After almost three decades of lobsters racing for their lives in front of cheering crowds in downtown Aiken, it appears the Great American Lobster Race may have permanently come to an end.
For the third year in a row, one of Aiken’s biggest street festivals has officially been canceled.
While the Aiken Lobster Race in the heart of this quaint South Carolina town was always an unusual event, particularly since lobsters are generally associated with states located off the northern Atlantic Ocean, it was quite a show.
Why didn’t Aiken race blue crabs caught off the Charleston Harbor or Edisto Island instead of lobsters?
Well, simply put, that’s the way Aikenites roll. They think outside of the box and do what they want.
The event was reportedly conceived as a spoof of the Kentucky Derby and to pay homage to the impact of the horse industry in Aiken.
The inaugural lobster race was held back in Aiken in 1984 and grew over the years.
In its final years, the Aiken Lobster Race literally attracted more than 10,000 people to downtown Aiken and was a sight to behold.
More than 100 “thoroughbred lobsters” competed each year in several heats leading to the main races that started on Friday evening and ran from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. on Newberry Street.
It was quite a show for only a $10 admission and children under six were allowed into the event for free.
While the annual street party featured mostly food and beer, the proceeds from the lobster races benefited clients served by Hitchcock Healthcare, Tri-Development Center of Aiken County and The Aiken County Special Olympics.
Also, the sale of the popular red floppy foam lobster hats that the crowds always loved helped support the Special Olympics each year.
The lobster races also featured family fun rides, live music and local stage performers.
Needless to say, it was a fun and very unique event for Aiken.
However, it now appears to be coming to a permanent end.
For three years, organizers have promised that the lobster races would return the following year, but that hasn’t happened.
Back in 2015, the event’s Facebook page stated that it would return on May 7, 2016, with “the biggest, best Lobster Race ever.”
But that never happened.
The Great American Lobster Race co-founder Todd Stilp told The Aiken Standard in April 2016 that the “long-running Aiken festival needs another year off to retool, rebrand and reorganize.”
He told the Aiken newspaper that the last thing he wanted was to run the event just for the sake of running it.
“This thing had become its own entity, almost like a yearly reunion,” he reportedly said. “In order to do this right, we need to take our time and not rush things; and if we’re going to do this, we definitely need to do this right.”
Stilp seemed so optimistic last year.
“Taking another year off is not a bad thing,” he told the newspaper.
But three years off is a different story.
There are so many new residents moving into Aiken County each year who now have no idea that the Aiken Lobster Race even existed.
The last event was held on May 2, 2014.
While the city of Aiken and Aiken Public Safety are reportedly in full support of the event, the Aiken Lobster Race is losing steam. (Of course, the lobsters might be secretly celebrating that fact.)
While Stilp is still telling the local media that he hopes that the lobster races will return to downtown Aiken in 2018, most say that is unlikely.
It is a sad end to a pretty fun event each year in Aiken.
The Insider will leave readers with a few fun facts that it has learned about lobsters at the Aiken Lobster Race over the years:
Lobster shells were once used to make golf balls.
Lobsters chew with their stomachs.
They taste with their legs.
They eat each other. (Apparently, the know how tasty they really are.)
Females are the players and alway make the first move.
Lobsters can regenerate their limbs.
Lobsters can be up to 3.25 feet in length.
Lobster shells cannot expand in size as the lobster grows so it shed the shells periodically.
Deep-sea lobsters are blind.
Most people think that lobsters are red in color. They are actually brown or olive-green.
Lobsters in the wild can survive up to 100 years.
And you guys thought it was all about eating lobster tails and drinking beer.
Farewell, Aiken Lobster Race. Until we (may or may not) meet again.