Just a minute and twenty seconds into his first steinholding competition at the Great Northwest Oktoberfest in Whitefish, Louisiana native Chip Voelker was confused.
Holding a stein filled with stale beer aloft in his right hand, Voelker, with a little bit of colorful language mixed in, told the emcee he didn’t understand some of the behavior the competition requires. His wife had signed him up for it.
“In New Orleans, we drink our beer,” he declared to the rowdy crowd.
In the end, winning wasn’t in the cards for Voelker. Instead, Whitefish resident and self-proclaimed ski bum Patrick Schur won with a time of just over four minutes. With his arm shaking, Voelker had dropped out a little bit after the three minute mark. His trembling arm had succumbed to the pain that signals to most steinholders that it’s time to quit. But not all steinholders are normal.
Take Dave Sturzen, for example.
The X-ray technologist and Kalispell resident isn’t competing at this year’s Great Northwest Oktoberfest. Because he can’t.
The Whitefish steinholding competitions going on throughout Oktoberfest are qualifiers for the Hofbrau competitive circuit. And per Hofbrau rules, a national champion is barred from competing in further Hofbrau tournaments. And Sturzen is a national champion.
On Sept. 17, a little less than a week before Whitefish kicked off its Oktoberfest, Sturzen reached a new milestone in his steinholding career by winning the 2022 Lenny Coyne Memorial Hofbrau National Masskrugstemmen Championship in New York with a time of 12 minutes and 37 seconds. The win marked a competitive high-point in the meteoric rise of a steinholder who first won the Whitefish competition in 2019 by defeating his rival, mentor, and fellow Flathead Valley resident Kevin Collom.
Sturzen is undefeated, and between his impressive reign, his Montana ties, and a picture taken after one competition of him wearing a crown and sitting on a throne, he’s earned the Game of Thrones inspired nickname “The King in the North.” While Sturzen officially represented Las Vegas because that’s the qualifying competition he won out of, Sturzen is the first national champion from Montana. Winning the championship is a special point of pride for Sturzen, especially considering the Texas beer hall he’s seen where giant banners commemorating past champions cover the walls.
Despite having placed out of future Hofbrau competitions, that doesn’t mean Sturzen is done, just that he will have to find new competitive outlets, like competitions hosted by the U.S. Steinholding Association.
“I still have that drive, I still want to keep competing,” Sturzen said. “It’s fun, it’s nice to be up there. And especially when you’re getting towards the end and you’re like ‘alright, we’re down to two competitors.’ It’s just awesome to be in that. And super exhilarating to be in that moment.”
Every other day he trains by holding a stein aloft for as long as he can, locking out his right arm, and straightening his back and lower body so that everything is locked into place, unmoving, for as long as he can manage. In his mind he goes into a place where all of his focus is funneled through his determination to keep holding the stein up. By the time Sturzen is finished, he can feel it in his core, his back, his legs, and most definitely his shoulder and arm.
Before the New York competition in Central Park, there was a parade complete with a float of the other steinholders who had earned a spot on the stage after winning regional competitions. In Sturzen’s case, he had won a Hofbrauhaus Las Vegas competition with a time of 11 minutes and 16 seconds against a field of around 300 competitors.
Early on in his New York trip, Sturzen was laid low by the irresistible temptation of a chili dog bought off a street vendor. Once he had recovered from his illness, he cleaned up his diet for his last day before competing, focusing on a high-protein regimen, including a quality steak dinner the night before.
Throughout his winning hold, Sturzen regularly glanced to his left and right, trying to track the number of opponents left to outlast. By about the nine-minute mark the field of 13 had been whittled down to Sturzen and Donny Foster, prompting the announcer to proclaim it to be a battle between Montana and Wisconsin. Sturzen eventually saw that Foster was leaning, a technique violation that competitors can get away with, but accrue “strikes” for, until they strike out. The crowd at one point started chanting for Sturzen as he and Foster gritted out another three minutes of steinholding until Foster shakily set his stein down.
Between the win in New York and another competitive win in Arizona, Sturzen’s high-profile wins have netted him two free trips to Germany, which he plans on combining so that he can take his wife and kids. He also got a championship belt that he’s been wearing around his waist at this year’s festival in Whitefish as he watches competitions and at times helps with the judging.
And his success has opened the door for a comeback from Kevin Collom. Collom, who will turn 59 in November, won a qualifying round the first week of the Whitefish Oktoberfest. Since he and Sturzen last went head-to-head he’s had surgery to repair his rotator cuff, and has continued his own training regiment, involving holding a stein filled with nuts and bolts weighed out to the exact 5 pounds that a beer-filled stein weighs in competition.
Collom is coy when it comes to talking time. He says he’s shared with Sturzen his belief that you should only hold a stein for as long as it takes to win a competition, that way your opponents down the road don’t quite know what you have in the tank if things come down to the wire.
“It keeps your competition in mystery about who you really are,” he said.
As the story goes, Sturzen had long been reluctant to go head-to-head with Collom at the Whitefish competition, before in 2019 he gave it a shot. A spilled drop of beer spelled doom for Collom. The fire of competition forged a friendship between the two, with Sturzen now describing Collom as his steinholding mentor.
Collom went undefeated for 10 years at the Whitefish Oktoberfest, and when it became a Hofbrau sanctioned competition, he said he told Whitefish Chamber of Commerce Director Kevin Gartland that he hoped he would be the one to take a title in New York, but that if it wasn’t him “It’s got to be somebody from Montana.” Collom made multiple trips to New York but never took home the top prize.
“My dream came true,” Collom said. “Somebody, not only from Montana, but from the Flathead Valley, won the national championships. And I was so stinking proud of David. I was so proud of him.”
Collom said he sees Sturzen as an inspiration now, and that Sturzen encouraged him to compete at this year’s competition in Whitefish.
“He said ‘Kevin you’ve got to do it again.’ I went ‘Not a problem. I’m going back in boss.’”
Sturzen is understandably excited to see Collom back on the competitive stage, knowing it could be the start of a run that ends on the national championship stage in New York.
“It would be great to get another win for Montana,” he said.
Collom will compete in the Great Northwest Oktoberfest steinholding grand finals Saturday, Oct.1 at 9 p.m. For more information on Great Northwest Oktoberfest events, check out www.whitefishoktoberfest.com.
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