One of the original cardboard cup regattas in the world sets sail this weekend

Crew members of the "Hershey's" boat paddle during the 28th Annual America’s Cardboard Cup Regatta Saturday, June 23, 2012, at Main Beach in Crystal Lake.
Crew members of the "Hershey's" boat paddle during the 28th Annual America’s Cardboard Cup Regatta Saturday, June 23, 2012, at Main Beach in Crystal Lake.

In this race, cardboard floats your boat. 

Or not. Either way, participants in the 27th annual America’s Cardboard Cup Regatta will win awards, ranging from “Most Spectacular Sinking” to “Most Creative Theme” to “Ugliest Boat.”

With trophies going to the fastest vessel in each of the event’s six classes, speed will count, too.

But what really matters, organizers say, is it’s fun. Both fun to compete in and fun to watch.

“It’s on the beach. It’s a great summer community event, and it helps local charities,” said Nick Kachiroubas, who has been the chairman of the event for about 14 years.

This year’s regatta begins at noon June 22 at Main Beach in Crystal Lake, with gates opening at 9 a.m. for boat inspection and those interested in building Kwiki Boats using special kits provided the day of the event. 

It features cardboard boats crafted out of materials provided racing along a 200-yard course. A shorter, more simplified Kids’ Course will give children the chance to compete, as well.

Admission is $3, capped at $15 per family, with proceeds going to local charities.

In years past, the event, believed to be one of the original cardboard cup regattas in the world, has drawn more than 2,000 spectators and roughly 150 entries. 

“I think like anything, it ebbs and flows,” Kachiroubas said of its popularity and appeal both locally and elsewhere.

“As far as how many boats and how many spectators will depend on the weather the day of,” he said. “It’s looking like it’s going to be a nice summer day.” 

Kachiroubas never really knows what to expect on race day, just some surprises. Past events have drawn a giant red Solo cup and boats themed after Star Wars, the Flintstones and Pirates of the Caribbean. 

The more imaginative the boat, the more attention it gets typically. 

Along with the awards mentioned above, prizes go to the “Most Enthusiastic Crew,” “Most Attractive,” “People’s Choice Award” and “Stars & Stripes,” or the boat with the most patriotic theme.

Boats in the classes of paddle or oar powered, mechanical, sail, Kwiki, Kiddie Cup and Geezer Cup compete to be the fastest. Those usually draw kayaklike boats that move swiftly in the water.

The event originated from a couple of college students at Southern Illinois University who built cardboard boats as part of a class project. In 1983, Crystal Lake Yacht Club members Frank Ward, Chuck Elison and Jim Hooker brought the idea to Crystal Lake to bring the community together.

“At one point, it was internationally known,” Kachiroubas said of the event.

Organizers of a former competitive race in New Zealand used to send their champions to compete in Crystal Lake.

Kachiroubas recently heard from a similar event in Australia, but the challenge is getting the boat to Crystal Lake, he said. 

For now, the regatta will continue carrying on the traditions of the past, no matter who, what or how many show up.

“Here’s what I’ve learned from doing this,” Kachiroubas said. “People will come.”

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