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On a wing and a wave

One person will go home this weekend with $1,000 after the 18th annual Duck-A-Thon.

One very lucky, random person.

The charity event, which raises funds for AltaMed's Huntington Beach Community Clinic, takes the form of a race, as thousands of rubber ducks are dropped off the Huntington Beach Pier. The first duck to make it back to shore nets $1,000 for the person who bought it, and the next 59 garner a prize of some kind.

But there is no handicapping the Duck-A-Thon, event coordinator Carol Speaker said.

All the ducks dropped off the pier are alike, and it's up to Mother Nature which one the tide carries back first.

"It's absolute luck," said Speaker, who has worked on the event for 16 years. "There's no science involved. It's just a matter of catching a wave. But somehow, every year, one duck does break ahead of the pack and finish first."

Speaker and her fellow organizers have a much bigger concern, though, when the Duck-A-Thon kicks off Friday evening. Last year, the event raised more than $200,000 for the clinic, which serves thousands of uninsured patients every year, and the committee hopes to equal or surpass that number this weekend.

The Duck-A-Thon starts Friday evening with a wine tasting, but the main attraction takes place with the Duck Festival on Saturday and Sunday.

Both days, the pier will come alive with food, games, arts and crafts and vendor booths — plus the duck drop in the early afternoon.

The first one, at 3 p.m. Saturday, is dubbed the Main Event. A pair of skip loaders will dump about 4,000 rubber ducks, bought by community members, off the pier. The next day at 1 p.m., ducks bought by companies will compete in the Corporate Duck Race. The winner of that competition takes home the Golden Duck Traveling Trophy, which changes hands every year.

The skip loaders, committee member Lloyd Skaggs said, are an indicator of how far the Duck-A-Thon has evolved.

"Eighteen years ago, we used a fishing net [to drop the ducks]," he said. "That got too heavy, so we had to bring in tractors next year."

Both individuals and companies can choose between buying regular ducks and more expensive "space ducks," which have painted-on astronaut helmets and net two prizes if they win. Each year, the Duck-A-Thon has a theme, and this year, Speaker said, the committee opted for outer space in reference to the sci-fi film "2010."

Ducks cost $10 to $20 for individuals, and $100 to $125 for corporations, which can also buy $500 "flocks" of five ducks. Participants can buy multiple ducks. Among those competing this year is John Miller, who owns a crane company and plans to buy 10 ducks for himself and his wife, children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

So what does Miller think are his odds of winning?

"About the same as if I had one duck, really," he said.

If You GoWhat: 18th annual Duck-A-ThonWhere: Huntington Beach PierWhen: Wine tasting 6 to 8 p.m. Friday; Duck Festival 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. SundayCost: Wine tasting $40 to $50 in advance, $50 to $60 at the door; Duck Festival admission free; $10 to $500 to buy a duckContact: (714) 500-0382 or www.duckathon.org

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