By Ann Powers
For the TODAY
About 500 pounds of Dungeness crabs will hit the race tracks - and then the boiling pots - for the 33rd Annual Garibaldi Crab Races this weekend.
Hosted by the Garibaldi Lions Club, the event will see the crawling crustaceans scurry down a six-lane track for back-to-back heats as they’re cheered on by their “human jockeys.” And while the two-legged competitors vie for prizes, their scuttling steeds … not so much.
“We cook up the losers throughout the day,” quipped Lions Club President Kelly Barnett, who also owns The Spot seafood market in Garibaldi. “The winners get all the glory, and then they get cooked as well.”
Proceeds from the must-see, small-town event benefit sight and hearing assistance in the local community, as well as Christmas baskets for families in need. Organizers expect around 700 com-mitted crab racing fans to attend this year, netting about $7,000 for eye glasses, hearing aids, exams and goods for the giving season.
“It really enables us to be generous to those who would just do without if we couldn’t help them,” said Jeff Coon, Lions Club sight and hearing assistance chairman. “It’s our main fundraiser and it makes a big difference in people’s lives.”
According to the event’s rules, human participants can’t touch their crab counterparts. People can, however, coach their crawling contenders across the finish line first with verbal incentives (yelling, singing, cheering, sweet-talking, etc.), bribery, various scents and even psychic powers. They’re also allowed to pound on the plywood track - and many do with some seriously silly, if not risky, enthusiasm.
“I’ve seen people bleeding down their arms and not even know it,” Barnett said. “By the time the race is over, they’re in a lot worse shape than the crabs are going to be.”
Others have been known to break bones and still return the following year to compete, according to Lions Club members.
This year, the top three adult winners will proudly take home a trophy. The overall victor also gets a $100 cash prize and carries the prestigious title of Northwest Crab Racing Champion. Children placing first, second or third in the kids’ races win items appropriate to their age group.
Prizes including fishing trips, gift certificates, hotel stays, chartered boat trips, artwork, boys’ and girls’ bicycles and more are donated by area merchants and residents. The local crab fleet provides the “athletes” and dozens of volunteers pitch in their time for the activities that give the coastal community’s economy a much-needed boost during the tourism off-season.
Garibaldi resident Richard Lakey volunteered at last year’s races with his daughter by selling drink and raffle tickets. He said it was crab-crazy fun and they look forward to offering their assistance again this year.
“I had a blast,” Lakey said. “I definitely think it’s a good cause and there is something there for the entire family.”
So much so, numerous attendees travel in from across the country, year after year and decade after decade, making Garibaldi’s zany and hilarious crab-racing tradition their own family tradition.
“We’re expecting a lot of the same families that have been coming back for years,” Barnett said. “It’s going to be great.”
The crab races are scheduled from 11 am to 5 pm on Saturday, March 10, and 11 am to 4 pm on Sunday, March 11, at the Old Mill Event Center, 210 Third Street in Garibaldi.
Two-day admission is $5 for adults, $2 for kids aged six to12, and free for children five and under. Race entry fees vary from $1 to $10 depending on the heat.
For more information call Wendy Brown, Garibaldi Lions Club member, at
503-369-5582, or go to www.facebook.com/GaribaldiCrabRaces.