The Phatwater is a grueling test of endurance, not for the faint of heart, though it is open to all who wish to test their skills on the mighty Mississippi. Begun in 2002, with only eleven paddlers (half-men, half-women, and half an hour of sleep) the Phatwater grew to a field of more than 150 paddlers in more than 120 individual crafts in 2009.
Initially, paddlers arrived with toy boats and canoes, such as one might find on any lazy stream or lake around the South. Today, world record holders, Olympians, and paddling aficionados, from more than 18 states and 11 foreign countries, showcase the most advanced boats in the world and set records on the Phatwater. The race has become such a noted event and has achieved such a presence on the Mississippi River that the United States Coast Guard grants total river closure to barge traffic for the duration of the contest.
The Phatwater, begun by an environmentally conscious organization known as Kayak Mississippi, starts at the port at Grand Gulf at 8 a.m. and concludes with an after-race party at Natchez Under-The-Hill later the same day. Awards are given for all classes, and a special "Sub-V Hour" Phatwater Engraved Swiss Army Knife is presented to each participant who completes the course in fewer than 5 hours on their first attempt. Cash prizes are also awarded to pro-level paddlers who complete the race first in their classes. A special $1000 prize is awarded to the first paddler/team to break the existing Phatwater Record time, which at present stands at 3 hours, 41 minutes and 56 seconds.
The Phatwater and Kayak Mississippi invites all paddlers--be they canoeists or kayakers--to attend this year's race. Whether novice or seasoned paddler, all are welcome to give it a try. Safety boats patrol the course for the duration, and will assist those choosing to pull out early.