My plan to win the Beer Can Regatta was simple at first: just throw a can into the water with everyone else and hope it beat the rest of the competitors. Due to a simple mistake and some quick thinking, I managed to test the ambiguous rules of this event while pulling off an upset which remains controversial three decades hence.
It was a typically-warm springtime afternoon in the high desert northeast of Arizona’s Roosevelt Lake. As usual, it was the perfect time of year for past and present members of Central Arizona College’s journalism program to congregate at our annual Cherry Creek Reunion. About 20 of us gathered at our revered (and proudly irreverent) advisor’s ranch for this annual event. It included fun events including the Regatta, softball games, and CAC trivia. This was also a time of serious beer consumption and friendly debates over whose CACtus newspaper was the best.
Arriving at John Sowers’ ranch, I greeted my fellow alumni and our hosts as I unpacked my gear for the overnight event. Opening the ice chest, my hands fished out two beers: one for immediate consumption and another for immediately afterward. The former I placed atop my truck. In the excitement of arriving, I just forgot about it. So, that can of Coors just sat atop my truck. For hours. A solar receptor, the thin aluminum skin immediately began absorbing 90-degree heat into its frothy interior.
We began with the trivia contest, in which the oldest alums won handily. Lunch was served and we enjoyed catching up with each other and meeting the newer CACtus staffers. As the afternoon heated up, we decided to head down to the creek for a cooling swim and the competitive events on the schedule. Grabbing a cold beer, I noticed the forgotten can sitting atop the cab, and snagged it with every intention of returning it to the ice chest. When I touched it, my hand bounced back as if I’d contacted a live electrical socket. It was more than hot… it was scalding. Realizing the can’s newly-acquired properties, I stopped to contemplate its possible advantages. I found a towel and wrapped the can within, then followed the others down the trail.
I pulled the Official Rules out of my pocket and gave them a quick proofread, nodding at a missing detail. A plan began to form in my conniving mind. It was nearly as devious as when we tossed a furious Sowers into the swimming pool of the motel where we dominated the Rocky Mountain Collegiate Press Association’s awards ceremony a few years prior. I caught up to my buddy Mike, chuckling as the finer points of my scheme finalized. He asked what I was brewing.
“It’s already brewed,” I replied. “You’re gonna like this one.”
I’ve never been very good at softball, but I managed to get a hit while dodging the numerous cow patties, some fresher than others, which served as bases. After another dip into the cool creek waters, it was time for the Beer Can Regatta Qualifying Rounds. Swallowing the contents of my (cold) beer, I managed to coax the empty contestant into the Championship Round. Retrieving the towel-draped hot rod from a nearby sunny rock, I unwrapped it and felt a warm sense of fun in my hand. Mike watched me intently with a puzzled scowl upon his mug. Trying to hide the fact that my “qualifier can” was actually full of steaming-hot hoppy liquid, I readied my pocket knife. Slightly turned to my fellows in the river, I concealed the knife behind my thigh, plunged the can into the river and jabbed the knife point into the can’s bottom.
Nobody seemed to notice my preparations. They were too intently-focused on their own entries. Some cleverly bent their cans in strategic locations in hopes of making it more streamlined. Others had bent the pull-tabs over the opening to limit the amount of water entering their entry. Rules were rules, and they strictly prohibited the addition of any implements not included in the original packaging. I actually giggled in anticipation as we gathered at the starting line, fully confident in my impending victory.
Sowers bellowed, “And now, Regatta finalists, get ready! On your mark! Get set! GO!”
My knife pierced the can as I held it under water, and an explosion of compressed Coors burst forth. The can briefly left the surface, then jetted along the top of the waves as it shot down the creek. Shouts of protest filled the air as my can raced far ahead of the field.
“Coomer’s cheating!” one protested.
“Hey,” yelled another, “disqualify the dirty rat!”
Many other surprised chants filled the air, but my can had already passed the finish line and disappeared around the bend, about 20 yards ahead of the bobbing pack, its fuel spent.
I laughed and shouted triumphantly, then turned toward my accusers. “What’s this, a bunch of sore losers?”
“You cheated!” they cried in unison.
“How?” I shrugged and offered my best innocent face. “The rules merely stated you couldn’t add anything to the can. They did not say it had to be empty.”
The judges conferred, perusing the rules. Although annoyed with my antics, they declared me the victor. Of course, I couldn’t retrieve my can to display as a trophy; it was a mile downriver by then. However, one witness remains to corroborate these events. My buddy and former CACtus Reporter Mike Sauceda, for years now a respected journalist at Arizona’s KAET-TV, can attest to my victory.
The moral of this story: one can of hot beer in a cold river can be more valuable than a chilled brewskie in a boiling creek.