Photos from the Vault

Morro Bay aimed for world record at 1974 Oyster Festival

Steve Parich, who took deep breaths before each bite, drops an oyster down the hatch. At the Morro Bay Oyster Festival, oyster shucking contest in May 1974. ©The Tribune
Steve Parich, who took deep breaths before each bite, drops an oyster down the hatch. At the Morro Bay Oyster Festival, oyster shucking contest in May 1974. ©The Tribune

Shortly after Morro Bay became a city, the community launched an Oyster Festival. It was a popular spring event for a number of years but has faded from the scene. The Central Coast Oyster Festival debuted in Morro Bay in 2012, but this year moved to Avila Beach.

As a point of reference, a recent search for "Guinness World Record for oyster shucking" turned up 38 in under one minute by Patrick McMurray.

Look at the crowd in the 1974 photo. The only person with a camera is taking the picture; today a good portion of the crowd would have a cell phone at the ready.

The following Telegram-Tribune story is from April 1, 1974:

Oyster shuckers, eaters set record at Morro fest

A crowd of about 3,000 to 4,000 persons turned out for the Sixth Annual Oyster Festival in Morro Bay where the world record for Oyster Shucking and Eating was set Saturday. Predicted bad weather, which turned out to be an off prediction, was blamed for the lack of a larger turnout. Continued gas problems across the state may have kept more people away.

Bill Duke, manager of the Morro Bay Chamber of Commerce, said the crowd was about the same as last year and the motels were reasonably full. About 750 people watched 10 teams of oyster shuckers and eaters vie for the world championship.

While the first two-person teams opened and ate 36 oysters in eight or nine minutes, the team of George Leage of Tiger's Folly and Joe Johnson of Joe D's in San Luis Obispo knifed and gulped their way to a four-minute, 32-second world record.

The twosome left no doubt about their abilities as they beat their nearest competitors by more than one minute. In fact, Leage was the only one to shuck his oysters so fast that his teammate couldn't swallow the slippery contents quickly enough to keep up with him.

Supervisor Elson "Buzz" Kidwell, not known for his fondness of oysters, ate the first oyster before the cheering crowd witnessing the first such contest. Kidwell said afterwards, "I'm developing a taste for them."

Claude Streeper, moderator for the event, said the winner's names will be submitted to the Guinness Book of World Records. The judges for the contest included Jack Youngblood and Dave Elmendorf of the Los Angeles Rams.

Second place at 5:39 went to Reg Whibley and Ed Strasser of San Luis Obispo National Bank in Cayucos and third place at 5:42 went to Red Leage and Richard Arango of Cayucos Supermarket.

Festival visitors pretty well cleaned out the free oyster stew, an annual event of the festival. Hundreds of people boarded Tiger's Folly for a trip out to the Morro Bay oyster beds where they picked their own oysters.

Business along the Embarcadero and in downtown Morro Bay picked up markedly with one store owner commenting, "It's great to see so many people in town. It's been kind of slow here all winter."

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