Unlike some of the U.S. National Toboggan Championships teams who’ve sported elaborate and over-the-top costumes in the past 29 years, the founding members of Big Kahoonas— Bruce Richards, Chris Lepow and Edwin Greenrose, along with original member Bill Patten, didn’t worry too much about style. The uniform has always been a dark green embroidered sweatshirt with a fleece hat or ball cap. That’s it, Bub.
Most of the Kahoonas’ energy goes into the making of the toboggan, along with their myriad strategies to win as many of the races as they can.
But, if you want to know where the real secret sauce comes from — behold The Stupid Stick.
Shamans may need ayahuasca in order to conjure the divine—all the Big Kahoonas need is a wooden toboggan runner and eight plastic shot glasses of Dr. McGillicuddy, a flavored spirit that doubles as Prestone De-Icer window washer fluid. On the count of three, The Stupid Stick is tipped back and everyone takes a community shot of the Doctor.
Since they first started competing in 1994, when they were all about 24 or 25 years old, the Big Kahoonas have always raced in multiple heats of two-, three-, and four-person teams. As the years have gone by, the fourth member of the team usually revolves out. With the addition of Greg Sheldon this year, the Fabulous Four are ready to tackle the chute again.
Asked what keeps the momentum up to keep the team together for the 30th year, and Richards will tell you it comes right down to good old-fashioned competition—with his brother, Sean.
“My brother’s team is the Throbbin Boggins and they started a year before we did,” said Richards. “They are our biggest competitor and our partners in crime, as well. So, we can’t stop.”
The team met at Greenrose’s shop in Union last week to work on their latest iteration of a toboggan with ash slats. All told, the team has probably fashioned 10 to 15 toboggans in their racing career.
“We used to build new ones every couple of years,” said Greenrose, who is a builder in his profession.
Richards is an exterminator. “I just kill stuff,” he said.
This year, the team went all Martha Stewart and decided to cut an ash tree down themselves to make the toboggan. They finished off the design by steam bending the runners over a circular form with a steam box.
“Bruce is the one who comes up with these crazy ideas for design,” said Greenrose.
“They work!” Richards shot back.
“We’ve tried all kinds of stuff over the years, different waxes, different combination of the wooden slats, different hand rails,” said Greenrose. “The new ones seems to go faster. This one we’re working on eliminates the hand rails, so it might be a little more flexible. We’ll see if it helps. It’s funny I tell people how long we’ve been doing this and when it comes to building the style of toboggan, we are right back to where we first started in its design. Our same sled, our same finish, our same wax.”
The team doesn’t ever do practice runs, but has faith nothing will go wrong.
“We’ll probably stop half way down,” said Greenrose.
Given how many combinations of teams the Big Kahoonas have, they will be stationed at The Camden Snow Bowl all weekend long, running multiple heats. The payoff for them is about community.
“It’s fun to get together, it’s not like we hang out all of the time,” said Greenrose.
The big white trailer in the parking lot that serves as their home base belongs to Throbbin Boggins and the two teams share it well.
“We just put a Big Kahoonas sticker on the trailer to drive my brother crazy,” said Richards.
It also serves as their warming shack and makeshift bar.
“We make use of The Stupid Stick every 20 minutes,” said Greenrose. “People are always coming by the trailer to say hi. Our whole area is always packed. We have people you don’t see all year long until the Toboggan Races. All the teams give each other hell. It’s pretty good camaraderie.”
In years past, the weather has had a major effect on the teams’ racing times. If it’s frigid cold this year, that’s fine—it’s better for racing. But if it’s snowing or if Hosmer Pond is bumpy, the team members —who always roll off the sled at the bottom to avoid scarring the wood—will probably walk away with bruises the size of hematomas. That’s OK.
But if it’s raining, that’s going to be bad. Real bad.
“Because, I’m the one in front and the second you hit Hosmer Pond, the sled hits a lake of ice water,” said Greenrose. “It’s like going through a frozen log flume. The water shoots right up my pant leg. And you know I’ll be sick three days later.”
Featured on this year’s U.S. National Toboggan Championships official poster, the Big Kahoonas have a fan club, but they don’t let it go to their heads.
“Our whole name is a play on words for you know...” Richards trails off, leaving the meaning up to interpretation, but insinuating it has something to do with the particular part of men’s anatomy that symbolizes courage. “But it’s about a bunch of guys doing stupid stuff.”
For more information on the Camden Snow Bowl’s U.S. National Toboggan Championships visit Camden Snow Bowl
Kay Stephens has been writing about the U.S. National Toboggan Championships since 1999. She can be reached at email@example.com