Rivers bring life to deserts and the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo inspire a significant celebration every October. Adding to the historical “Dia del Rio” celebration this year, RioFest was the second annual bi-national kayaking race on the infamous river with two names.
Champion paddlers from both sides of the Mexican-American border competed for $18,000 in prize money donated by a binational consortium of organizations and individuals “Los Dos Laredos,” the County of Webb, CODEFRONT, Rev. Paul Frey, Eddie Martinez, Jr., the Laredo Chamber of Commerce and the Rio Grande Plaza Hotel. Saturday’s event began at the Solidarity Bridge in Colombia, Nuevo Leon, where CODEFRONT sponsored paddlers from Mexico to challenge the best paddlers from the USA in a 33-mile test of strength and endurance.
The first pro-paddler kayak crossed the finish line in three hours and 41 minutes, a two-person boat, or “K2” powered by John Baltzell and Mark Addison. Seven minutes later solo paddler Austin Schwinn, just back from a competition in Spain, was the first K1 paddler to arrive. Brad Pennington from Buffalo Bayou crossed the finish line in 4 hours and two minutes, together with Jose & Luis Landeros, brothers and former National Team members from Mexico. The first K4 team was also Mexico, coming in at 4:08.
Local paddlers joined the fun thanks to the Big River Foundation’s 8-mile Community Kayak Race sponsored by Academy Sports + Outdoors. Paddlers from both sides of the border paddled 21 kayaks to the same finish line as the long-course paddlers. This year’s short-course champions were K1 paddlers Velis Bravo and Alejandro Lima from Veracruz, arriving within moments of one another in just under two hours to claim $500 for Mexico’s Cruz Rojo, thanks to donations by event co-sponsors IBC and L&F Distributors (Budweiser). Laredo paddlers David Nuñez Montoya and Guillermo Aguilar placed third, arriving just two hours, six minutes after the race began at Father MacNaboe Park.
Family, friends, and visitors united with paddlers at the finish line to celebrate with music, food, drinks, and a festival that brought out “Occupy Laredo”, a branch of protests recently born on Wall Street, a fiesta hosted by Nuevo Laredo, and a riverside concert at El Portal organized by Main Street Laredo. River lovers were inspired to dance to “Rhythms on the Rio” as Umano Ache, Factura 22 and Banda Revolucion played under the moonlight.
As new friends and old said goodbye at the awards breakfast Sunday, there was talk of a new association joining paddlers from both countries in advance of next year’s fall “Dia del Rio” by adding a spring event, a “Big River Ruckus”. City of Laredo Council Member Alex Perez provided encouragement saying, “This is the most positive activity happening here.” For more information about paddling the Rio Grande , contact Eric@BigRiverFoundation.org