Note: A video of this event is in process however there are a few select vendor videos available now for your viewing pleasure. Enjoy.
The 2014 Northeast Regional Smoking Competition and Holiday Extravaganza sponsored by the Hudson Valley Pipe Club was held in a new venue this year. This event has always taken place at the S.M. Frank Co. home of Kaywoodie Pipes in Peekskill, NY but this past year the business had to move to a more compact location and would no longer be able to accommodate the 50+ smoking visitors and vendors from the New England area and beyond. Club members sprang into action to find a new place to hold this year's event and was able to secure a spot at the Southern Duchess And Putnam Sportsman Association's clubhouse. The new location consisted of one large room with a kitchen area, a working fireplace and lots of taxidermy do give it a rustic outdoorsy feel. Unlike last year, there was no snow to contend with however with the doors being open half the time for smoke ventilation the temperature inside was not much different from the temp outside helping to make the atmosphere as outdoorsy as the decor. I will definitely dress differently if we have the event here next year and have already put a set of nipple warmers on this year's Christmas list :-).
The vendors took up one side of the room while the majority of event attendees occupied the other side with the seating situation much the same as it was at S.M. Frank. There were tons of new and estate pipes available from the familiar faces of Paul Bonacquisti and Andy Camire. There were also a few new faces I had not seen at past events. Bob from Pipes 2 Dream had a table with an impressive display of pipes, all by American carvers and included selections from American Pipe Smoking Company, Andrew Marks, J.M.Boswell, JT Cooke, John Eells, Lee von Erck, Mike Butera, Sam Learned & Tim West to name just a few. I also heard from Bob that Sam Learned has not been in the greatest of health as of late so your thoughts and prayers should be sent his way.
Also in attendance were a couple of entrepreneurs in the pipe rack business showing off some refreshing and innovative ideas on displaying pipes in new and interesting ways.
Those of you who know me know that if it's nautical, I'm usually interested. So when I saw Simone of The Pipe Nest showcasing his driftwood pipe racks I made a bee line. This new style of rack displays the pipes inverted by placing the bowl over a dowel that has been inserted into various locations in the driftwood structure. When the rack is full you can almost picture a reef full of pipe fish scouring the ocean floor looking for tiny morsels of Cavendish and Perique. I think these racks would serve as a perfect resting place for a nice set of blowfish. Simone's driftwood racks come in a variety of shapes and sizes holding anywhere from 2 to 15 pipes including one rack he calls the "pipe station" complete with tamper, ashtray and storage for pipe cleaners. But rather than hear me talk about it, let's here more from the Simone himself.
Another innovative pipe rack design was accomplished by Neal Yarm who uses super strong magnets inside the bowl to secure the pipe in an upright sitting position on a beautifully crafted wooden display. Any pipe, big or small can be easily, beautifully and entirely displayed for your viewing pleasure and is a perfect accent piece for any study or smoking room. Here is Neal to tell you more.
I found both these pipe racks to be very interesting and desirable but it came to me later on that if these two guys worked together there is a third style of rack that would be just as welcome and maybe even more desirable than the two already mentioned. Maybe we'll see it at next year's event.
Another familiar face this year is none other than Rolando Negoita. I'm still waiting to purchase my first pipe from him and I'm pretty sure I know what it'll be. I've been intrigued by Rolando's Conducta pipes since I first heard about them a few years ago. He's been incorporating this unique system into more and more styles of pipes over the years making them even more desirable. The Conducta works much like a calabash, the smoke inhaled enters an enlarged chamber before continuing on into your mouth. This allows for a smoother, cooler smoke from a smaller pipe. Let's hear what Rolando has to say about.
Have you ever seen a pipe made from an entire burl of briar? I know I haven't and from what I hear, it is quite a feat to accomplish. Well another local pipe carver and regular to this event is Joe Skoda of Skoda Pipes. He's carved a massive pipe from a single burl of briar and it is something to behold. Words don't do it justice so here's Joe to present if for you.
Finally, on the vendor side or things was something that brings both happiness and sadness in the same tin. As you all know Dick Silverman of Chief Catoohah Tobacco passed away this year. His Princess Street mixture was the winner of the John Cotton Throwdown at the 2012 Chicago Pipe Show and was the contest tobacco for this holiday event the same year. I've been a big fan ever since but since his passing it has been unavailable. We're not sure if Princess Street or any of Dick's other blends will continue to be produced by someone else so I was very happy to see that Sean Noonan of Dover Pipes had with him for sale a portion of what is remaining of the Princess Street Mixture along with a selection of some of Dick's pipes, racks and other accoutrements also available for purchase. I was happy to take home a beautiful Savanelli Canadian of Dick's that I look forward to enjoying in his honor, some of his famed blend. We'll miss you Dick.
On the other side of the room we had many of the usual suspects but I am ashamed to say that even though I've been to this event many many years my recollection of names is appalling. Oh, it's getting a little better but still unacceptable as far as I'm concerned. I did see a few faces I hadn't seen before and we had one brave woman who came prepared to do battle with the smoke monster that invades this event each year. She fared well and seemed to be a bit amused with the passion and activities surrounding our hobby. She took a lot of great photos of the event that you should be able to see them here. Here are just a few still from the video I and fellow member Neil took during the day.
Now for the main event of the evening, another smoky battle to the last ember and the competition looked fierce. A Kaywoodie sandblasted Lovat was the weapon and this year's ammo... Bill Bailey's Balkan Blend by Dan Tobacco which appeared to have been recently harvested from the Mojave Desert. This could easily be a quick and fierce battle where anyone could come out the victor. Some handsome prizes await this year's winner with five or 6 pipes up for grabs including a Rolando Negoita, a Kaywoodie and the SHPC 2013 Club pipe prototype. But who will take them home? The rules were laid down and the battle began with a fiery explosion emitting massive plumes of gray smoke. But as the smoke cleared there were no casualties to be found as we had feared. To my surprise it took longer for the first casualty than I've seen in any of these events in past years. I even lasted past the 30 minute mark which I could at least live with. But soon more and more were pulled from the battle field until there were only three and these three have met before and are no strangers to this battle. Doc "Where's that Ember" Garr, Buddy "The Handlebar" Winemueller and Less "I won't be beat this year" Young. They were all toe to toe, plumes of smoke periodically emitting from their bowls. Doc, a serious contender in this game peered intently into his bowl continually coaxing the small glowing ember along with his tamper while Buddy and Less looked as though they weren't even on the playing field with only a casual glance in the direction of their opponents. This went on for quite some time until one of the hands went up followed by a symphony of tampers hammering the table top. Doc's ember had gone out first. Only two remained, neither showing their hand and staying as cool as can be. Buddy's been to the winner circle before but Less had an undeniable air of determination about him. He wouldn't go down easily. The minutes that passed were like those watching a tennis match, first looking left, than right than left again but no one on the court was moving and the thwack of the ball against the racket was replaced by a silent puff of smoke expelled from the corner of the players mouths. Both men remained cool and relaxed, occasionally glancing at their opponent until at last.... a hand began to slowly ascend followed by the rattling of tampers and finally a round of applause for this year's champion, Lester Young. As is tradition, Less continued to smoke until he was out and finished with a final time of 1:22 and change. It was a valiant effort by all involved.
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