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Wed - July 18, 2007

How to Sit in Water and Paddle a Surfski for 260 or 300 Miles by Carter Johnson

Following his story from the 2007 Texas Water Safari Carter Johnson wrote a few more comments on body maintenance and how to dress for a long and wet drive on your surfski.

Sitting in water... by Carter Johnson

In the Surfski, it is pointless to try to stay dry. It just wont happen. I quickly found out that even if the water is flat, you need to expect to be sitting in a puddle of water. As miserable as this sounds, it can workout if done properly. In really hot weather, I follow these golden rules and dressing accordingly. Fist rule, Don’t start peeing on yourself till the last 5 hours of the race. Rule 2, See rule 1 (nobody said this was pretty). Next comes dressing for success.

  1. An entire tube of Desitin or Aquafir cream to all areas below your waist and above your thigh. (Generically sold as baby rash cream)
  2. Tape over your nipples to avoid some of the worst shafing you could imagine
  3. Start with some neoprean shorts from Paddleme.com. They are the only ones I found that deliberately have no seams in all the magic areas unlike most surf short. This is critical, trust me! As for the neoprene, you are wet regardless so it is the way to go.
  4. Cut out a large quick access hole in a strategic location of our shorts depending on your gender. With the amount of baby rash cream you will have on, you do not want to be pulling them up and down.
  5. All white long sleeve Poly propylene top and bottom to keep the sun and bugs off. You can continually wet them as necessary to stay cool. Sew on some mesh pockets to hold food that you cannot finish in 1 bite as well as your rappers. Cut a similarly located hole as your shorts into the long pants.
  6. For the sake of the spectators. Wear a very loose pair of slippery basketball shorts over your bottom layer.
  7. Find the dorkiest hat possible. Rain or sun, you cannot go wrong with an over sized 8inch bill and a tail that will either stay wet and cool you off, Channel the ran over your clothes rather than down your neck, or just keep the sun off you. There is no price for looking sexy in these events (unless you are from Belize).
  8. Get some Hydropel ointment, and lather up your hands then insert them into you favorite gloves. Reapply every 12 hours.
  9. Last is a good comfy seat. I find 2 inches of custom fit mini cell with a layer or two of 1cm thick camping mat that runs over the seat and all the way up the back deck of your ski does the job. Cover the foam with some very slipper tape.
Now your ready to go, hold on tight and prepare to be wet!


I shot the pictures of Carter's "touring" SX-1 Huki surfski which you are seeing here at the finish of Kansas River "Fitty Gritty" Race. The surfski was paddled in that race by West Hansen who made some adjustments to the boat outfitting.
The seat foam pictured above is my rendition. Carter's padding went with him back to CA. My seat pad is much thicker than Carter's, as I prefer to sit higher. My back padding was two layers thick to help me move forward more, since the boat is set up for Carter, who is two feet taller than me. -- West

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Posted at 07:12 AM     Read More  

Tue - July 17, 2007

2007 Texas Water Safari in a Surfski by Carter Johnson - III. Finish and Solo Record

This is the Part 3 of Carter Johnson story on his 2007 Texas Water Safari adventure. In the end of Part II he went through log jams in the lower Guadelupe River, left the Cowboys behind and was approaching the last checkpoint at Salt Water Barier.

2007 Texas Water Safari Story by Carter Johnson - Part III

 Guadelupe River salt water barier
With only 25 miles left, most teams take this opportunity to put on their life jacket for the final ocean stretch as well as emptying their boat down to all but the required gear. I ditched my batteries, extra food, spare paddle, garbage and anything else that wasn’t required.

13. Home Stretch

There was only 20 some miles of river left and 5 miles of bay till the finish. I was actually feeling ok and ready to just get this over with. As I pulled up to the last check point at the Salt Water Barrier (a dam that keeps the ocean from flooding the river at high tide), Richard informed me that I could possibly set a solo course record if I finished in 2 hours and 30 minutes. I knew that in my state this was impossible (nor was I aware of Richard’s trickery yet) but figured I would give it all I had. I blasted out of the Salt Water Barrier like I just started the race and did not let up for even a moment. It was time for war! Absolutely no idea who I was fighting or why I was even there, but it did not seem to matter.

The 20 miles leading up to the ocean was smooth except for a near wrong turn that involved my team captain correcting by running through the woods like a mad man trying to tell me to take the other fork. The river was very narrow with no current at this point.

14. Finish!!

I hit the Ocean right as the sun was going down on day 2 and of course there was a perfect 15 knot sturdy head wind. Duh…. I would have screamed as the feeling of paddling up wind was all to familiar, but I was wiped and decided that eating some M&M’s would be more constructive. After all, it was only 5 miles of this. I did not know the bay and of course unwillingly choose the shallowest route possible. The bottom drag and the wind made it feel like I was paddling through tar.

It did go by rather fast though as I was altogether feeling great all things considered and could smell the finish line. I soon found my self at a mile long sea wall that leads up to the finish. There I saw Richard on his bicycle jumping up and down again like a maniac and screaming into the wind at me.

 sea wall
Without knowing the bay very well, I ended up taking a shallow course that had me only 20 feet from the sea wall for the last mile. The water was only 6 inches deep. Note the small child wading near shore as I pulled in.

15. 7 minutes to go!

You have 7 minutes to break the Solo record!!! He was screaming at the top of his lungs, but with the wind I was only catching every other word. Did he say I was 7 minutes late? No, I swear he said I still had 7 minutes left. I looked at my watch and saw that 2 hours and 45 minutes had passed since he told me I needed to make it in 2:30. Something other than the little fishing village was smelling fishy.

I re-adjusted my thinking and pondered 1 mile in 6 inch deep water into a head wind in 7 minutes after paddling for 36 hours non stop. It’s doable I told myself (Ya, right, if my name was Dawid or Oscar or something like that..). I took a deep breath and reasoned it would be simple. I would just paddle hard till I blacked out, then it would be all over with, which would hopefully would not occur before I finished.

What felt like an eternity went by before I heard Richard screams out you have 4 minutes to tie the record!!! It really felt like a seen out of a bad western where the hero was galloping on his horse to save the maiden in distress, but never quite getting there as each time the camera switch back to him, he is still in the same spot. Some 8+ minutes later I crossed the finish line. My body gladly let go and I collapsed off the Surfski. My sister nearly dove into the water along with many others and dragged me out up onto the steps. As my visions started slowly coming back and the ears were registering sounds again, I heard loud cheering. You did it with 5 minutes to spare! I should have known, but Richards 7 minutes was really 15.

My sister dragged me out of the water and onto the stairs. It was great to have family there. 36 hours of nonstop paddling does wonders for your hands! Still time for a smile though.

36 hours and 3 minutes of paddling without a single stop of more than a few minutes was the final deal and put me as first solo and second place overall to a 6 man canoe. My hands were pruned and many of my fingernails were falling off. As always, it was great to be on dry land again and with family and friends. If I ever do this race again, I will try to persuade Sally to let me be her partner or jump in one of the 6 man boats!

16. Worlds Toughest Race?

So is it the world toughest canoe race? I must say that this one was pretty tough. It just keeps on wearing at you and tearing you down. And with stiff international competition, you simply can never stop if you expect to be competitive. What actually made it tough for me is it is just “Short” enough that you can finish without stopping. In the 460 mile Yukon River race, There is 10 hours of mandatory stops. These are life altering! In the 300 mile Everglades race (Ocean vs flowing river), it is simply too long to even consider without sleeping for a few hours each night. The Texas Water Safari on the other hand can be done in a single sitting, which is out right loony.


Here are some of the other boats. Far left is called a “Spenser Eagle” Similar hull to my Surfski, but no deck. Next is a “Spenser Patriot” it is a very fast tandem. The most impressive thoughts is the 3rd boat. It is a speck marathon canoe. It was powered by Jerry Rhaburn, the #1 ranking professional canoeist from Belize. He was only an hour back. Single Blade, no rudder!!! He was joking with me latter that real men don’t need rudders. I think I mumbled something back to him that nor do they need wings on their boat for balance.

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It's not the end of the story yet! Carter is still typing. Return back for his comments on sitting in water ...

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Posted at 05:41 AM     Read More  

Mon - July 16, 2007

2007 Texas Water Safari in a Surfski by Carter Johnson - II. San Marcos and Guadelupe

This is the Part 2 of Carter Johnson story on his surf skiing through the 2007 Texas Water Safari. In the Part 1 we left Carter just after the first portage over the Lake Dam. He continues down the San Marcos River.

2007 Texas Water Safari Story by Carter Johnson - Part II

 Zedler Dam, Luling, Texas
This is one of the 10+ portages on the San Marcos river. Many of the 6 man boats weight over 400lbs loaded and they actually just lower them directly over the dams.

5. First 85 - The San Marcos

San Marcos River The San Marcos is called a river but I beg to differ. Fast moving creak comes to mind as a better description. I knew that this was 85 miles of river where a single foot off the “runable” portion of a rapid or shooting a dam in the wrong location would cost you your boat. Most of the locals knew the river well. My only chance of survival was to find some veterans and stick with them. I would follow the person in front of me closely till the river opened up a bit, then leap frog to the next boat. Even while doing this, I somehow still managed to make several good attempts at ramming my self into a log or running directly over some hidden rebar. Soon though, there were only three 6 man boats in front of me and I was tailing the 3rd.

 San Marcos River
The San Marcos “River” is more like a creek by my definition. It is narrow and riddled with rapids, portages, rocks, shallow water and obstacles for 85 miles. Knowing the river is the key to success in this stretch. Top left is the Rio Vista Dam. Top right is Cotton Seed rapid. I made my best efforts here to eat a fallen tree for lunch.

6. The Team Captain

My team captain (Richard Ameen) was great. He is the only person who can give me advice or water thru the course of the entire race. I am not altogether convinced that his job was any easier than mine. He had to face endless fields of poison ivy, steep muddy banks, full submersion while trying to hand off water to me without stopping as wells as racing down dirt roads through cattle gates without sleep trying to get to the next checkpoint before I did.

Richard is very cunning and I later found out that he was always skirting the boundaries between lies and truth with the race updates. I would ask, how far up is the next boat. He would reply “Only 8 minutes, give it a sprint and you’ll catch them”. How far back is the next solo. “15 minutes only, better keep it moving.” I had no idea, nor did I really want to, but 15 back really meant 50 back, and 8 minutes up really meat 30 mins up. Richard was amazing though and risked body and limb to keep me on track and moving along.

 team captain
Often, the team captains would have to wade out into the middle of the river to exchange your water. Fast teams had it down to a science and would not miss a stroke at the check points. The team captains also had to stay awake for most of the duration of the race as the check points were often only 1 to 3 hours apart.

7. The Guad

Texas Water Safari - Guadelupe River I made it through the first 85 in one piece and was able to leap frog all they way into 3rd place. I was able to pass up the 3rd 6 man boat just a few hours before dark. I stopped at a portage just around 9 o’clock and got my lights. Sparks came out of the switch. (I seem to have a lot of light issues, its difficult to keep them working in total submersion). Lucky though, a local gave me some advice that I actually did follow. He warned me to connect the switch on a different circuit then the light so you can remove it if it fails. I ripped the switch out and plugged directly into the battery. Ah yes, nice white light. I could not turn it off but since there was 13 hours of battery it hardly mattered. The next 85 miles went by rather painlessly.

8. Sleep Paddling

I pulled into a check point at about 4:00am. My team captain said "you look really good." I told him that I had been sleeping since 10:00pm. He looked at me oddly, but never asked another question. On an open river such as the “Guad”, there really is no reason to have your eyes open at night. With an estimated 40 hour finish for me I needed to take every moment of shut eye possible. I would open them for just a split second and take a bearing, then do 10 strokes with them closed, re-open them just long enough to take another bearing, then close them again. There were some near misses with floating debris and some very large splashes around me as gar skirted away from the boat, but other than the few scares, it worked out perfect. I never hallucinated as most do and felt really good on day 2. I would love to tell you more about this part of the river, but I really never saw it.

 Guadelupe River
This photo shows the average river conditions on the Upper Guad. Nice open river with a swift current. It was easy to keep the eyes shut while paddling at night thru this section.

9. Legacy of the Cowboys

After traveling all night by my self I finally caught up with the 2nd place 6 man boat, a team called the “Cowboys”. It was about 5 am and I spotted them emptying out their boat on a steep muddy river bank. I am not sure what happened to them, but it was a yard sale out there. Their gear that they lost when they capsized was bumping off my surfksi as I plowed thru it. I quietly passed them up and kept a move on it. The river at this point was all new to me and I was following a line on my GPS along with some carefully placed waypoints.

As the sun was coming up, I came to a dam that I had marked as a portage. The river however was ripping past the dam 90 degrees in the other direction. The force was so strong that I eventually got sucked down with it. I was warned “make sure you are on the right river.” I looked at my GPS and I was not going where I wanted to be. Ok, time for a mad sprint back up stream! It took nearly 5 minutes to get back where the dam was. I was baffled and not sure what to do next. There was no obvious place to portage so I made the decision to wait till the Cowboys caught back up with me. Luckily they were only 5 minutes back now. Turns out that the high water washed a cut around the dam and the washout did eventually make its way back to the main river.

10. Wash riding

As the Cowboys passed, I jumped on the wash of their 44 foot long 6 man canoe and enjoyed the ride. The amount of water they pulled was amazing. Paddling behind them was no joy ride though. Following them was faster, but it did come at an expense.

There were 6 of them and only 1 of me. At any point, they could loose a paddler for a bathroom or food break and keep on moving. If I had to take care of any of the above, they would pull away fast. For the next 9 hours, every simple task got boiled down to 1 motion at a time. Taking an Advil or even a bite of a cliff bar was a 5 step process. Grab bar, 10 fast strokes to get back on their tail. Open bar, 10 more strokes, Take 1 bite and chew, 10 more fast strokes, collect wrapper so it did not fall into river, 10 more fast strokes…. Even getting an Advil out of my pill container and swallowing it was a 5 minute ordeal. I eventually picked up on who their faster paddlers were. When they went out for a break the boat really slowed. I would use these opportunities to take a bathroom break. On several occasions, they got 100 meters ahead of me. I had to give it everything I had for 15 minutes to catch backup. The ride was great, but it was exhausting. With so much going on though the hours peeled off.

 Guadelupe River wash riding
The 6 man boats had a great wash, but keeping on it while eating, and taking bio breaks was a sport of its own. Every simple task needed to get broken down to the smallest individual steps, with mad sprinting in between to get back into the wash without loosing them.

11. Log Jams

log jam I was warned about the log jams that formed on the lower Guad. They petrified me. Imagine hitting a 100 meter long complete river blockade in a twisty muddy marsh deep in the bayou. (Note, this is where all the alligators, snakes, boars, spiders and gar live). I really was not looking forward to getting out of the boat. I asked lots of questions before the race but nobody would give me straight advice. Some people said you rammed them and belly walk over the logs, others said you had to portage. Yet others even talked about secrete cuts thru a so called “Alligator Lake”

I had no idea what to do. I figured I would stay with the Cowboys till we got there and I would follow their lead. About an hour before the jams, the Cowboys slowed down. I started to harass them about being to slow. What a dope I am. It was part of their master plan to loose me in the swamps.

 Guadelupe River GPS track
This GPS plot shows the deviation off the main river through the swamps and back into the channel. Major parts of the this section were 100% blocked by logs. It was an accident that I missed the U bend here, but a good one. Turns out that this entire piece of river was stopped up. Locals even put up signs leading you down incorrect paths or cuts. This section of the river is coveted and any knowledge is kept close with those who know it. It felt like right of passage.

12. Cat and mouse

Not aware of their plan and not willing to slow down, I gave into passing them up and hit the first log jam alone. It was big. I jumped out of the boat and crawled my way to shore. Water was rushing round me and my water bottles and pills kept on falling out of the boat as I clumsily climbed over some logs. It felt like I was in constant collection mode. The river was running everywhere but there was no navigable path to follow. I was again perplexed and waited for the Cowboys to catch up. They pulled off on the other side of the river and got ready to portage. OK, back into the boat I go and cross the river to where they were.

Being solo, I was much faster at getting in and out. I started to get out of my boat and head down the path on river left. No sooner did I realize the Cowboys were back in their boat and going river right where I just came from. Oh my! I knew at this point they were playing with me. On my own again I guess. I took a few reads off the GPS and figured out what direction I needed to be going, made some wild guesses and started portaging through the swamps.

5 minutes into the first portage, a shadow cast over my face. I had but one though and it was Mike Shea. He was laughing at me or smiling down from some greater place than this earth. I am not sure what kind of spider it was or if it was even poisonous, but it truly was the size of my fist and it was crawling over the bill of my hat. This was no daddy long leg either. If I had to guess, I would say it was some sort of banana spider? I ripped the hat off, drop the boat and continue to scream into the woods.

After the minor melt down, I retrieved the boat again and found my way back into the main channel. My path through the maze turned out to be good and I hit the next checkpoint just a few hours later.

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Posted at 05:40 AM     Read More  

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