Texas Water Safari

The 'world's toughest canoe race' concluded with some emotional moments

Text and photos by Ashley Landis

More than 100 boats lined up at Spring Lake at Aquarena Springs in San Marcos, Texas. on Sat., June 8 for the 51st annual Texas Water Safari. The 262-mile canoe and kayak race from San Marcos to Seadrift had the usual spills and thrills, but the most poignant moment may have come in the very last minutes of the race.

The night before the race, an announcement was made by Allen Spelce, president of the Texas Water Safari Corporation, that this year’s race would be dedicated to Brad Ellis, a paddler who lost his life during the 2012 Safari (Click HERE to read more). Ellis is the only death on record for the race.

Not only was the race dedicated to Ellis, but the first ever “Brad Ellis Spirit Award” was to be given to a competitor or team captain that exhibited outstanding sportsmanship. Just before the cut-off time of 1 p.m. on Wed., June 12, that award was presented to paddler Jon Newcomb as he crossed the finish line after paddling 99 hours and 53 min. His partner, Andy Toppin, an Iraq War veteran and amputee, had pulled out of the race in Gonzales, 179 miles before the finish line.

Newcomb was spotted by race officials carrying not only the boat through portages, but his partner as well. Then, after Toppin gave in to the “world’s toughest canoe race,” Newcomb finished on his own, with seven minutes to spare.

The biggest challenge to paddlers, other than the usual physical and mental tests of extreme heat, bugs, snakes, alligators and exhaustion, was crossing the open waters of San Antonio Bay. “The bay crossing was probably the toughest part of the race this year. We had more bay rescues than in years past,” said Spelce.

Race official C.J. Hall recalls rescuing a paddler who disappeared in the bay around 10:30 p.m. on Tues., June 11. “[We] started looking for him around 11:00 p.m., and we found him at 6:15 a.m. floating in the middle of the bay,” said Hall.

Of the more than 100 that started, 81 teams finished the Safari, including six-man boat 4106, who crossed the finish line first. Paddlers Andrew Condie, Fred Mynar, Jerry Cochran, Kyle Mynar, Logan Mynar and Tommy Yonley finished the race in 39 hours and 45 min.
“All who didn’t finish said they would be back,” said Spelce.

Click HERE for more information on the Texas Water Safari.
Click HERE to see pictures from the 2012 TWS, the 50th annversary of the race.

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  • mary

    Great article and pics, Ashley! Great race this year, and Jon honestly deserved the Brad Ellis Spirit Award. I “swept” him down river, watching him paddle out of each check point usually last or close to it, but never ever giving up!! I’m sure Andy is proud to have such a good friend as a paddling buddy as well. Mary Wilson, TWS Sweep Judge and TWS finisher.

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