There must be something in the water—or lack thereof—in dusty Alice Springs, home to not one, but two ridiculous races. In mid-July, the Alice hosts the Camel Cup
, a weekend of jockey-mounted camel races and family friendly contests. It’s quickly followed by the regatta, the older and kookier of the two festivals.
Why the Event? Why the Name?
While drinking beers with friends in 1962, Reginald “Reg” Smith, a local meteorologist and concerned citizen, came up with the idea to have a regatta on the dry bed of the Todd River as a charity event for the local Rotary Club. When asked how the boats would race, either being pushed or pulled since there was no water, he responded, “Neither. We’ll carry them.” And a goofy tradition was born.
When asked how the boats would race, either being pushed or pulled since there was no water, he responded, “Neither. We’ll carry them.” And a goofy tradition was born.
The name Henley-on-Todd is a nod and a wink to the prestigious nearly 200-year-old Henley Royal Regatta
, held annually in the United Kingdom. Whereas that event is stuffed with royal pomp and circumstance, the Henley-on-Todd is decidedly more democratic and taken far less seriously.
All the Races
In a single day, nearly 20 events are held, listed and described below. Except for the Bring Your Own Boat race, organizers provide all the necessary equipment to compete, making it very easy to participate. You can register the day of (show up by 8:45 a.m. to get your team on the roster), or preregister online. The day kicks off with a parade down Todd Mall where BYO Boat teams proudly show off their ships.
Anchor the Boat: A tug of war competition between 8-person teams.
Bathtub Derby: Four people carry a fifth in a tub. When they reach the halfway point, a bucket of water is dumped on the person in the tub (adding more weight), then the team races back to the starting point.
Battle of the Boats: For Rotary Club members only, “ships” built over 4-wheel drive vehicles battle it out in the center of the riverbed, spraying eaach other (and the crowd) with flour bombs and water cannons. A messy end to a fun day!
Beach Sprint: This race is a pretty straightforward foot race for kids. Participants start with their backs to the finish line, then turn and race to capture the flag at the end of the course.
Boogie Board: Teams of four pull a fifth teammate sitting on a boogie board across the sandy bed to the finish line.
Bring Your Own Boat: The most creative of the races, teams of four assemble their own craft (rule: “it must look like a boat”), holding it up as they race. Additional prizes are awarded to best design.
Kayak: Individuals carry a bottomless kayak along a slalom course to the finish line.
Lolly Scramble: Just for kids, where children make a mad dash for lollipops hidden in a designated area. Think of it as an Easter egg hunt, or “suckers in the sand.”
Mini Yacht: Teams of 4-6 persons carry sponsored “yachts” complete with sails on a race course.
Mixed Maxi Yacht: Teams of 8-10 persons carry larger sponsored “yachts” on a racecourse.
Oxford Tubs: One of the more challenging events, tin boats with 2-man crews are propelled along rails by members paddling with shovels in the sand.
Rowing 4's: Similar to the kayak race, this time with a larger boat and four team members.
Rowing 8's Head of the River: This slalom race is twice the size of the rowing 4’s: longer boats carried by eight people.
Sand Shoveling: Another endurance test, men, women, and teens compete in separate events, attempting to be the first to shovel sand filling either 44-, 22-, or 16-gallon drums.
Sand Skis: Ridiculous and difficult, four-member teams are strapped to the same set of “sand skis” and try to be the first to cross the finish line. Expect lots of falls in this event.
Surf Rescue: The rails are used again in this event. One prostrate team member paddles with a shovel on a surf board to rescue the “damsel in distress” at the end of the line. Once the second team member is atop the board, the two additional team members haul them back by rope to the starting line to win.
Tour d Todd: This is the weirdest of the competitions. One team member runs inside a giant wheel to the end of the course where the second team member steps in to return the wheel back to the starting line. Picture humans in a giant hamster wheel, if you will.
It’s all good clean fun. Well, it’s not exactly clean, since participants and spectators alike end up more than a bit messy by the end of the day, but it has the feel of a family-friendly carnival. There are food and drink stalls, people wear lots of silly costumes, and generally just have a good time in this town practically in the middle of nowhere.