They’re the New York Yankees of Cambria’s Fourth of July Waiters Race, and San Simeon Beach Bar & Grill showed why once again Tuesday with a come-from-behind win to defend their title.
It was all part of the fun at Shamel Park, where the schedule was packed with events ranging from a patriotic opening ceremony to kids competitions, a pie-eating contest and, of course, after-dark fireworks.
The waiters race, one of the most long-running traditions in the event’s history (this was the 34th annual running), has been dominated in recent years by San Simeon Beach Bar & Grill: Its team has won all but two years since 1999.
This year, the team had to qualify via the losers’ bracket in the double-elimination tournament, then beat a pair of undefeated teams twice in the finals to retain the trophy and win a $225 prize.
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Moonstone Beach Bar & Grill took second and a $150 prize, followed by Sow’s Ear, which won $100. Ten teams competed.
The “Picnic in the Park” event, sponsored by American Legion Post 432, began with talks from Legion members Greg Sanders on the Declaration of Independence and Mike Thompson on the preamble to the Constitution.
Jonathan Wilson, Curtis Rhone and Nate Ehlers raised the flag, John Angel offered the invocation, and Tori Ehlers sang the national anthem.
The park began to fill up early, with drivers circling several blocks in search of a space and many parking out by Santa Rosa Creek, near Highway 1. By midafternoon, Legion Commander David Ehlers estimated that the crowd might have been slightly larger than in previous years.
Plenty of dogs, from an ice-blue-eyed husky to a great Dane, joined scores of kids on grounds that included food booths, music and a giraffe-styled bounce house.
“I have no clue as to how many people we have here,” Ehlers said. “It’s like counting ants, but there are a lot of smiling, happy faces.”
Some of those faces were painted red, white and blue, and others were topped with Uncle Sam-style hats.
I have no clue as to how many people we have here. It’s like counting ants, but there are a lot of smiling, happy faces.
David Ehlers, American Legion commander
Among those wearing the latter was Michael Shanley, who served as the master of ceremonies for both the kids competitions and the Linn’s pie-eating contest. He’s been involved in the event for eight years.
“We’ve had more kids here than we ever had before,” he said. “I put out the call, and they just came out of the woodwork. It was wonderful. There were at least 100 kids out here running around with us and having a good time. I think this is the first year all the prizes are gone.”
Mark O’Bryan, who refereed the waiters race for the 20th year, remembered when the event included other, now-discontinued pastimes, such as a toilet-throwing contest.
When Cambrians were replacing their toilets with the low-flow variety, he recalled, “they kept the lower half of the bowl part. You’d sit back here and see how far you could throw a toilet. Dangerous as all get-out.”
Shanley said a group of volunteers takes the day off work to set things up July 3 every year and another day off to clean up after the event.
Ehlers encouraged community members to show up for a cleanup walk on the beach at 8 a.m. on July 5. Debris from fireworks typically falls onto the beach and needs to be removed, as does trash in the park itself, he said.
“We pride ourselves in having welcoming, clean beaches,” he said, adding that the Legion puts all the money from recycled materials back into the community.