Montalba man says he has paddled his last Texas Water Safari (2024)

Joe Hunt, 72, of Montalba, just finished his 20th and what he says is his last Texas Water Safari competition.

The Texas Water Safari is a 260-mile race to Seadrift from the headwaters of the San Marcos River held annually since 1963. It is billed as the “World’s Toughest Boat Race.” Competitors have four days and four hours to paddle the San Marcos River, the Guadalupe River and the Gulf of Mexico coastline.

Hunt’s team, “Current Obsession” was made up of three - John Wooldridge, 28, of Dallas (his son-in-law); James Hunt, 29, of Tomball (his son); and Joe Roppolo, 56, of Dallas.

Montalba man says he has paddled his last Texas Water Safari (1)

Hunt said there were several other East Texans who participated, including Steve Watson and his son, Michael, of Jacksonville, and Luke Parker out of Tyler.

“The worst thing about the race is every section is worse than the one before,” Hunt said. “The first part of the river is clear and beautiful, little rapids and tight turns, small river, thousands of people on the banks. Feels good. Then you get to the lower part of the San Marcos and there are log jams, lots of little dams you have to portage and the boats are heavy and it’s awkward. Then you get in the Guadalupe and the water is very slow water … hot, bakes you. Then you get down to the lower rapids in the Guadalupe and they are kind of fun and refreshing but they don’t last very long. Then you get into the swamps. The swamps go from mile 200 to mile 255 and the last 10 miles is bay front.”

Hunt said the swamps have alligators.

“The bay can be like glass or it can be like it was this past weekend,” Hunt said. “It took us about eight hours to go eight miles. Too choppy to cross. We tried twice and kept flipping.”

Montalba man says he has paddled his last Texas Water Safari (2)

Hunt said they see all kinds of wildlife, including bald eagles, wild hogs, deer, coyotes and a variety of birds.

“I got hit in the face by a frog this year,” Hunt said. “I’ve never had that happen. We pulled the boat into the bank and there was this big bullfrog and he just jumped up at me and hit me right in the face. Strange things happen sometimes.”

Racers must take all equipment with them, and can only receive water, ice and food from their Team Captains on the shore.

There is no prize money, only bragging rights.

This year, for the Safari’s 61st race, there were 159 boats competing June 8-12. Only 109 of those boats finished the race. Hunt said the fastest boat at this year’s race finished in 44 hours.

Hunt said he began canoeing and kayaking with the race in 1973 and did it for seven years.

He said he stopped racing for a while after he got married and had children.

“I was in a bar, wearing a Texas Water Safari T-shirt, when a guy walked over to me and said,‘You done that?’ and I said, ‘Yeah, I’ve done that.’ He said, ‘You ever done it solo?’ And I said, ‘No.” And he said, ‘Well, you really haven’t done it.’”

Hunt said he went back and did it solo and got hooked again.

“I wanted to get 10 finishes, and I got 10, and thought, well, I’m still young enough, I can get 10 more,” he said. “I’m retired now, that was it. I’m done.”

Hunt said it took his team 83 hours this year to finish.

“We were in a four-man boat, we try to sleep somebody for 45 minutes when we can,” Hunt said. “I think I got a total of two-and-a-half-hours of sleep over three nights.”

Montalba man says he has paddled his last Texas Water Safari (3)

In order to train for this race, Hunt said he walked a mile or a mile and quarter every day, lifted weights every other day and watched what he ate to stay lean.

“And we paddled a lot,” he said. “We did four training weekends, paddling both days. We do about 40 miles on Saturday and 20 on Sunday.”

To understand the endurance it takes to finish this race, Hunt shared some math.

“We take an average of 45 strokes a minute, over an hour that works out to 2,700 strokes,” Hunt said. “In over 83 hours, that’s 224,000 strokes, at an average lift of 12 pounds, which is what machines tell you you are lifting per stroke, that amounts to the lifting of 2,689,000 pounds per paddler over three days.”

His legs and ankles still featured his race scars on June 14 from what he described as a mixture of chiggers and mosquito bites, along with “grit that gets in your socks and rubs.”

They only stop to get around log jams and to portage the nine dams on the race course.

Hunt said they do everything they can to make the trip comfortable and get into a good mindset, but the reality is the race is brutal.

“You have to look at it as a challenge,” Hunt said. “Something that’s going to be unique, something that is going to be fun. Something that is going to test you. You know it’s going to be miserable. Your hands are going to hurt. Your feet are going to swell. Your back is going to ache. Your muscles are going to hurt everywhere. Your seat is going to hurt, just from sitting and torquing everywhere. We do what we can. We pad the seats. We try to stay hydrated. Cover up in sunscreen and wear hats. But you take a lot of body blows, too.”

Montalba man says he has paddled his last Texas Water Safari (4)

Hunt said he may still do smaller races like the Neches Wilderness Race.

Hunt said the challenges of the river and nature is what made it all worthwhile all these years.

“It’s a great way to test yourself every now and then,” he said.

“Back when I was young, I finished fifth, six, seventh, usually, somewhere in there,” Hunt said. “As I’ve gotten older, it’s gotten much more competitive, more professional. I’ve gotten much, much older and so I can’t really compete with these 20 and 30 year olds. We still beat a few of them.”

Montalba man says he has paddled his last Texas Water Safari (2024)

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