A 2,749-pound pumpkin wins California contest, sets world record

Travis Gienger stood on the stage smiling and dressed in an orange jacket as an enormous blob of a pumpkin lay flat on a scale in front of him.

Officials had just given the ginormous gourd the greenlight to be weighed Monday at the 50th World Championship Pumpkin Weigh-off in Half Moon Bay, Calif., considered the Super Bowl of competitive pumpkin-growing.

“Wow!” an announcer said. “I’ve never seen anything like that. That’s amazing.”

Gienger, of Anoka, Minn., shifted on his feet. Two growers had just broken a California record with their 2,497-pound pumpkin, and Gienger remembers hoping he could just squeeze by and win. The announcer began hyping up the crowd.

“Oh, my god, here we go!” the announcer said.

Gienger’s pumpkin tipped the scales at 2,749 pounds, and utter pandemonium broke out. Gienger ripped off his hat, pumped his fists in the air and hugged everyone onstage. The crowd hollered and cheered.

Gienger named his pumpkin after basketball legend Michael Jordan, and he was celebrating as Jordan did after he led the Chicago Bulls to six NBA titles.

The announcer punched into the air and yelled into the microphone, “Oh my god, Half Moon Bay is in the record book! That’s a world record!” as the song “We Are the Champions” by Queen began blasting in the background.

“It’s surreal,” Gienger, 43, told The Times on Tuesday.

Guinness World Records currently lists the heaviest pumpkin at 2,702 pounds, and it belongs to an Italian grower. A spokesperson for the organization did not respond to requests for comment about Gienger’s pumpkin.

Gienger named it Michael Jordan because he wore No. 23 and Gienger attempted to grow the greatest pumpkin in the year 2023.

Gienger was introduced to pumpkin-growing by his father, who also raised pumpkins as a hobby. Around 14 years old, Gienger grew a 447-pound pumpkin. “That kind of started the whole thing,” Gienger said.

He first competed in Half Moon Bay’s weigh-off in 2020 and has set records at several events, including for largest pumpkin in North America last year. Though he’d been contacted by various weigh-offs this past season, Gienger said he had his sights set on Half Moon Bay, not just because of its Super Bowl status, but because his daughter Lily took her first steps there a year prior.

Gienger began growing this year’s pumpkin in April from an Atlantic Giant seed. He does not use a climate-controlled greenhouse and instead grows right in his backyard, he said. The pumpkin started off “nice, basketball round,” he said, but eventually “grew into this blob.” The season started late and brought plenty of challenges, including low nightly temperatures, hailstorms (if you look close enough, you can see the marks they left on the pumpkin) and scorching heat, he said. He wondered whether every day was Michael Jordan’s last.

With plenty of water, fertilizer and feed, the beast kept growing. In the early hours of Oct. 7, Gienger, with help from friends and a compact track loader, put Michael Jordan — which measured 7 feet 5 wide by 6 feet 7 long — onto the back of a trailer and headed west with his family. A cardboard sign affixed to the trailer read “California or Bust Round 3” and the number 2 crossed out.

Gienger felt unsure of Michael Jordan’s fate early Monday morning. The pumpkin was unusual in how it grew, and he wondered whether it would even make it to the scale because of a small crack that formed in July where the pumpkin gets pollinated.

But officials inspected Michael Jordan and gave it the thumbs up to be weighed. “It’s covering every inch of this thing,” the announcer said, referring to a brand-new scale at the front of the stage.

“They put up the numbers, and I was like, yes!” Gienger said. “I was just hoping for 2,500.”

Gienger won $30,000, but the journey isn’t over. Michael Jordan will stay on display in Half Moon Bay and ride on a float in a parade as part of the city’s famous two-day Art & Pumpkin Festival. Where it goes from there remains a moving target, Gienger said.

“There’s a lot of places that want it,” he said.

But the pumpkin’s likely last stop will be in New York, where it will be carved for another shot at a Guinness record as the world’s largest and heaviest jack-o’-lantern, Gienger said.

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