By Ann Powers
For the TODAY
“Today’s losers are tomorrow’s lunch,” has been a general attitude behind the Garibaldi Lions Club Crab Races for more than three decades.
And it won’t be any different this Friday and Saturday, March 10 and 11, when the races return for their 32nd year, with hundreds of sideways-crawling crustaceans taking to a six-lane track for back-to-back heats.
“The losers get to go to the ‘hot tub,’” Lions Club President Kelly Barnett said. “We let them relax in the ‘hot tub’ and then we kind of make more money off of them.”
As the rules stand, human “jockeys” can’t touch the crabs. They can, however, encourage their crawling contenders to reach the finish line first with verbal ques (yelling, singing, cheering, sweet-talking, etc.), pounding the plywood track, bribery and/or ‘psychic powers’ — which some previous winners have claimed to invoke.
“You can blow on them, throw kisses at them, you can put nasty-smelling stuff on your hands — you just can’t physically touch them,” said Barnett, who also owns The Spot seafood market in Garibaldi. “Mostly, people bang on the boards and try to make noises and vibrations close to the crab. The only thing a crab is afraid of is an octopus. I haven’t seen anybody yet bring an octopus to the show.”
Maybe not. But one guy left the show with a broken wrist after coaching his crab a little too vigorously. Roy Hamilton, of Garibaldi, said it happened to him during a final championship race four years ago while competing against his 16-year-old daughter, Kaitlyn.
“I was going to make fun of her because I was winning,” Hamilton said. “When I turned around I slammed my hand down and hit the divider. The next morning it was hurting so bad I went to the hospital and they put a cast on it for about a month.”
Remarkably, Hamilton still competes and is looking forward to this year’s event.
And he isn’t the only die-hard. The Daniels family, from Brooks, Oregon, enthusiastically attends every year as a kind of family reunion.
“We started probably 30 years ago when the kids were little and it was a hoot!” said Dean Daniels. “We watched our children do it and now we’re watching our grandchildren do it too. It’s a great family event for a great cause — and some of the best food you’ll ever eat.”
Revenue from the must-see, small-town tradition’s admission charges, racing fees, crab dinners, beverages (beer, wine and non-alcoholic drinks)¬¬, T-shirts, raffles and souvenirs goes to the Lions Club, which uses the money for its hearing and sight program. The club estimates that the fundraiser grosses about $20,000 annually for the program, which helps pay for glasses and hearing aids for locals in need.
“You’re talking about being able to see and hear and how do you put a value on that?” said Jeff Coon, Lions Club secretary and God’s Lighthouse Church pastor. “The need is very real. Especially for those on fixed and limited incomes.”
The Lions also channel part of the proceeds toward charitable Christmas baskets for low-income families in Central Tillamook County.
This year, the top three adult winners will receive a trophy. The overall champion also gets $100 cash.
Children placing first, second or third in the kids races win items appropriate to their age group. Other prizes, fishing trips, gift certificates and more are donated by area merchants.
The local crab fleet donates the crustaceans (about 600 pounds worth) and dozens of volunteers pitch in their time for the activities that offer the local economy a much-needed boost during the tourism off-season.
“The whole town steps up for this,” Barnett said. “It’s such an important part of our community and a lot of fun.”
The crab races will run from 10 am to 5 pm on Saturday and Sunday, March 11 and 12, at the Old Mill Event Center, 210 Third Street in Garibaldi.
Two-day admission is $5 per person 13 and older, $2 for kids aged 6 to 12, and free for children 5 and younger. Race entry fees vary from $1 to $10 depending on the heat.