Monday, April 27, 2015

Launching Community and Eccentricity

Posted By on Mon, Apr 27, 2015 at 9:00 AM

click to enlarge A shark themed, handcrafted boat in the Wallkill River at the New Paltz Regatta - COURTESY OF THE NEW PALTZ REGATTA
  • Courtesy of the New Paltz Regatta
  • A shark themed, handcrafted boat in the Wallkill River at the New Paltz Regatta

When it comes to the New Paltz Regatta, maybe you’ve been like me lo these years and missed the boat. But it’s a tradition that dates back to 1955 when SUNY New Paltz students and fraternities stormed the streets with homemade rafts and launched them in the Wallkill River in a fabulous display of ingenuity. The event now encompasses all that we in the Hudson Valley hold dear: handcrafting, outdoor adventures, DIY events, and fun for fun’s sake.

It starts about noon on Main Street in downtown New Paltz, where people come to register their handmade, raft-style boats (no motors allowed). Around 1p, the hopefully seaworthy vessels parade down Water Street, displaying elaborate themes like the Wizard of Oz, the Titanic, and pirate ships, to the boat launch at Sojourner Truth Park on Plains Road.

First up is the rubber ducky race where people make bets as the bath toys wobble their way down the river. It’s a fundraiser for Family of New Paltz, the Regatta’s favorite charity.

Historical photo of the New Paltz Regatta on the Wallkill River and spectators on the Carmine Liberta Bridge - COURTESY OF THE NEW PALTZ REGATTA
  • Courtesy of the New Paltz Regatta
  • Historical photo of the New Paltz Regatta on the Wallkill River and spectators on the Carmine Liberta Bridge


Then at about 2p, boats launch for a low-pressure race as spectators line the Carmine Liberta Bridge and riverbanks to watch. Prizes are gift certificates donated by local businesses, and there are multiple opportunities to win in prize categories like Most Creative, Fastest, Funniest, and Most Likely to Sink. For those that do sink, the New Paltz police and fire department rescue services are there to help.

Now celebrating its 60th anniversary of the mostly annual event (there were a handful of years when there was no one to continue it), the New Paltz Regatta has evolved to be the largest free event in New Paltz. With a focus on community-mindedness, eccentricity, and the welcoming of summer, it’s attended every year by thousands of people from every ilk. “It’s a feel-good, community event,” says Theresa Fall, Chair of the New Paltz Regatta Committee. She’s one of just seven volunteers, but on the day of the Regatta, there are about 30-40 people helping to make it happen, including, in large part, the New Paltz Youth Program. They distribute and collect life vests, hang banners, help launch and dock boats, and provide direction to event-goers. “It takes a village,” Fall jokes.

And it’s a fun family day. DJ Bona-Q and the three-piece band, Yard Sale, will set the scene on the Guilded Otter lawn, and there are plenty of food options, including an organic hot dog cart, a Guilded Otter food truck, and donuts across the street. Don't miss the free bouncy house and face painting by the Woodcrest Community. You can even buy a 60th anniversary t-shirt to commemorate your experience and show your support.

The New Paltz Regatta: Main Street near Water Street Market and the Carmine Liberta Bridge in downtown New Paltz; Sunday, May 3rd, starting around noon; $25 to register, free to attend.

Want more waterfront fun? Check out the Hudson River Yacht Racing Association’s 2015 regatta schedule. Or join a rowing club with your children ages 12+. Offering an affordable opportunity to get out on the water regularly, the Mid Hudson Rowing Association meets in Poughkeepsie, and the Rondout Rowing Club meets in downtown Kingston.
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