Boats race at Paddlefest

A father and son glided their canoe into dock from the Savannah River on Saturday with a different view of the ordinarily calm waters.


The pair had set out at 9:30 a.m. for a race against more than 100 other paddlers. Somewhere along the way, Greg Flach said the river turned and began to look something like "class three rapids."

Flach said waves capsized his canoe twice, ran him and his son Josh aground, and sent downstream their T-shirts that had been resting on the canoe.

But it was worth it.

"We did come out here with the notion of winning," Flach said.

The Flaches joined other paddlers in The Savannah Riverkeeper's fourth annual Paddlefest on Saturday. Canoes and kayaks raced about eight miles from the Savannah Rapids Pavilion to the Boathouse Community Center, where the winners crossed the finish line on calm water.

The race was divided into categories for canoes, kayaks, homemade rafts and standup paddle boards.

Rafts raced from the North Augusta Boat Ramp to the finish line and standup paddle boards paddled from the Hammonds Ferry Dock to the finish.

This year was the debut for the standup paddle board division after two or three entered last year and sparked the idea, said Savannah Riverkeeper Executive Director Tonya Bonitatibus.

Fifteen paddle boarders competed this year, along with 20 homemade rafts, and 85 canoes and kayaks.

All proceeds from the race will benefit the Savannah Riverkeeper, a nonprofit advocacy group that works to restore, protect and educate people about the 425 miles of river, Bonitatibus said.

It was also the first year that the canoe and kayak competitors' race times will be recognized by the USA Canoe and Kayak organization.

While others raced the clock, homemade rafts were in it for creativity. Five judges gave out awards to rafters in eight categories.

For Bonitatibus, in all the fun there was also a message. "We try and bring people out on the river because if you spend some time on the river, maybe you'll think about ways it affects our lives," she said.