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Tuesday, August 5, 2014
Homemade rafts, kayaks, canoes and paddleboarders alike fought the rain and Savannah River on Saturday during the Savannah Riverkeeper’s 8th annual Paddlefest.
Jay Jacobs, the outreach coordinator for the Savannah Riverkeeper, said the event is a great chance for people to enjoy the river.
“Paddlefest is a yearly canoe, kayak, stand-up paddle board and homemade raft event that has timed racing, as well as recreational divisions,” he said. “So, there’s pleasure paddling and competitive racing.”
Jacobs, a North Augusta High School graduate, set up the Paddlefest course on Wednesday and called it a challenge for participants.
“The course is made up of two distinct parts; the shoals area – which is navigating around rocks and a little bit of rapids – there’s class 2 rapids,” he said. “Then, once you come out of the rapids, there’s open water; so there are two different kinds of paddling, which is something you don’t get in a lot of places. It’s a pretty well-trod course, and people know what to expect year after year. This year, the water was up, which made it more fun.”
Homemade rafts are one draw of Paddlefest for groups.
Rafts, in the past, have been made up using bicycles, sails or flotation devices, Jacobs said.
“The homemade rafts start at North Augusta boat landing. It’s all flat – there are no rapids or anything like that,” he said. “The biggest challenge for homemade rafts is staying together and finishing the course. You get some people who overthink it – the Huck Finn method is probably the best. Where you let the river do most of the work and just steer the raft, maybe paddle a few times. Creative license has its place, but it’s best to let the current do the work.”
The Merriwether Fire Department made a raft for Paddlefest, using empty drums, a siren and fire truck decorations.
Joey Smith, chief of the Merriwether Fire Department, said, “Paddlefest was great. I wish it hadn’t rained, but we enjoyed it. We had a lot of fun coming down the river.
“Back in May, we decided we wanted to put together a raft and have some fun; do something different. We do water rescue, as well; so it was something we were thinking about. We came up with the old fire truck theme, and we made it to the end.”
Jacobs and the Riverkeeper are hoping to have better weather next year for Paddlefest. Rain and thunderstorms have dampened the race the past few years.
“Every year we hope to get bigger,” he said. “For the last three years, its been pretty difficult. We’ve had problems with the weather or the water being too high. This year, we had a little bit of rain, which doesn’t bother the people on the water, but it makes having live music more challenging. Turnout was just a little low, but everybody here is having a good time. Maybe, next year, barring locusts or a mudslide, we can have a clear weekend to have a good time.”
The money from Paddlefest helps the Savannah Riverkeeper run throughout the year.
“We are 100 percent member supported,” Jacobs said. “When you participate in something like Paddlefest, that money goes directly into maintaining the river – that could be fishability, drinkability or swimability – all of the water quality of the river. The water that we’re on today is also the water that sustains us, so we need to take care of it.”
For more information on the Savannah Riverkeeper, call 706-826-8991 or visit savannahriverkeeper.org.
T.J. Lundeen is a reporter for The North Augusta Star. Follow him on Twitter @lundeentj for more updates.