Push yourself at this year’s Phatwater

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 8, 2010

What are the limits of human ability? Can we ever know? Or do we simply continue the push toward as yet undefined outcomes in all arenas, knowing only that in surpassing existing records we have set the scale, once more, to repeat the process?

Time, after all, continues to bend into unknown territory, stripping from the universe any measure of a finite boundary. And we all know that time exists. Only a moment ago, the hand now grasping the hot skillet felt no burning sensation, yet now it does. But healing, we also know, will come with more time. So by the extension of the concept of time, it therefore seems possible there are no human limits.

Not knowing our limits is what makes America great. Because we don’t know our limits, we continue to seek new ones, and in so doing we continue to push our existing limits beyond our expectations.

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At the ninth annual Phatwater Kayak Challenge, coming up on Oct. 9, we’ll be pushing our limits to a level never before thought possible. In 2007, we set as a goal the limit of four hours. To the first paddler breaking this limit, we agreed to award a cash prize of $1,000. And in October of 2007, critically high winds and critically low water found our prize money in safekeeping.

Then, in 2008, we had four people break the four-hour barrier. Steve Woods, a lithe, athletic 24-year-old, from Durban, South Africa, and the first to break the four-hour barrier, stepped aboard a plane for New York with $2,000 more than he had when he arrived.

Last year, with critically high water and a breeze flowing from the north, we had seven paddlers shatter the existing sub-four-hour mark while vying for $3,000 in prize money, with a $1,000 bonus to be awarded to the first boat to break the existing record of three hours and 56 minutes.

And as with the previous year, the winning boat, a tandem Surfski, husband and wife team from Costa Mesa, Calif., Patrick and DeAnne Hemmens, boarded their return flight $2,000 richer, on the day following Phatwater VIII. But Patrick and DeAnne had never before been to Mississippi; had never before paddled the Phatwater, and knew not what to expect.

Now, they know all too well what to expect, as they plan their return trip to Natchez for this year’s Phatwater IX. And this year, as a gift to the Phatwater, DeAnne and Patrick are bringing along a Surfski — an open cockpit, racing kayak — which will be awarded to a lucky Phatwater paddler at the conclusion of this year’s race.

The Surfski, a Fenn Mako XT, valued at $2,500, will be drawn for following this year’s Phatwater at Natchez Under-The-Hill. To be eligible, you must enter and finish the Phatwater and you must be present to win, although you need not be present to win this year’s Phatwater Bowie Knife which will be drawn for prior to the drawing for the Surfski.

This is the sixth year we’ve had the raffle for the Phatwater Bowie, hand crafted by Mississippi’s own Terry Vandeventer, the “Snake Man.” Raffle tickets for the Phatwater Bowie are available at Bowie Outfitters, in Natchez, where this year’s Phatwater Bowie can be seen.

Bowie raffle tickets can also be purchased by calling 601-431-1731. All proceeds from the Phatwater Bowie raffle will go to the Natchez Adams County Humane Society, to which the Phatwater has contributed more than $27,000 in the past. Help support the NACHS with your tax-deductible Phatwater Bowie Knife raffle purchase.

As for the limits of the Phatwater, we have a number of world record holders in downriver racing expected this year, along with the return of the Hemmens, so the same prize structure as we had for last year exists, although we’ve added one more wrinkle.

Given that the existing record for the Phatwater of 3:41:53 was set by DeAnne and Patrick last October, they now know it is possible to break the three-and-a-half-hour mark. So, this Oct. 9 we will be awarding a special $1,000 bonus to the first canoe, kayak or Surfski to eclipse the 3.5 hour barrier. If you’d like to witness this moment in history, in a very historical setting, join us for the Phatwater Phinish at approximately 11 a.m., at Natchez Under-The-Hill.

And if you’d like to learn more about the Phatwater, or Kayak Mississippi, or next year’s State Games kayak and canoe races at Natchez State Park, pay us a visit at www.kayakmississippi.com, where you can also register for this year’s Phatwater Kayak Challenge.

Keith Benoist is the organizer of the Phatwater Kayak Challenge.