WATCH: Texas Water Safari Racers Dig Deep And Keep Paddling Over 260-Mile Course

Jun 8, 2018

"It’s a lifestyle, it’s an obsession, it’s a lifelong party,” Ginsie Stauss, a 12-time finisher of the Texas Water Safari, says about what some call the “world’s toughest boat race.”

“It’s something you go back to and you do over and over again even though you hurt,” she says.

Every summer since 1963, hundreds of marathon paddlers gather at Aquarena Springs in San Marcos for the Texas Water Safari, a 260-mile test of physical and mental endurance. The race starts at the headwaters of the San Marcos River, eventually connecting to the Guadalupe River and finishing in SeaDrift, a small town on the Texas coast. This year's race starts Saturday.

Racers have 100 hours to complete the race and must carry all the equipment they need in their boats. Each team has a ground-support crew that tracks their progress and is allowed to deliver only food and water at specific checkpoints along the race.

The course is challenging. Along the way paddlers experience "logjams, alligators, snakes, hornets, rapids, sleep deprivation, hallucinations,” says Allen Spelce, TWS president.

There are grueling portages over thick brush and through knee-deep mud. Hardships don’t end there: Racers encounter never-ending swarms of mosquitos and end up sunburnt with water-soaked hands and feet, muscle fatigue and gastrointestinal issues.

And they've got hours and hours of time to think. And think. And think. 

"Being mentally tough to handle that adversity, that pain, to just keep going and not quitting" is what gets racers to the finish line, Spelce says.

“It’s really just you and the river and Mother Nature,” he says. “It’s not simply about winning a division or becoming first overall; it’s about finishing the race and being able to get that patch at the end and say, ‘I’ve done the Texas Water Safari.’” 

This year, 146 boats in multiple classes are registered to start the race, but low water, record-high temperatures and debris from Hurricane Harvey will make for a challenging course.

Racers prepare to shove off during the Texas Water Safari last year.
Credit Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT

Racers paddle midway through the course.
Credit Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT

Paddlers near the finish line of the race.
Credit Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT