Story of Ducky Derby- The Perspective from the River

 
By JUSTIN CARINCI, Columbian staff writer
Reprinted from 2005
 
Clad in yellow, the leader coasted effortlessly toward the finish line Sunday, buoyant among the screams and cheers from spectators. It was the end of a spectacular journey, one that had begun a few hundred feet  upstream.  
 
The Camas-Washougal Ducky Derby, helped wrap up the annual Camas Days festival Sunday. The rubber duck race down the Washougal River brings in money to send local students to college.
 
Event sponsor Camas-Washougal Rotary Club had 1,763 five-dollar ducks adopted this year, raising $8,815. Each duck wore a plastic tag with its four-digit identifier.
At 2 p.m., Rotary member Gary Rankin pulled his blue Ford 2000 tractor off Northeast Third Avenue and onto the Washougal River bridge. Camas police officers diverted traffic as Rankin lifted the tractor's bucket over the railing.
 
"This excitement is killing me," Steve Grundy of Camas said moments before the bucket dumped its cargo.
 
The plastic quackers hit the water with a whoosh, submerged briefly, and then popped to the surface. Then, well, they didn't really go anywhere, opting to huddle at the meandering river's south bank.
 
Holding "lucky duck" tickets, Josh and Renee Powell watched the action from the other side. "When it gets to those rapids," Josh explained, gesturing downstream, "it gets pretty exciting."
 
As with the Tour de France, an enterprising competitor can break from the pack, leaving competitors in its wake. "Sometimes there's one from the back that just shoots forward," Josh said.
 
Sure enough, one duck opened a sizable lead heading into the rapids. "C'mon sixteen-seventy-one," shouted Jennifer Simms of Vancouver , who has adopted ducks in five of the event's 11 years.
 
With the plastic tags invisible from the banks, onlookers could only guess which of the identical competitors carried their numbers. That didn't submerge their enthusiasm.
"Look at that one coming in," Simms said. "He's gonna do it! He just passed up First-Place-Man."
 
As the ducks approached V-shaped buoys that would funnel out a winner, both leaders got caught in a backwater and a third duck launched past, slowly rotating as it went.
"One-three-two-five," derby chairman Fred Lowy called out from the river, plucking out the first winning duck. Wearing a drenched yellow event T-shirt, Lowy felt at home in his surroundings.
 
"We look like ducks, so I might as well be out there like a duck," he said.
 
Grand prize winner Jerome Cure of Portland wasn't there to share in the thrill of victory. But he'll still get to claim his prize, an expenses-paid trip for two to Hawaii.
 
The prizes, donated by local businesses, also included car tires, a television, hotel and resort stays, jewelry and massages.
 
Of more than 20 winners, only 5-year-old Atom Frame was at the finish line when his prize was announced. Frame, who sports a close-cropped hairdo, won a package of hair care products and services.
 
Even after the winners had taken their place on the big board, volunteers coaxed hapless yellow stragglers off the river rocks. "That's mine," said Helen Brocki of Enumclaw, pointing upriver. "The very very last one."
 
Winners or not, participants showed off what has become one of Camas Days' signature events. "My father-in-law is in town from San Francisco ," Grundy said, "and we wanted to show him a good time.
 
"It was either this or Mount St. Helens ."