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World Pillow Fighting Championships return to Sonoma County

Curtis Hutslar set down his Lagunitas IPA before straddling a long steel pole that had been hauled into Rohnert Park and set above a muddy pond for the resurrection of an obscure “world championship.”

Hutslar, a Boulder Creek resident, quickly became the victor in his first match in pillow fighting, a series of sloppy bouts held for four decades in the small community of Kenwood. The competition was revived Saturday for the first time in eight years at Sonoma Mountain Village in east Rohnert Park.

It was the rare event that brought together volunteers from the Boy Scouts and Salvation Army with sponsors Hooters restaurants and Lagunitas Brewing Co. The latter served beer and donated pillow cases for the contest that read, “Your face goes here.”

Hutslar needed but a few minutes to dispatch his first opponent in the best of three falls. But then he found himself facing a 33-year veteran - a burly Santa Rosan who during one contest lifted his shirt and showed several hundred onlookers the Kenwood pillow fighting logo tattooed across his back.

“It’s hard to stay on the pole without falling off,” Hutslar observed between rounds, by which time he had splashed into the 3-foot-deep “mud pit” and was destined to do so again.

The World Pillow Fighting Championships for years drew crowds each Fourth of July to Kenwood. There, men and women contestants pummeled opponents. Even the winners toppled unceremoniously from the 28-foot-long stainless steel pole that rolls freely during bouts.

A highlight came in 1980 when comedians Tommy and Dick Smothers slid out to the pole’s center and swatted each other before an estimated 4,000 spectators. Tommy Smothers, a Kenwood resident, bested his brother but both ended up in the muddy goo, to the delight of the crowd.

The last competition was held in 2006. By that time, the sponsoring Kenwood Firefighters Association was in need of assistance and a bigger venue, said Richard Gulson, an association member and one of Saturday’s announcers.

“We were completely stretched,” Gulson recalled. “Plus, it got too big for the little town of Kenwood.”

What was needed, he said, was the right partner. The association found it a few years ago in the Rotary Club of Santa Rosa. Together, the two groups planned for months and by Saturday had gathered about 80 volunteers to put on the event, sold 1,000 advance tickets and signed up more than 60 contestants.

The proceeds will benefit the work of both groups, including children’s programs, said Rotary Club member and event manager Wayne Rowlands.

“It’s silly fun,” Rowlands said. “It’s unique. And I believe it’s going to be a signature event that’s going to keep going on in Sonoma County.”

Hutslar learned about the contest through friend and female contestant Gracie Banovich of Santa Rosa. His response: “That sounds awesome.”

On Saturday, Hutslar took part in one of the longest battles of the morning - meaning it lasted more than five seconds. But he was knocked over once and then a second time by former champion Jerry McEntire Sr. of Santa Rosa.

“This is my 34th year,” McEntire said after the match.

He recalled winning championships in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. Now 63, he intends to keep going until he gets in 40 years of pillow fighting.

Among his highlights, McEntire said, was the time he knocked Tommy Smothers off the pole. When Smothers came out of the water, “he pulled out his yo-yo and started yo-yoing.”

You can reach Staff Writer Robert Digitale at 521-5285 or robert.digitale@?pressdemocrat.com. ?On Twitter @rdigit

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