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Bed racing -- a soggy Water Festival tradition -- careens down Bay Street

The Fripp Island Resort team gets sprayed by spectators as they cruise along the course during the annual Bed Race in downtown Beaufort on Friday afternoon.  The team did not win the race but did earn the award for the best decorated.
The Fripp Island Resort team gets sprayed by spectators as they cruise along the course during the annual Bed Race in downtown Beaufort on Friday afternoon. The team did not win the race but did earn the award for the best decorated. JONATHAN DYER | The Island Packet

With guns in each hands, 10-year-old Stefan Johnson stood at the ready, waiting for the one time a year when his father gives him the go-ahead to open fire on complete strangers.

Stefan and his father, Doug, were two of more than 150 people who lined Bay Street on Friday afternoon to take aim at the participants of the Bed Race, a popular part of the 54th annual Beaufort Water Festival. The Bed Race has been part of the Water Festival for at least 15 years, according to organizers.

One by one, five teams of five raced down a a half-mile stretch of Bay Street between Harrington and Newcastle streets, their times averaging about one minute. Race rules stipulate that each team must consist of four runners who push the bed -- or in most cases a hospital gurney -- and one rider, all of whom must be older than 16. The teams are encouraged to jazz up their gurneys by adding decorative flairs. The most elaborately-adorned bed earns an award.This year's prize went to the race's third-place finishers from Fripp Island Resort. The team's adorned their bed with white balloons to look like a bath tub, affixing a faux-showerhead to hang above the gurney.

While racers try to navigate the gently-sloped course and a 360-degree turn halfway down the track, spectators douse them with squirt guns or water balloons.

Doug Johnson said watching the race has been a tradition for him and his son for about 5 years, but they didn't show up with water guns until two years ago.

"When we first started coming, Stefan felt sorry for the racers and didn't think it was fair that people were shooting water guns at them," Doug Johnson said moments before the race's first team, Fripp Island Resort, came barreling down Bay Street. "But now that he's a little older? I'm pretty sure he's had those guns loaded with water all day."

After four teams successfully navigated the course, Water Festival volunteers and spectators readied their water pistols for the Commodore's annual ride down Bay Street on a gurney.

Pushed by a team of Pirettes, 2009's Commodore -- the 6-foot 8-inch Wilmot Schott -- was greeted at the finish line by volunteers who doused him with two large coolers full of water and ice anda few congratulatory pats on the back.

Schott said he knew the Pirettes were up for giving the Water Festival's biggest presence -- both in size and in status -- a ride to remember.

"The girls did a great job," Schott said afterward, still dripping wet from his impromptu shower. "I'm pretty sure we had the fastest turnaround yet."

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