In the summer of 1962, Frank Brown and “Big Willie” George launched a 133-pound motorboat—with no motor—into the San Marcos River and headed for the Texas coast. Over the next three weeks they paddled downriver, wrestling through log jams and fighting off mosquitoes on their 337-mile journey to Corpus Christi. The following year, Brown staged a canoe race that followed the same route, billed as “The Texas Water Safari—The Toughest Boat Race in the World.” Contestants had to carry all their provisions with them from the start and could receive no assistance during the competition. One hundred and twenty-six men and one woman, all Texans, lined up for the grueling race. Some boats sank at the start, others were wrecked on the river, and some people dropped out from exhaustion or injury, while others failed to make the time deadlines and were disqualified. Of the 58 vessels that started the race, only two arrived at the finish line in Corpus Christi.
The now-famous Texas Water Safari has since attracted thousands of competitive and recreational paddlers from across the globe who line up every summer in canoes and kayaks to carry on a tradition now in its 60th year.
In Texas Water Safari: The World’s Toughest Canoe Race, veteran racers Bob Spain and Joy Emshoff chronicle the winding history of this epic competition, documenting the many changes to the racecourse over the years, the evolution of competition vessels, and the influx of national and international racers. Drawing upon the record books, Water Safari lore, and their own experiences, the authors have compiled a collection of stories, statistics, and photographs that celebrates and preserves the history of this Texas river tradition.
Pam and Will Harte Books on Rivers, sponsored by The Meadows Center for Water and the Environment, Texas State University
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Published by Texas A&M University Press