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Minnesota man's 26-mile trip down the Red River breaks world record for pumpkin sailing

Paddling 26 miles isn't even that easy in a boat.

Paddling 26 miles isn't even that easy in a boat. Rick Swenson

Rick Swenson is Minnesota's homegrown hero of the day.

Swenson, a corn seed salesman from Fergus Falls, sailed a giant pumpkin 26 miles down the Red River, smashing the existing Guinness World Record.

Swenson spent his childhood bumbling around his mother’s garden and later went on to earn two degrees in plant science. Over the past seven months, he lovingly cultivated his Dill’s Atlantic Giant from a tiny seed into a thousand-pounder that can easily fit his entire family of three. At that point, riding that pumpkin down the river was only the most original, hair-brained thing he could think of doing with it, Swenson says.

Turns out, he's not the only one with that thought. The world record for pumpkin sailing had already been set at three miles before a guy out in Massachusetts broke it this summer at eight, followed by a woman from Washington who paddled all of 15 miles.

When Swenson went to Guinness with his proposal, he had no idea that all these other people had made attempts at gaining fame from sailing large vegetables.

“I think it’s because it’s new, and it’s still slightly attainable,” he says. “If you get somebody to come out of the woodwork and make it a 150-mile venture, that might change some minds. I actually foresee it spiraling out of control real quick here. I’m just hoping to maintain [the record] this fall because somebody will smash it again next year.”

Saturday morning Swenson cast off from Grand Forks with an entourage of friends in fishing boats. He paddled. They grilled, drank, and snapped photos. Swenson’s elderly parents drove alongside the bank, and walked out to the river a couple times to wave.

A man who ran the local catfishing contest drove up with a reporter from the Grand Forks Herald with the excuse that they were just out fishing.

Twenty-six miles later, Swenson touched down in Oslo. He’d beaten the last world record by more than 10 miles.

Swenson didn’t really have a choice, he says. There are no roads or bridges that crossed the river along that stretch.