Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Texas Water Safari Part 2

                                                                  Texas Water Safari
                                                                              Part 2

     Race day: June 9th

          We arrive at the Start in San Marcos and unload everything.  Get the board unloaded and  I start to stretch qnd get warmed up.  At someone’s insitency they have me speak with a local paddler who's highly regardedin the paddling community about what to expect on the race.  So I meet this guy, who seems nice enough, and as the conversation unfolds I ask him what he thinks about me doing this on a SUP.  His response,” Logistically you have 0% chance of finishing on a stand up paddle board.” I just smile and say ok.  He goes on about not seeing the course, not running the river sections, and all the details why the 0%.  I get what he’s saying.  The odds are stacked against me.  From an outsider's POV racing on a SUP doesn't make sense. But I’ve been here before.  I’ve been told that doing a race of this magnitude is impossible.  I have reserved the fact in my mind that the only limitations in life, are the ones that you put on yourself. 

     After hitting the John about 5 times, we finally get my board into Aquarena springs, the race start.  A crystal clear preserved habitat that they allow the race to start on by special permission.  I put in and paddle to warm up.  I get all the normal weird looks from the racers.  Surprisingly, there are a quite a few Texans that smile and say, “you are crazy man, Good luck.” or "that's cool".  I thank them and keep warming up.  I paddle back in and settled into the line-up.  I decide to hang halfway back in the pack.  This is their race, I don’t want to piss them off by being up front creating a cluster. 

     Minutes before race start the National Anthem plays.  I am fortunate to be the only racer standing, hat off, over my heart, head bowed down.  Yes, I am patriotic.  I love my country. My Grand father was in WW2 in the navy.  My brother served in the army.  I appreciate their sacrifices.

     A couple minutes before the gun, a reporter asks why a stand up in this race.  I am so focused on the start I give him an answer something like, “because I want to do the toughest races out there, and this is it (not knowing what I’m getting into).  He leaves and seconds later the start commences.  Paddlers are hammering paddles to my left.  I am lined up on the right to let all the fast guys scream by on the left.  After the fast boats fly by I make my way to the middle of the pack.  The wake is insane form all the boats.  It’s like paddling in the ocean.  I see race vets West Hanson and Wally Werderich fly by me in their race canoe (2 bad ass paddlers that end up winning their division).  I go to yell some encouraging words to them but almost fall off from the wake.

    ¼ mile into the race as you leave the Aquarena is the first portgage.  The canoes converge into the woods and disappear.  I follow suit.  I hop off my board and put my harness on.  My harness is no more than a harness you wear that you clip into a line trimmer (thanks work, I returned it after the race).  I clip into the center hold of the board by means of a double carabiner (caribiner then fabric, then another carabiner).  I lift the board for the first time fully loaded.  Holy crap, how am I going to do this.  The board weighs 42lbs(with a rubberized coating) and at 14' is akward,  my gear is a little over 50lbs.  I carry the board about 15 yards and have to set it down.  The non-existent trail, consists of rocks, roots, hanging vines,  unstable surface, and trees.  I pick up the board and keep carrying it.  40 yards later I see water and throw the board in.  I get back on and start paddling.  I feel like I’m going to puke.  The portgage took a lot a lot out of me and I’m not even out of the first mile of a 260 mile race!

  I hammer down and take off.  ¾ miles in comes Rio Vista.  The river converges into a series of 3 chutes. After each chute there’s a pool of water and then the pool narrows down to anbother chute that is about 4-5ft wide.  I portgage the first chute as it’s too low on the bottom and I fear breaking a fin.  I decide not to clip in to the board and lower the nose down first over the rocks sliding the bottom of the board over sharp rocks. Normally this would be a bad idea because it would tear through the fiberglass.  But the secret weapon that no-one knows about is that board shaper Todd Caranto has been developing a rubberized coating made specifically for this type of racing for SUP’s.  I get to test it out. And it passes over the rocks no problem. Not a scratch.  I hop on the board and paddle on my knees to the next chute.  Screw it, I’m running it.  I drop down the chute and hold onto the deck bag as the nose disappears into the water.  The rapid washed over me and I emerge refreshed. The spectator cheer.  I paddle on and run the last chute.  I stand and paddle on. The spectators go crazy.  After the last chute I paddle by an aluminum canoe that is half submerged with the nearest paddler 5 feet away.  In front of them is a Safari boat filled with water and the 2 paddlers are holding onto the sides walking it over to the shore.  I press on.

                                   I approach Rio Vista. My face probably says it all right now
                                                                   Running Rio Vista
                                                                        Carnage at Rio vista

     A couple smaller portages later and I get to Cummins dam at mile 5.  As I paddle up to it I can tell there’s an obvious drop off and mandatory portage right.  I get behind about 5-6 canoes in line to see what the deal is.  Once I make it further in the line I am trying to figure out how I follow suit to these canoes.  To the right of the concrete dam (which is about a 50ft drop) there are concrete spillways about 2.5 ft wide that drop down at a severe angle.  People are tying ropes to their boats and lowering them down the 50ft drop! I’m screwed. I have no rope.  This info of the portage was nowhere to be found.  All the description said was portage right.  Then I see the light.  On one of the spillways is a wooden ladder that is bolted in.  I jump at the opportunity and throw the nose up over the concrete.  I lower the board down nose first and hold onto a Surfco Hawaii hand hold that I glued onto the top of the tail.  I’m scaling down the ladder as I  hold the board’s weight in my right hand. I drop the nose from 3ft from the bottom.  Crap. I just chunked my board.  I pick up the board and carry it over to the water.  Take a look at the nose and am shocked.  No damage whatsoever!  The coating is proving to be bullet proof.

    I paddle on.  The whole time thinking about cottonseed rapids.  How the hell am I going to get through these rapids known for eating boats.    8 miles in I get there.  I see a tandem boat that is taking a porage up over a river bank.  I decide last minute not to run the rapids and follow the tandem.  I emerge down river from the rapids to the disappointment of my ground crew. I hear, “what happened” from the crew.  I yell back,”It wasn’t worth the risk”.  It would have been awesome to run these famed rapids, but at 8 miles into the race, it wasn’t worth the risk of destroying the board.  I paddle on.  Making the last rurn away from Cottonseed I get a nice tree that ha fallen across the river.
                                                             Leaving Cottonseed

     I paddle through the day with more obstacles and portages until I get to mile 17, Staples dam, the first checkpoint.  I portage right through the woods about 20 yards. I clip into the board this time.  There are metal stairs on the right of the dam that I use.  The harness works beautifully walking down the board.  I get to the bottom of the stairs and remove the strap and put it on my board.  I talk with the crew and get some water.  I go to take off and a spectator yells,” you dropped your rope.”  I turn around and he’s pointing at the water.  I try to paddle over and he bends down to grab the strap.  I yell at him. “No no. drop it. Drop it”. Not listening he throws it on my board.  A race official says, sorry you can’t use it.  Race rules dictate that you can not receive any outside help throughout the race.  This spectator just unknowingly screwed me.  I now have no way to portage my board now!


  1. So happy you completed this safari on the SUP. nowhere near as amazing as you, my buddies and I completed the Tws in a 20ft royalex canoe as a four man team. It's sad, but while there were many enthusiastic racers encouraging us, several vets responded by assuring us we were doing it all wrong and would never finish. Your accomplishment turns all of this thinking upside down and reminds us all that anything is possible with strength, determination and the loving support of friends and family who believe in us. I'm proud to have paddled with you. Congrats on a heroic effort and accomplishment. Don from Austin.

  2. Don,
    One thing I've learned is to never let people tell you what's right or wrong, and especially not what's possible or impossible. You and your crew inspire me! To go against the grain is not easy, trust me I know. Y'all did what you wanted and what was right by your book. For that you have my respect and support.
    You nailed it right on the head when you said, "anything is possible with strength, determination and the loving support of friends and family who believe in us!"

    By the way, What boat# were you?
    Thanks Don,
    Shane Perrin

  3. I will never say "no way that guy will finish" about anyone who enters the Safari again....

  4. Don, truly amazing. I heard about you while I was team captain in the safari this year. I too arrived at the checkin back in 00' for my first and only tws start with a boat that multiple people told me straight to my face that there was no way I would finish. My total kayaking experience being a total of about 40miles and my 12' 1972 slalom whitwater boat still PALES in comparison to the difficulty of stand up, but I learned from my own experience never to throw discouraging words at a determined person regardless of the odds, besides its just rude. I lucked out with a high water year and a tough boat while carbon boats were getting split in two. Congrats, and you're now legend! Roy lewis #69 3rd place solo (68:37).