Organizers of the most colorful event to take place on the Smith River are hoping more participants come out for its 50th anniversary Saturday.
More than 300 participants donned costumes, boarded inflatable hand-powered crafts decorated with balloons and other colorful items and shoved off at the Horace Gasquet Bridge last year. Event organizer Jina Bowen said she hopes more will brave the 2 ½-mile stretch of water between the Horace Gasquet Bridge and the Mary Adams Peacock Bridge this year.
“It’s a very big deal that it made it to 50 years,” Bowen said. “It keeps getting better every year.”
The race begins at about 10 a.m. at the confluence of the Smith River’s north and middle forks near the Gasquet Water District on Gasquet Flat Road. According to Bowen, organizers aim to get all the rafters in the water and downriver by noon, letting each category go in 5-minute increments.
Categories include inflatable kayak for ages 12-35; inflatable kayak for ages 35 and up; oar-driven raft for ages 12-16; oar-drive rafts for ages 17-40; and oar-driven rafts for ages 41 and older; hand-paddled rafts for ages 12-16 and hand paddle rafts for ages 17-40, according to the event website gasquetraftrace.com.
The raft that crosses the finish line first in each category will receive a plaque. Bowen said there will also be extra prizes for the racer with the best costume as well as a runner-up. There will also be first-, second- and third-place prizes for the best raft category, she said.
“We’re trying to make it as big as possible,” Bowen said, adding that the annual Deep Pit Barbecue will follow the race at the Gasquet American Legion Post 548.
Live music at the barbecue will include The Riverside Blues Band and Frankie Hernandez. There will also be brews from Port o’ Pints for adults and bounce houses, cotton candy and snow cones for youngsters. Barbecue dinners are $10.
The raft races got their start in about 1969 as the Gasquet Days Raft Races, an annual celebration in July, Bowen said. Over the last half-century several entities have coordinated the race including Mountain School, Gasquet’s elementary school and the Gasquet Volunteer Fire Department’s women’s auxiliary, she said. Bowen said race coordinators have changed hands about four times. It’s currently a fundraiser for the American Legion Post 548.
“We had our best ever (event) last year,” Bowen said. “We had more than we ever had in 50 years.”
Race organizers are encouraging participants to register online at www.gasquetraftrace.com. The entry fee for the race is $20 per person in the raft, according to the event’s website. There are a few rules: The minimum age for skippers is 12 years old. Rafters under 18 need a parent’s signature of consent on the entry form, and each participant must follow all California boating laws.
ll rafts, kayaks and flotation devices must be inflatable — hard-body types aren’t allowed. Racers will be disqualified for littering and “unsportsmanlike conduct.” Racers must be qualified swimmers and wear tennis shoes. Glass, Styrofoam containers or nails aren’t allowed in the construction of the raft, according to the website.
For more information about the race, visit www.facebook.com/gasquet or call (707) 954-1836.