wet. The rest of the S.S. Origami was later pulled out of the Arkansas in soaked tatters.

The Origami, the Calimocho, the Rock Bottom and other vessels had been built only an hour before under the Douglas Avenue Bridge for Riverfest’s Cardboard Regatta, a competition in which teams use one roll of duct tape, two pool noodles, as much cardboard as they can piece together and ingenuity to build a raft or mock canoe – or anything that can float dozens of feet down the Arkansas River and past the bridge. The Handyman Matters team’s Origami, which team members constructed by folding cardboard pieces into tight tabs rather than using duct tape, was one of 20 team entries, almost triple the amount from the event’s debut last year.

“This event totally exploded on us, which I love,” said Ron Hayworth, a previous Admiral Windwagon Smith who has been involved with Riverfest since it was known as the Wichitennial. “Look at what Wichita did. It showed up en masse with community spirit, and that’s great.”

The stretch of pavement underneath the Douglas Avenue Bridge was packed with teams huddled in groups, using their hands to mold imaginary hulls, mastheads or paddles out of the air. Parents traced fingers along imaginary lines on the cardboard to show where the next strip of tape was needed. Young children sat in unfinished floats rather than build them. Spectators walked by, judging the progress, and the sound of duct tape being stretched and ripped was constant.

The floats’ designs ranged from meticulous and clean-cut to conspicuous heaps of crumpled cardboard with pieces looking as if they’d been the floor and sides of a float or a paddle at different points in the building process. Most teams accepted sinking as inevitable.

“I’ve kind of accepted the fact I’m going to get wet,” said Wichita East junior Lashaya Lawrie, whose family opted for the “Huckleberry Finn strategy” and built a one-piece raft.

A few feet away stood a group of engineers from Cessna Aircraft Co.

“Cessna frowns on employees using duct tape,” team member Richard Brandler said humorously.

The team named its float the Tuantanic, after Tuan Tran, its captain, and the Titanic, with which they expected to share a similar fate.

“It’s destined to sink,” Tran said before the race. “But we’re confident it’ll last longer than anyone else’s.”

This year’s Riverfest Admiral Windwagon Smith XLI, whose real name is Ron Ryan, led the procession of cardboard floats – wearing his embroidered red jacket, sheathed plastic sword and black hat – out from under the shade of the bridge and into the hot sun. Dozens of spectators lined up shoulder to shoulder along the river’s edge and the bridge above to watch and cheer on competitors.

Brothers Nathan and Austin Sharp were the first to go and the first to sink. The Sharps’ “box-square” design disintegrated almost soon as it hit the water.

“It was designed for trial and error,” Austin Sharp said. “We needed more duct tape.”

Unlike its namesake, the Tuantanic didn’t sink. Tran, huddled in the rectangular float, not only made it past the Douglas Avenue Bridge but went as far as the First Street Bridge before organizers stopped him from floating farther downriver. His team paced him on shore the whole way as they won first place for longest distance.

Lashaya, at first unnoticed by event staff members, made it a few yards farther than Tran, using her arms and legs to push through the water and winning first place for fastest time.

Ryan said he was glad to help judge the competition.

“This is a spectacular opportunity to be outside, get away from iPads and computers and spend time with family.”

Reach Nassim Benchaabane at 316-268-6514 or nbenchaabane@wichitaeagle.com.

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