The San Marcos River was filled with many more canoes than usual over the weekend.
Allegedly the “world’s toughest canoe race,” the Texas Water Safari, which starts at Spring Lake in San Marcos and continues on to the Gulf of Mexico, celebrated its fiftieth year anniversary this week.
Competitors, their family and friends and onlookers made their way to Aquarena Springs for the start of the race on Saturday, June 9.
More than 135 canoes signed up for the 260-mile journey to Seadrift, Texas.
Hundreds of people gathered at the Aquarena Center to watch all of the boaters take off on their excursion.
Taylor Harlan, nursing Senior, has been supporting her father, Kent, in the competition for the last six years.
“I love it. Every year I can’t wait for it,” said Harlan.
Before the horn blew signaling the start, a hush fell over the crowd and a prayer was given, asking to protect the participants.
Of the 139 boats, 44 dropped out of the race before finishing.
The paddlers are not the only ones who get tired out from the race, however.
Bill Ritchie, whose son Sam has been one of the winners for the past two years, said, “It’s a grueling marathon, even for us chasers.”
Ritchie made his way from Virginia to watch his son compete, and he said he did not plan on getting any sleep over the course of the weekend.
Getting tired out has not scared Harlan away though.
“I’ve always said I’m going to do it, but I haven’t had the time for training,” she said.
Competitors train for months before they start racing.
More than family came to cheer on the racers though. Paul Walsh, who competed four years in a row in the 1960s said he came back to reminisce.
“It is very demanding. I know what all these guys and gals are getting themselves into,” said Walsh.
Sadly, a man did pass away this year during the race. Brad Ellis of Dripping Springs died Monday, June 11 due to what doctor’s say was a lack of sodium in his body, caused from excessive sweating. Ellis is the first fatality in the entire fifty years of the race’s history.
“It just reminded us all that you have to be careful because it really is a dangerous race,” said Harlan, who knew Ellis personally.
She said that it has been really hard, but her family will still participate every year, and she plans to compete in two years, after college.
Aside from the tragedy that struck, Harlan said the Safari was a great experience.
“It was the most fun they’ve had in a race so far, and that’s why we do it,” she said.