Moisten your mouth and pucker up: It's seed-spitting season.
That's not me in the picture, but I did pay $1 for a corn kernel and a chance at spit-washed glory at the Holland Corn Festival in Central Texas this past weekend. My kernel landed a paltry 12 feet from the start line, which made me wonder just what the seasoned spitters in my division were doing right.
"It's not an exact science," sighs Jamie Nickells, who chairs Luling's legendary watermelon seed spit, scheduled to return this weekend. "You have to have a little luck sometimes."
Actually, a successful spitter needs two strokes of luck: While the right wind conditions on competition day help, Nickells confirms "someone who's tall has somewhat of an advantage." But even those of us who have to wear high heels to graze the measuring stick at amusement parks can significantly improve our spit distances by following a few basic guidelines, Nickells says.
A championship spit begins with the right seed. When I fished around in the box of kernels at the start line in Holland, I wasn't sure I was looking for something flat or round, large or small. I settled for a kernel that was pretty nondescript, even by kernel standards. According to Nickells, I should have kept digging for a fatter projectile.
"You want to make sure you've got weight and mass," he says.
Spitters in Luling have been debating the running start since the contest was first held, more than four decades ago. While Nickells believes running gives the release extra oomph, he's not sure the rewards outweigh the risks:
"The problem is if you step over the line, it's a footfall and you're disqualified," he explains.
Once situated at the start line, Nickells says, the spitter just needs to relax, choose a trajectory that's neither too low nor too high and "blow hard." Some spitters opt to curl their tongues, creating a chute for the seed, but plenty of champions flat-tongued their way to victory.
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Nickells will be competing in the team division this weekend; He typically spits about 48 feet, well short of record-threatening distances.
"I can tell you how to do it, but I'm no expert," he says.
But Nickells adds it doesn't take an expert to spit a watermelon seed the length of a catamaran. The world record of 68-feet, nine-and-one-eight-inches, set back in 1989, is waiting to be broken by anyone with the right mix of meteorological fortune and moxie.
"You could step right up and spit a great spit cold," Nickells says.