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For the Glory and All the Marbles 

Gearing up for the Kinetic Grand Championship

click to enlarge Hippy-potamus 420 mid-makeover.

Photo by Cassaundra Caudillo

Hippy-potamus 420 mid-makeover.

Every Memorial Day weekend, sculptures come to life with the beating hearts of those furiously pedaling and rowing inside them. With a 50-mile course around Humboldt County, one would assume the teams are training day and night to make the trek, but that's not the case for all teams. For teams with members nearly as old as the race itself, the approach is more laid back.

Ken Beidleman, captain of Team 420 Hippy-potamus and six-time first starter winner, has been competing in the race since 1982. This is his 35th time so he knows his way around building a sculpture that can withstand hills, sand and sea. On his team are members who have been a part of the same squad for more than a decade. So how do these veterans train to complete the course each year? They don't. For now, the goal is to have as much fun as possible.

"I get the same team back because we have so much fun that they want to return," Beidleman said.

Getting their ride in shape is workout enough. Some racers don't start their sculptures from scratch and it's common to use the body of an older one, building on top of it or stripping it down to its bare bones and starting from there. Beidleman will be taking that route again this year and reusing the large Pepto Bismol-colored hippopotamus that caught the eyes of spectators in years past. She was originally created in 2008 and has been used four times since. This will be her retirement run, so if you see her, make sure to grab a quick photo or two. Still, there is a good chance she might make a return like the Hamtastic Glory, brought out of retirement last year by co-captains Lush Newton and Malia Matsumoto and set to race again this year.

As the duo was trying to bring another retired sculpture back to life, Beidleman offered up the ham, which was gathering dust above Lost Coast Brewery. Last year it had an Elvis Presley twist and the theme will continue this time around. As "Blue Hawaii" plays softly in the backs of their minds, Newton and Matsumoto are sprucing up the ham and their helmets. Since the theme is Blue Hawaii Kalua pork, their helmets in the shape of the King's iconic hairstyle will be given a coat of blue paint and some larger-than-life pineapple slices will be added on the sculpture itself.

"It's a real piece of history and a privilege that we're able to ride this ham," Newton said.

Like Team 420, they will be competing light-heartedly. Their main form of training is getting prepared mentally to tackle the course and its sheer length. Both co-captains have been competing for over a decade, though last year was their first time helming a vessel, and they know how much time must be dedicated to these sculptures, which doesn't leave much room for training anyway.

"In Kinetic Sculpture you can race two ways," Matsumoto said. "Ace where there's a lot of rules and restrictions and then there's non-ace where the physical rigor isn't as intense. With the constraints of all of our jobs, we didn't have enough time to get ready for that but in the future, we plan to ace."

A brand new aspect to the race for spectators to get in on will be an added marble hunt. Spearheaded by Wende White with the help of Topher Reynolds of Copious Glass, the Great Marble Hunt and Race, will run like most, with clues given out on the day. The marbles, donated by Copious Glass, will be hidden alongside the race route. Others will be sold at the race to offset the price of the marbles in the hunt. The marbles are offered up to be found by both spectators and racers, so expect it to be competitive. But organizers will also be handing out some free marbles to children. This year's sculptural trophy for the winner of the race will also feature marbles.

"We've hooked up together two Humboldt County centered things," White said. "Kinetic racing, which is around the world but really started in Humboldt, and glass marble hunting. The sculpture itself will be a marble drop and it'll spin around, displaying the higher quality marbles."

The Kinetic Grand Championship kicks off at noon on May 25 on the Arcata Plaza. It travels over land and water to finish on Ferndale's Main Street. See the Calendar for details.

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