Avocado launching contest brings fun, tourism to North Platte

Sept. 13, 2023, 1:59 p.m. ·

Avocado Launchers
Competitors of the 2023 National Avocado Launching Championship line up their devices at Wild West Arena

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Walking into North Platte's Wild West Arena last Saturday, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d stumbled upon some kind of adult science fair.

Inside bullpens off to the side, teams of people tended to an array of catapults, ballistae, trebuchets and water balloon launchers. The designs ranged from complex and homemade to simplistic and store-bought.

This was the 2023 National Avocado Launching Championship.

Spicy Tuna Athletics
Team "Spicy Tuna Athletics" came dressed for the occasion at the 2023 National Avocado Launching Championship in North Platte. (Photo by William Padmore, Nebraska Public Media News)

Bryan Johnston of North Platte, part of the three-man team “Holy Guacamole” said his sophisticated looking crank-powered ballista is his own design.

”I’m a fool. Got too much free time apparently,” said Johnston. "He doesn't have a job apparently," another man on his team shouts from a distance.

Another, two-man group, dubbed “Spicy Tuna Athletics”, prepared a rickety-looking catapult for the occasion. One-half of the duo, Griffin Gale of Lincoln, said their design came from whatever the pair had lying around their homes.

"Well, it’s a bunch of two-by-fours, a broken hockey stick shaft and a mixing bowl stolen from Andy here’s kitchen," said Gale.

Another group, “Team Ramrod”, with husband-and-wife Terry and Krista Dressel, also of North Platte, made their launcher from metal scraps from a machine shop. When asked how long he spent making it Terry responded. "Probably a few weekends"

But Why Avocados?

Lisa Burke, Executive Director of Visit North Platte. She says that the wacky nature of the event is intentional, with the idea of it being so strange that it's impossible to miss.

"The first thing is to make people know where the heck North Platte is in this big world that we live in," said Burke. "And then, when they see how much fun it is, and all the things that we have to do, we've got them hooked."

She says the competition is an effort to diversify tourism away from the town’s affiliation with legendary showman William Fredrick Cody, AKA Buffalo Bill.

And it seems to be working. Las Vegas resident Catherine Lanzante, an Omaha native who moved to Las Vegas for work, said she came to the event after seeing a billboard for it months ago while visiting family in Omaha.

Falling Avocados are more dangerous than they appear (Photo by William Padmore, Nebraska Public Media News)

"I put it on my calendar immediately after seeing the billboard. We had to know what it was about," Lanzante said. Next year she hopes to enter the contest herself.

The rules of the contest are simple: Teams use their launchers to send avocados flying in hopes of hit cattle tanks at the other side of the arena. The harder the target is to hit, the higher the points awarded. Each team gets to launch three avocados per match. No combustibles allowed. The top prize snags $3,500 and bragging rights.

Match by match, contestants hauled assorted contraptions to launch the zones, hoping for the best while friends and family cheered from the sidelines.

Bryan Johnston was devastated after his wooden ballista lost out to a simple water balloon launcher.

"To lose to a water balloon launcher is like, the highest level of disrespect and failure that a true competitor can imagine," he said, as he hauled his creation into the back of truck.

Let's Get Smashed
The ladies of team "Let's Get Smashed" demonstrating their avocado launching technique.

The finalists narrowed down to Terry and Krista Dressel of “Team Ramrod” who were armed with their ballista/catapult hybrid vs. “Let’s Get Smashed,” a group of 3 women wielding an elastic water balloon launcher.

“Let’s Get Smashed” built an early lead, hitting two targets, while The Dressels missed their first two shots.

As their third avocado soared across the Wild West Arena, the unthinkable happened: it hit the highest value target. And just like that, Team Ramrod were the 2023 National Avocado Launching Champions.

In the winner's circle, the Dressels were ecstatic, though Terry said he may have invested too much emotion into the contest.

"I probably take things too serious, especially competitions with building stuff and whatnot," he said.

"But we did have fun," Krista said.

The Dressels may have won, but judging from the smiles on the faces of contestants, staff , and volunteers - it’s fair to say … there were no losers.

Terry And Krista
Terry and Krista Dressel of "Team Ramrod" moments after their winning launch ( Photo by William Padmore, Nebraska Public Media News)