A team pushes off at the start of the 2018 Texas Water Safari. Pam LeBlanc photo


I spent a lot of hours last weekend driving around Texas with veteran endurance canoe racer Debbie Richardson riding shotgun in my truck.

Richardson has completed the Texas Water Safari 11 times. I’m registered to do the 260-mile paddle race from San Marcos to Seadrift on the Texas coast this year. I’m equal parts excited beyond belief and scared out of my pants, so this time in the truck with Richardson was both terrifying and reassuring.

Debbie Richardson paddles the San Marcos River during a training run with her team in March 2019. Pam LeBlanc photo


I covered the race last year for the Austin American-Statesman. I saw people in all states of exhaustion, including some sick on the side of the river in the middle of the night. Richardson, though, just a few hours after completing the grueling event, looked like she’d just stepped off a cruise ship.

What the what?

Isabella Hansen tends to her father, West Hansen, at the side of the river on the second day of the 2018 Texas Water Safari. Pam LeBlanc photo

“There’s zero chance you aren’t going to finish,” she told me right off the bat. “When you feel bad, you just need to focus on something pretty. It’s not something you don’t get through. You need to cherish every minute of (the race) because it’s such a unique opportunity to spend that much time on the river and see things most people never get to see.”

Matthieu Meyers, bottom, can’t watch as JT Van Zandt prepares to paddle away without him. The team made it all the way to Hochheim, but after about 28 hours, Meyers wasn’t able to finish the grueling race. Pam LeBlanc photo

Here are 10 pro tips from the Richardson annals of badassery.

  1. Food. We talked about what to eat, from liquid nutrition drinks to warm mashed potatoes with cheese. The problem is, you have to gulp everything. Debbie suggested helpful things like pre-crushing potato chips.
  2. Super Glue, it’s not just for sticking broken plates back together. Paddlers take it on the river to glue shut open cuts and wounds. They also use it to glue on fingernails and toenails that get ripped off during the race.
  3. Diaper ointment or products like Boudreaux Butt Paste are necessary to prevent chafing under your bra line, at the top of your pants, in your private areas and, well, just about everywhere.

    Paddlers Mike Buck, Kent Fish and Mark Huteson round a bend at Cottonseed Rapids on the first day of the Texas Water Safari. The race begins at the Meadows Center for Water and the Environment in San Marcos. Pam LeBlanc photo

  4. Your butt will get sore from sitting for two to four days straight. Your boat seat will have padding from the start, but cut an extra seat-shaped piece from an old yoga mat and add for the second half of the race.
  5. The last stretch of the race involves crossing a section of the bay and ship channel. Depending on conditions, it could be just plain horrible, or over-the-top, get-tossed-out-of-your-canoe-and-pull-it-by-your-teeth-through-sea-water horrible. Gird your loins. It will be HORRIBLE!
  6. The start involves more than 100 boats crammed onto Spring Lake. When the race begins, all those boats will be charging at once, and some will go sideways and you will likely get run over and possibly maimed. Gird your loins. It will be HORRIBLE!
  7. You will hurt. You will feel sick. You will simultaneously hate and love your teammates. You will want to quit. Do not quit. The bad times will pass. If you feel HORRIBLE, pause, eat something, brush your teeth, pee, if you absolutely must take a nap, and go on. You will feel fabulous.
  8. You will see alligators. And giant alligator gar. And snakes. And spiders. And mosquitos. And hordes of mayflies. And gnats. And poison ivy. And probably flying cockroaches as big as your head. Do not be alarmed.
  9. You will encounter HORRIBLE portages and will have to drag your boat for hundreds of feet across fallen logs and mud and soul-sucking swamplands. Do not be alarmed. Did we mention it will be HORRIBLE?
  10. NOTHING will feel as fabulous as it does to cross that finish line in Seadrift. Never forget that.

The Cowboys team wrangles their boat over rapids on day one of the 2018 Texas Water Safari. Pam Leblanc photo



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