Kayaks, paddles hit the river

Published 12:08 am Sunday, October 14, 2007

NATCHEZ — Kayaking enthusiasts from around the region floated into the area Saturday to take part in the sixth running of the Phatwater Kayak Challenge Saturday.

The Phatwater Kayak Challenge is a 42.5-mile paddle race down the Mississippi River, beginning in Grand Gulf and ending at the Natchez Landing.

The time it took many participants to finish this year’s race was a little longer than in previous years because of low water, and with low water comes less current, race coordinator Keith Benoist said.

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“We really expected someone to break the four-hour marker (for finishing) this year,” he said.

Even with the low water, however, most of the boats in the race didn’t have to worry about having to stop and pick up their boats, Benoist said.

“Out on the river, you can be in water that you think is 10 feet deep and then hit bottom,” he said. “Most of these crafts, though, are only pushing down about two to two-and-a-half inches of water.”

DesAllemonds kayaker Richard Savoie, who finished the almost 43-mile run in four hours and 55 minutes, said this year’s ride was hard.

“It was tough,” he said. “The river was slower.”

Finishing the challenge is in part a mental process, Savoie said.

“When you get to the three hour mark, you kind of hit the wall,” he said. “It’s pure guts after that.”

Though there wasn’t much competition when the challenge was first started, Savoie — who has participated in every Phatwater event — said this year was different.

“The competition was good this year,” he said. “There were a lot of competitive paddlers.”

Benoist first got the idea to start the challenge when he took up distance paddling after a knee injury in the fall of 2001 forced him to stop running.

After Benoist made an initial run in March 2002 to check the course for competitive feasibility, the Phatwater Challenge was born.

“There was almost zero interest in the area when we started. “This year there were 89 boats in the race.”