Saturday, July 30, 2016

World Championship Cardboard Boat Races in Heber Springs - Are They Crazy?

You have to admit, the idea of floating a boat made entirely of cardboard, duck tape and paint may sound just outrageously out there.  But for 30 years, the folks in Heber Springs have gathered at Sandy Beach on Greers Ferry Lake just to do that - and to watch. Check out the video in my story.

Before I went out this morning to Heber Springs, I packed water. A lot of water. In total, two gallons of water, in my car. I remember the first time Grav and I tackled the World Championship Cardboard Boat Races in Heber Springs, and how it about did us in.  We went out with just a couple of small water bottles in hand, in 100+ degree weather, anxious to cover the event.  What we ended up with was a story, a lot of photos and something akin to heat stroke. Honestly, we spent about an hour after shooting the races just sitting in Grav's car, sharing a gallon jug of lukewarm water, AC on high, wondering if either of us would have the gumption to sit upright and drive us to a nice cool restaurant somewhere. But we survived.

Grav had another assignment this morning, and I found myself heading to Heber Springs myself. The weather, for once, was cooperative, and as I passed one of the banks in town I noticed it read 86 degrees. All right then!

Julie Murray greeted me not long after I arrived on site.  The first heat was about to begin and I quickly headed to the finish line. I happened to capture these competitors - the plane from Planes and a boat with characters from Inside Out - right as they crossed the finish line.

The race was close - with the two competitors hitting a new record of less than 8/10ths of a second difference in when they crossed the finish line.

The finish line is a great place to watch the winners come up on the beach to celebrate their victories, but not everyone makes it to that point. I started heading towards the starting line to see what sort of crazy creations were coming along, but first I stopped in and caught the 6-12 year olds' heat in the watermelon eating championship. These melons came from Cave City, and I have to admit, I was a bit jealous.

I also briefly contemplated entering. But I wasn't 6-12, so these kids were safe. I can go to town on a Cave City Watermelon.

This young man is rather proud of himself. You can see why.

That heat out of the way, I wandered down onto the sandy point where the competitors and their folks were hanging out, preparing for their eventual turn in the waters of Greers Ferry Lake.  Boats that had already competed were set out for people to come view on the shore side of the sand.

This boat is a legend. It was built 19 years ago by students at ASU-Heber Springs. It races every year and it's still buoyant.  I managed to miss taking a photo of the race it was in because of the watermelon eating contest, but I did hear it continues to set records.

Down the beach there were other boats, including this tiny one-man craft. How do I know it made it through the race? Well... you'll see here in just a moment.

The theme for this year's World Championship Cardboard Boat Races? Pixar movies.  As the press release for the event clearly stated, each entrant and team were encouraged to decorate themselves and their watercrafts in the manner of a Pixar film.

Race participants will stretch the limits of their ingenuity to design boats made entirely of corrugated cardboard. Not only do these boats, ranging from simple rafts to stunning ships, float, they must also complete four heats around a 200-yard course on Greers Ferry Lake. No other construction materials are allowed, with the exception of tape, waterproofing, and oars to propel the craft. No wood, no metal, no motors—just cardboard and imagination—a powerful combination that earned the event the coveted Event of the Year Alfie Award from the Arkansas Festivals & Events Association in 2015.

Which is how there were at least three different boats designed to look like the house from the popular movie Up.  This one had all eyes upon it.  It was truly massive.

But it wasn't the only rather cool or sporty looking boat out there.  While some teams attempted to create boats that looked just like something from a Pixar film, others just went with a theme, like the guys with Team Mike and Team Sully, Monsters, Inc.-themed teams that went for water worthiness over shape.

I managed to edge out to the very tip of the point, where launches were being made into the water. The very act of getting into the water means the demise for some boats.  For others, that sinking feeling only sinks in once the starting gun is shot off.

There are a whole set of rules about how your boat can be constructed.  Cardboard sheets, carpet tubes and cardboard blocks are allowed, and you can tape it together or use liquid nails. You can't use staples or nails or fiberglass.  And you can use single-coat varnish or paint on the outside.  Otherwise, the sky's the limit, as long as you can carry your boat to the lake and carry it out as well.

Even if it sinks.

You can read all the rules here.

For some, larger is better. For others, a single slim design might do the trick. There are other things to be taken into consideration as well, including the size and weight of the team members who will pilot and paddle the structure, and how those paddles will get to the water.

For the competitors, it's serious, but it's also about having a good time.  The folks who come to watch the races cheer just as much for the winners as the ones who sink to the bottom of Greers Ferry Lake. No worries - the water is not too deep, and there are lifeguards at the ready.

That big Up house? Got to race against a smaller Up house. And this is how it went.

The entertainment value is extraordinary, don't you think?

The heats continued for a while, and then everyone took a break and started back up again. You'll notice all those boats along the outside perimeter of the course - they're not just there to hold the course but to allow locals a great view of the action.

Folks crowded the beach, too - and as you can suspect, there were lots of people in the water.

This year to celebrate the 30th anniversary, a full day's activities had been planned, including a rubber ducky regatta and this Treasure Dig, where adults and kids alike went looking for prizes in the sand.

Lots of food vendors brought their eats, and lots of people brought their chairs and blankets to enjoy the annual event.

Best of all, it was a chance to take in the lovely waters of Greers Ferry Lake. Which reminds me, it's about time I put this story to bed and got on my swimsuit so I can go take a dunk and relax a bit.

You'll find a lot more information about the World Championship Cardboard Boat Races and how they began at this website.  Make plans to come next year for the races, and earlier to enjoy the beautiful oasis that is Heber Springs.


  1. Excellent article Kat! Just want to tell you that the ASU-Heber Springs boat was actually built by ASU-Jonesboro students the year before we started offering classes in Heber Springs as an extension campus of ASU-Beebe. Thank you for the mention!
    ASU-Beebe, Heber Springs employee

  2. Enjoyed the article but nothing was mentioned about the volleyball tournaments or who won my son and his team has played ever year for the last 5 yrs and has won a couple of those tournaments they got some good players


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