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The Texas Water Safari is underway this weekend after racers started out on Saturday afternoon on their trek from San Marcos to the Corpus Christi Bay. If his team is able to finish, 72 year old Joe Hunt will complete the journey for the 20th time. Below, Hunt is shown with his team in a previous race.
Submitted photo


Of the many obstacles on the trip, the Cummings Dam south of San Marcos, is one of the largest.
Submitted photo


Hunt with his team.
Submitted photo


Man trying to complete 'World's Toughest Boat Race' 20th time at the age of 72
Sunday, June 9, 2024

Teams of outdoor enthusiasts from all over the world have loaded up their canoes and are rowing a grueling 260 miles from San Marcos to the Gulf Coast — in low waters no less. One might wonder why anyone would put themselves through this, let alone do it 20 times. But Joe Hunt, who is trying for his 20th completion of the Texas Water Safari and will be 72 yearsold when he reaches the finish line, said the race is “more mental than anything,” requiring that the competitor just “get in the water and keep going.”

Texas Water Safari President Allen Spelce said the drought has made the past couple of years particularly difficult.

“In 2022, we had less than 50% finish. Last year, we had just over 50% finish. … When you have a high water year, you can have as many as 80% of the team's finish,” Spelce said. “We’re expecting the same kind of race [results] as the last two years. Our hope is that we don't have a bad day like we had last year. We conducted over 16 rescues in the bay last year, right before you get to the finish line at Seadrift.”

Doing the Texas Water Safari in low water conditions is nothing new to Hunt.

“Two years ago, we finished,” Hunt said, adding that a teammate got out of the boat in 2023. “Last year, we made it 259 miles and didn't finish, because time ran out on us trying to get a long boat down the river. The boat is really more of a three to four man boat. We were running a three man team, and when the guy got out that boat was slow and hard to move with just two paddlers and hard to steer and the water was low. We got to the bay at 95 hours and couldn't cross; It was too rough. We tried repeatedly, but we couldn't. We kept turning over. It is pretty frustrating to be able to see the finish line and not get there.”

Hunt’s first time doing the TWS was in 1973 when a friend whose partner had dropped out right before the race called his brother and asked if he was interested in participating.

“My brother said, ‘No, I'm not dumb enough to do that. Call my little brother.’ So he called me and I said, ‘Okay, I'll go,’” Hunt said. “We didn't know anything about canoing. We didn't make it. We made it halfway in two nights, and we were out of food. Back then you had to carry everything with you, and we didn't know it was going to take so long. We didn't know how bad it is.”

Hunt participated in the race approximately ten times in the 70s, but took a hiatus due to the demands of business and starting a family. Many years later he ran into someone at a bar wearing a Texas Water Safari T-shirt.

“And he said, ‘Do you do that?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, I did [it] a bunch of times back in the 70s.’ And he goes, ‘Have you done it solo? And I said, ‘No, never done it solo.’ And he goes, ‘Well, you've never done it.’ And he just walked away,” Hunt said. “I thought, well, crap.”

That conversation prompted Hunt to do his first and last solo race, which got him “hooked” on the Texas Water Safari yet again.

Though Hunt is a TWS enthusiast, his many races have not been without tribulations — the least of which have been a case of trench foot and repeated falling on slippery log jams, the worst of which were near death experiences.

“I’ve almost drowned a couple of times — getting washed under limbs and log jams and things like that. I got pinned against the Palmetto Bridge once by the water, which was real high,” Hunt said. “We had to bail out of the boat right above Palmetto bridge, the low water crossing, and the water just pinned me up against the abutment. And it took me about 10 minutes [to get out]. The force of the water is so strong. People that don't canoe don't understand that. But I finally was able to work my way off of it and go under the bridge.”

For the year that Hunt attempts his 20th race completion, his team name, Current Obsession, is more than fitting. The team is composed of his son James Hunt, his son in law John Wooldridge and his buddy and fellow marine Joe Roppolo.

“I'm excited about this year,” Hunt said. “We've got a good boat. We've got a good team.”

But Hunt isn’t resting on an adequate boat and team to take him to the finish line.

“I walk a mile a day. I lift weights every other day. I'm trying to watch what I eat. I've got my weight down. I’m 6’1 and 185 pounds,” Hunt said “[I’m also doing] lots of sit-ups and running — that kind of stuff — to build your core, your stomach and your back.”

Upon successful completion of his 20th race, Hunt’s wife has been instructed to have a cold Modelo ready at the finish line.

San Marcos Record

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