Elizabeth Camacho, 11, takes part in the 2012 seed-spitting contest at the Watermelon Thump festival in Luling, Texas. The town of 5,500 draws tens of thousands of people for its contest and other watermelon-themed events. (Mickie Bailey)

Washington is known for many things: It’s home to monuments, the president of the United States and a baby panda named Bao Bao. Luling, Texas, is known for one thing: watermelons.

The small town, which is about 1,500 miles from Washington, is home to a watermelon water tower, a watermelon queen and a festival called the Watermelon Thump.

“It’s a big thing for us down here,” said Luling Mayor Mike Hendricks, talking by phone from Texas about the Watermelon Thump. (“Thump” is the sound you’re supposed to hear when you tap a ripe watermelon with your finger.)

The event includes food, music, carnival rides and a parade. But what sets this watermelon festival apart from others is the World Championship Seed Spitting Contest.

Robert Martinez, right, and Chris Power, driving, take champion melons to the auction during the 2011 Watermelon Thump. (Mickie Bailey)
Annual tradition

About 5,500 people live in Luling. But since 1954, the population has swelled on the last weekend in June. Now, tens of thousands of people come from all around to attend the four-day festival.

Jake Coulter readies a spit at the 2011 Thump festival. The world record for watermelon seed spitting — 68 feet 91 / 8 inches — was set in Luling in 1989. (Mickie Bailey)

Luling grows plenty of watermelons, so the festival started, Hendricks said, as a way to “honor the people who grew those melons.”

But now seed spitting is the main event. Participants spit watermelon seeds out of their mouths as far as they can.

“The seed-spitting crowds get into it,” said Edgar Camacho, who is father to four seed-spitting champions. “Parents from Luling take it seriously,” said Camacho, who grew up in the town but now lives in nearby Hondo, Texas.

The competition is limited to about 50 kids and 50 adults. The kids are divided into four age groups. For the individual competition, everyone gets two spits, and judges record the better one. For the team event, judges take the sum of four spits from four participants.

Spitters approach the contest line one at a time and choose a seed from a cut watermelon. The only rules are that the spitter cannot cross the line and his or her seed cannot fall outside what is known as the spitway, which is 15 feet wide and 75 feet long.

“It’s really fun and exciting,” said Victoria Camacho, 14. “The crowd is all watching you and cheering for you, and your family is there.” About 200 spectators sit on bleachers or stand to watch. “It’s really nerve-racking because you don’t want to mess up. It’s a lot of pressure.”

Champion spits

Victoria won her age group four years ago with a spit of 36 feet. Two years ago, her brother A.J., 17, broke the youth record in Luling when he spat a seed 58 feet 91 / 2 inches. That’s more than half the length of a basketball court. (The adult seed-spitting world record, set in 1989, is 68 feet 91 / 8 inches.)

“It had the right speed and bounce when it hit the ground, and it kept sliding and it was just a good spit,” A.J. said about his record-breaking spit. He has won the seed-spitting contest about 10 times.

“It’s pretty fun,” he said. “We go up against a lot of families that we’ve known a long time. . . . We don’t win them all, but it’s fun to come out and compete every year. It’s just a really competitive spirit that all the families have.”

There’s a strategy to a good spit, the Camachos said.

First, according to five-time winner Davis Camacho, 20: Eat a little watermelon on the line. “That moistens your mouth to get it ready to spit,” he said.

Then, choose a big seed.

Then Davis likes to take a step up to the line as he spits, angling his body back with his head up and throwing his arms behind him,“to really get that momentum going forward,” he said.

But the real key to spitting is the tongue.

“Make a taco with your tongue,” Davis said. “It kind of acts like a channel, and you spit with your tongue rolled and it cannons it out.”

Lastly, “You have to have strongish lungs to blow out the air to push the seed out,” he said.

Continue the spitting

The Camachos sometimes practice at home before the competition, but mostly they prepare the day of the event. Winners get $15 to $25 and their picture taken for the local newspaper with the newly crowned Watermelon Thump queen.

The Camachos have no plans to quit their competitive spitting anytime soon.

“Even if I don’t live in Texas,” Davis said. “I’ll make the yearly pilgrimage to Luling.”

“We never get sick of watermelon,” Victoria said.

Moira E. McLaughlin

Set up your own seed-spitting contest

Watermelon-seed-spitting talent may not be something that will help get you into college — or something that your mother would approve of, for that matter. But this Fourth of July, why not test your seed-spitting skills? Set up your own spitway with some chalk on a quiet street. Split open a watermelon, pick out seeds and spit away. Get a measuring tape to see how far your seed flies. Make it a competition with your friends and family. (Then persuade your mom to take a turn.)