When most of the nearly dozen men competing in the caber toss at the Long Island Scottish Festival and Highland Games in Old Westbury on Saturday were able to heft and flip the large, hewn log, it was clearly time for something bigger.
“That was too light — we’re going to go to a larger caber,” said Dan Dillion of Mineola, the festival’s athletic director.
The caber toss was just one of the many spectacles that drew thousands to the 56th annual festival at Old Westbury Gardens, and was one of the most popular, too.
Two kilted men carried the bigger caber — a tapered, 20-foot-long, 140-pound log — to the starting point as hundreds of spectators looked on.
The first four men heaved, but after each toss the log fell back to the earth without ever reaching 90 degrees and flipping over — the main goal of the contest.
Then Rob Von Bargen, 25, of Massapequa, a 6-foot-8 former college football player who now makes prosthetics, walked up to the caber.
His biceps glistening in the afternoon sun, Von Bargen hoisted the caber, grabbing its base. For a moment it looked as if he might slip or stumble, but he took a few steps and threw it into the air. The somersaulting log came down perpendicular to the earth, bounced and flipped over, landing with a thud. The crowded erupted with cheers.
“It’s more balance than strength, but you need to be strong, too,” Von Bargen said.
Von Bargen was the only contestant to flip the log, making him the winner. The competition was open to anyone who qualified in a morning round — regardless of ancestry or whether, like Von Bargen, they wore kilts.
“I can be Scottish for a day,” Von Bargen said.
As bagpipes played from one of five bands marching around the festival, Gary Kranich, 61, of Huntington, waited on line for some haggis — a traditional Scottish dish made of sheep organ meat.
Kranich said he had wanted to come to the festival for years. Even though he’s part Irish rather than Scottish, he said, “a Celt is a Celt.”
For Barbara Mann, 59, of Wantagh — a member of the Scottish Gunn clan — coming to the festival was all about her family’s ancestry.
Mann was with her two daughters and about a dozen other relatives, setting up one of the many canopy tents around the grounds.
“We’re kind of keeping a little tradition alive,” Mann said. The festival, she said, “makes you proud to be Scottish.”