HALF MOON BAY — An Oregon man won the 39th annual Safeway World Championship Pumpkin Weigh-Off, but three Napa entrants finished in the top 10.
John Hawkley, the Napa Valley Register’s production manager, finished third overall with a 1,480-pounder that won special honors for being the heaviest entry grown in California this year.
Hawkley won $1,500 for third place and another $1,000 for being best in the state.
Also finishing in the top 10 from Napa were Tim Mathison, whose 1,439-pound entry finished seventh, and Gary Miller, who grew an eighth-place pumpkin that weighed 1,284 pounds.
Thad Starr, of Pleasant Hill, Ore., took home the title by growing a pumpkin that weighed 1,775 pounds. As the winner, he will receive a cash prize of $6 per pound. His gourd set a Half Moon Bay record.
Another grower from Pleasant Hill, Ore., Steve Daletus, grew the second-prize specimen that weighed in at 1,521 pounds.
Hundreds of people gathered on Main Street in Half Moon Bay Monday morning to watch the contest, cheering each weighing. Napa, a hotbed of competitive pumpkin growing, is well represented each year.
Contest organizers had offered a $25,000 cash prize to anyone who was able to break the world record for the heaviest pumpkin, which is currently 2,009 pounds.
Hawkley said his third-place finish surprised him. Eyeing the competition before the weigh-in, he figured his pumpkin would do no better than 12th place.
As it turned out, most of the competing pumpkins were big but light. His was smaller but more dense, he said.
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A year ago, Leonardo Ureña of Napa won the top prize at Half Moon Bay and set a state record with a 1,704 monster. Because he had also won Elk Grove’s Giant Pumpkin festival a week earlier, Ureña won “Farmer of the Year” honors from the Giant Pumpkin Commonwealth.
Hawkley’s 2012 entry at Half Moon Bay was 68 pounds lighter than his 2011 entry — a 1,548-pounder — that took fourth place.
He would have won fourth place again this year, too, Hawkley said, except that the judges disqualified a pumpkin weighing more than 1,600 pounds for a pin-hole opening discovered by the stem. This disqualification bumped his entry up to third place.
Hawkley credited his pumpkin-growing friends for his success this year. He used a seed provided by Gary Miller and took advantage of the tips that growers share among themselves, he said.
When he gets back to Napa on Monday evening, Hawkley said he would celebrate with a bottle of champagne with his wife Patty.
“I want to thank her for supporting me all year long with my hobby,” Hawkley said. Because he spends two hours each evening in his pumpkin patch, dinner preparation duties often fall to his wife, he said.
Hawkley said he still has one more big pumpkin ready for competition. He intends to enter it this weekend in a contest at Uesugi Farms near Gilroy where the heaviest entry wins $7 per pound.
The top five heaviest pumpkins in the contest will be displayed this weekend at the Half Moon Bay Art & Pumpkin Festival. Also on display will be “Eye Candy,” a 380-pound specimen from Portola Valley voted most beautiful pumpkin by the audience.
AP and Bay City News contributed to this story.