By ASHLEY THORNTON
The 37th annual Wild Hog Canoe and Kayak Race grew by leaps and bounds this year with 103 participants compared to last year’s 72 and 49 in 2012.
“It’ll be a record year, I guarantee ya'. We’ve already got what we had last year,” Keith Maynard, coordinator for the event, told the Chiefland Citizen in interview during the race.
About $7,000 was raised on Saturday alone through the purchase of food, merchandise, raffles and 50/50 tickets. According to Maynard, most of the racers registered in advance, so the amount raised on Saturday only reflects a portion of what the event brought in. The cost to participate in the race was $40 for canoes and $30 for kayaks. Participants received a free T-shirt and a meal upon their arrival at the finish line. Proceeds from the race benefit the Levy ARC, which serves developmentally disabled adults at a facility in Otter Creek.
“It’s awesome, that’s all I can say. Every year, they do more and more with it,” said Levy ARC’s Executive Director Betty Walker. She also said that they appreciate everyone, including Maynard and his crew. Without the event, she said she didn’t know how they’d stay open.
The race began at 9:30 a.m. with staggered groups of racers pushing off every 10 minutes. At the finish line, the crowd continued growing as people sat along the banks, enjoying the food and live music.
Just a couple hours in, and the first racers came into view, in the lead a father and daughter team, George and Lexi Garner with single racer and previous winner John Edwards right behind them.
The Garners struggled over the logs as an obstacle across the Waccasassa River as Edwards made his way past them. The father-daughter team crossed the finish line triumphantly with a canoe full of water, right behind Edwards and one other team that passed them at the last minute.
Garner said they rubbed paint with the other racers for a good quarter mile and it wore them down, but they kept going.
After the race, he was heard telling the story of how he said he wouldn’t let anyone pass them, not even John Edwards, and then he turned around and there came Edwards around the corner, who, ultimately, did pass them.
The elder Garner has been participating in the race with his father since 1991, and it was Edwards who got them started. This year, the Garner family had three generations participating ,with George Garner’s father racing with his grandson — a first for a team.
Edwards, who finished first in his division and also had the fastest finishing time overall, completed the race in one hour, 38 minutes and 45 seconds. He had a modest response to finishing first and said the race was fine and the water was up.
“I started behind a bunch of people, so I had a lot of interference coming down the river,” Edwards said, adding that makes it fun.
Also present at the event were founders Frank and Carol Couch. Frank Couch explained that his parents used to own the property where the event was held and they had a small canoe rental.
They wanted to draw people and thought the race would be a good way to do it.
He said he’s a bit of an artist and drew the picture of the hogs in the boat, and that’s how they came up with the name. Starting out, there were only 12 boats in the first race. It gradually grew and they began making money, so in the sixth year of the race, they started donating the proceeds to Levy ARC and have been ever since. The Couch’s ran the event for 20 years before giving it up to other coordinators.