Humboldt County’s creative community comes alive every Memorial Day weekend for the world-famous Kinetic Grand Championship, in which participants pedal, paddle, and otherwise move themselves and their handmade vehicles across land and sea. Part art, part engineering, and part athletic competition, the Kinetic Grand Championship is like nothing you’ve seen before. Also known as the Kinetic Sculpture Race and the Triathlon of the Art World, the event begins noon Saturday and runs until Monday afternoon, as a mind-boggling array of mobile contraptions make their way over land, sand, and sea from the town square of Arcata to the main street of Ferndale, twice crossing chilly Humboldt Bay. Past winners have included everything from dragons and floating flying saucers to Egyptian pyramids (named Queen of Denial) and a Cadillac Coupe de Ville.
Rule Number One of the Kinetic Grand Championship is that all of the “sculptures” must be people-powered; beyond that, imagination is the primary guide. Many “rules” have developed over the years since the race was first run in 1969, including such pearls as: “In the event of sunshine, the race shall proceed,” but most of these emphasize the idea that maintaining style and a sense of humor are at least as important as finishing the fastest. Since the grand prizes are valued at somewhere around $14.98, racers take part solely for the glory.
Spectators are expected to be active participants too, so be prepared to shout and scream and applaud the competitors, or even jog or bike or kayak alongside them. There are many great vantage points along the route, but you have to be in the right place on the right day. Before noon on Saturday there’s a prerace lineup around Arcata Plaza, from where racers head through the streets of Arcata out toward the Manila Dunes before spending the first night in downtown Eureka. Sunday morning, the racers head across Humboldt Bay from Field’s Landing, then camp out overnight on the beach. Monday’s trials include another water crossing, and it all culminates in a mad dash down the Main Street of Ferndale, surrounded by cheering multitudes. It’s all good fun, and a great focus for a visit to this remarkable corner of the world.