New Paltz Regatta on May 1 marks 61st anniversary

A scene from the New Paltz Regatta in 2011. (photo by Lauren Thomas)

A scene from the New Paltz Regatta in 2011. (photo by Lauren Thomas)

When the New Paltz Regatta returns on Sunday, May 1, it will be the 61st anniversary for the annual rite-of-spring event. And while the focus of attention is on the parade of handmade boats with wackier-the-better themes and the culminating competition in the Wallkill River, the spirit of the New Paltz Regatta is really more about getting together with friends and family to enjoy some lighthearted fun outdoors at the largest free event held in New Paltz every year. “It’s just a really good ‘feel-good’ event that people can bring their families to,” says Theresa Fall of the organizing committee. “They can spend the entire day hanging out together and not spend a thing if they don’t want to.”

Kids can enjoy a free bouncy house run by the New Paltz Youth Program and free face-painting by the Bruderhof Woodcrest Community. Live music on the lawn of the Gilded Otter will be provided by local bands that include Yard Sale and Ratboy, Jr.


Registration starts at noon for those entering handcrafted boats into the competition. The cost is $25 per boat. (Participants can expedite the registration process by registering boats online first and bringing the printed-out information to the event.) The parade starts at Village Hall at 1 p.m., where local band Yard Sale will kick off the procession of boats (which at this stage are more like floats). The pageantry will move down Plattekill Avenue, turn left onto Main Street and end up at the Sojourner Truth Park boat launch on Plains Road.

All vessels must be “raft-style” —  no motors allowed — and created by the participants, who are at least 18 years old. And while the rules allow the re-use of the base of previous Regatta boats, there must be a brand new overall theme employed. Past Regattas have had Mardi Gras-themed vessels, pirate boats, space aliens, a Ghostbusters team and a tropical luau raft sporting tiki torches, manned by guys in grass skirts wearing seashell bras.

The organizers of the event never know exactly who will show up until the day of the event, says Fall. “A lot of people will sort of wait until two weeks before, and then decide, ‘let’s build a boat!’”

But every year, it all works out. And after the parade of boats makes it to Sojourner Truth Park, the watercraft are launched into the Wallkill to maneuver approximately a quarter of a mile downriver as they head toward the finish line under the Carmine Liberta Bridge. The teams will compete this year to win prizes in categories that include Best in Show, Most Creative, Most Theatrical, Funniest, Fastest, the Green Award and Most Likely to Sink. The judges are even empowered to create their own categories for prize-winners, should they be so inspired.

Sponsorship by local businesses makes the Regatta self-sustaining, Fall says. The Regatta t-shirts sold also help support the event. “We don’t make money from anything; it all goes back into it. And the prizes for the competition come from a lot of businesses and craftspeople who have been so generous donating gift certificates and items; everything from a free ice cream cone or donut on up.” Any businesses that wish to donate items can still do so up to the day of the event by dropping items off at Jar’d, Fall’s Water Street Market restaurant on the main level.

A lot of volunteer work goes into it all, too. “We couldn’t do this event without people like Jim Tinger (director of the New Paltz Youth Program),” Fall says. “He helps us by bringing in all the youth center volunteers, who run the bouncy house and help at Village Hall with registration, and help get the boats into the water. And this year, Craig Chapman, who owns the New Paltz Kayaking Tours company, has joined our committee and will help get the boats into the water.”

Volunteers from New Paltz High School will organize the Rubber Ducky Race this year at the Regatta, which takes to the Wallkill just prior to the boat race. The fundraiser to benefit the social services programs and food pantry at Family of New Paltz has been a mainstay at the Regatta for years. But now that Family’s longtime director Kathy Cartagena is retiring, students in the “PIGLETS” group at the high school have stepped up to take over the project. They’ll be found selling sponsorship for the yellow rubber ducks at $5 per duck, with the ducks crossing the finish line first earning a prize for their sponsor and all proceeds benefitting Family of New Paltz. The PIGLETS (Participation in Government, Literature and Economics for Today’s Students) participate in committee management, economic decision-making, budget planning, advocacy and public speaking, learning leadership skills through real-world situations within the community.

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