The competitors hover over the table, their gloved hands poised for action as the crowd begins to count down. “Three, two, one, shuck!” Each contestant begins the same way: One gloved hand snags the first gnarled shell, while the other deftly wields the short, but dangerous, oyster knife. Feeding off the crowd’s energy, the announcer’s volume and clip intensifies as shells begin piling up on stage.
Every year, on the last Saturday of September, Galway, Ireland, holds what is largely considered the world’s premier oyster-shucking competition: the World Oyster Opening Championship. Part of the International Oyster & Seafood Festival, the competition attracts champion oyster shuckers from all over the world. To qualify, entrants (usually winners of national competitions) must be able to open 18 oysters in under two minutes, and only one shucker per country may participate.
At the championship, competitors are presented with a sealed box of 30 pre-approved Galway oysters, which they must open as rapidly as possible, ringing a bell upon completion. While the shuckers are primarily judged on speed, points are also added and subtracted for presentation. For example, the oyster’s muscle must be properly severed and the shell free of debris. The shucker with the lowest combined time and penalties emerges as the new world champion.
In addition to steep competition, many shuckers may find themselves faced with oyster species they have little practice shucking, which can create a significant handicap when seconds matter. This is perhaps why so few non-Europeans have won the competition. Regardless, most shuckers are honored to participate, and even those who don’t fancy the taste of the beloved bivalves will likely find pleasure in the seaside frenzy.
Need to Know
The festival typically takes place on Nimmo's Pier and runs from Friday through Sunday the last weekend of September. If you'd like to just attend for the oyster opening championship, a single-day Saturday ticket costs €70 ($81) and includes two seafood taster plates, six oysters, and a pint of beer or glass of wine.
Where to Try It
Nimmo's PierNimmo's Pier, Galway, Ireland
The main area for events at the festival.