San Marcos Like a Local

How to Witness the World’s Toughest Canoe Race

March 14, 2018

The Texas Water Safari, which starts in San Marcos, offers the challenge of padding 260 miles in under four days and four hours. San Marcos Convention and Visitor Bureau

In a state that brags about everything "bigger and better," it is only fitting that Texas hosts the self-proclaimed World’s Toughest Canoe Race. Officially called the Texas Water Safari, the annual 260-mile canoe race begins in Central Texas in the town of San Marcos. Each second Saturday of June participants launch their canoes into the headwaters of the San Marcos River in Spring Lake, travel down the San Marcos and Guadalupe Rivers hoping to finish in the Gulf Coast shrimping village of Seadrift a few days later.

Paddlers have 100 hours to navigate whitewater rapids, dams, varying water levels and multiple crossings. Racers must be physically and mentally strong to withstand the days of nonstop motion, physical fatigue, pitch-black nights and scorching hot days. Boats are only powered by human muscle. Riders must carry all food and equipment with them, receiving only water and ice along the way. Team size ranges from solo paddlers to a maximum of six. With team names like Blonde Chicks with Paddle Sticks, Saddle Up and Paddle *and *Whiskey Trip, teams must paddle nonstop both day and night to stay competitive. Winners do not win prize money, merely bragging rights to the world’s toughest canoe race. Simply finishing the race itself is considered a huge accomplishment, as nearly 40 percent of entrants drop out along the way.

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Rio Vista Park is a popular spot for spectators, who can see the paddlers navigate whitewater and portage around the dam. San Marcos Convention and Visitor Bureau

This year the regatta of 150 boats will take off on Saturday, June 9, at 9 a.m. The Texas Water Safari kicks off at The Meadows Center, which can be a very exciting place to watch the start of the race. As the race snakes through San Marcos, several public access points, such as Dog Beach, City Park and Rio Vista Park are full of spectators watching the canoes as they race by. The 14-acre Rio Vista Park with its overhanging trees, aquamarine water and bleached shoreline rocks is a picturesque place to watch the race. With the 10-foot drop at the Rio Vista Dam that shoots canoes through rough rapids, it is also the most exciting location in town to watch the race. Bring your swimsuit and cool off from the summer sun by sunbathing along the riverbanks or swimming in the water holes around the park once the boats have paddled through. Each access point is within walking distance of downtown, so once the racers leave town you have the rest of the afternoon to explore the vibrant downtown.

The historic downtown square is at the heart of the 62,000-person town. Locally owned shops, restaurants and bars line the square, giving visitors more than enough shopping, drinking and eating opportunities to fill the day.

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Stop by AquaBrew to sample one of its craft beers. San Marcos Convention and Visitor Bureau

If beer is your thing, head one block south to AquaBrew. This 15-barrel brewery brags that its beer never faces a temperature swing, touches oxygen or sees the light of day until it touches your glass, making it the freshest beer in Texas. With the long communal patio tables in the beer garden and legendary Texans hospitality, you will be sure to make a friend as you sample the house-made beer. For the best burger in town, stop by the Taproom Pub. This American-style pub has more than 100 beers, 42 of them on tap, and burgers that every Texas State college student swears by.

If you are thinking less beer and burger and more quaint and cozy, the European-inspired Blue Dahlia Cafe a few doors down is your best bet. The bistro serves healthy meals with an emphasis on breads, sandwiches, soups and cheese.

Feeling inspired for a little outdoor adventure after watching the start of the big race? If so, load up with the season’s latest outdoor apparel and gear at Hays County Outfitters, or hit up Core Running for all running and fitness needs. To add a few vintage clothing pieces to your wardrobe, make sure you stop by Vagabond Vintage or Twice Blessed. To If you’re looking for a bit of local history while you’re in town, learn about our 36th president at the LBJ Museum of San Marcos. The museum focuses on the years President Johnson spent as a student and a professor at the local university and his role in the development of landmark education and civil rights legislation.

Stick around into the night and hit up almost any bar in town for live music. Cheatham Street Warehouse is a honky tonk featuring live country, blues, folk and soul bands. Other options include the Kiva Lounge & Bar or Jack’s Road House. As the music plays, think about the racers navigating their boats through the night, and you can raise a glass to them in comfort.

Written by Jennifer Simonson for RootsRated Media in partnership with San Marcos CVB.