Father's Day on the river (w/video, gallery)
June 14, 2014 at 1:14 a.m.
SAN MARCOS - By midnight Saturday, Charlie and Coy Kouba will have completed 15 hours of the Texas Water Safari and will be another 75 hours away from finishing the toughest endurance test either has undertaken.
Instead of a generic Father's Day card and dinner at a restaurant, Charlie, 68, and Coy, 44, will be spending Sunday on different parts of the Guadalupe River.
Not too far ahead of them in a truck are Charlie's younger son, Keith Kouba, and Charlie's brother, Tony Kouba, who are Boat 314's team captains, responsible for replenishing Charlie and Coy along the course with drinking water and nutrients.
For this outdoor-loving group of men, family is the only way to survive the 260-mile adventure. And when the first-time team crosses the finish line in Seadrift on Tuesday, their familial bond will be stronger than ever before.
After months of talking about the Safari, the Koubas decided to make the "world's toughest canoe race" a reality and signed up.
"My dad has always been there for us," said Keith Kouba. "It takes a family effort."
Charlie and Coy embarked on the 52nd annual race Saturday morning at the Aquarena Center in San Marcos in a canoe named "Long Tom," which was a nickname for Charlie's late father, Adolph Kouba.
This family is no stranger to endurance competitions. Charlie Kouba, a Victoria native who moved back to town with his wife, Anne, shortly before retirement, competed in multiple marathons during the past 10 years.
Even with years spent living in Jamaica and eventually Rockdale, the family didn't know exactly what to expect with the safari. No road race quite compares to the intensity of the safari, he said.
"Research is never enough," Charlie Kouba said. "But the veterans here are very helpful and have a wealth of information for novices. It's about the training - getting on the water and knowing the hazards."
Coy Kouba has known about the water safari for years and always thought it would be "one of the coolest challenges to do," he said.
"I always kind of had it in the back of my mind," Coy Kouba said. "When my dad got into retirement and became more serious about it, we just started paddling together to see what we can do and how many miles we could put in."
Coy Kouba lives in League City with his wife and three kids and admits that the training has been difficult at times because of the distance and busy schedule. He is the den leader for his son's Boy Scout pack and works as a project manager for NASA.
"It's kind of a chance of a lifetime, and my dad's willing to do it. It's never going to get any easier schedule-wise," he said.
As president of the Coastal Bend Paddlers, a local group of paddling enthusiasts, Charlie Kouba renewed his interest in the sport. He has also trained for races with the Victoria Area Road Runners Association.
"I remember in high school, I saw some early Texas Water Safari racers come through Victoria, and I always thought that it would be a cool thing to do," said Charlie Kouba, a 1964 St. Joseph graduate.
While Coy and Keith Kouba never lived in Victoria, the brothers visited their grandparents and family often while growing up.
The father-sons-uncle team didn't realize the safari, which is scheduled for the second Saturday of June every year, fell on Father's Day weekend.
"It just came together that it would be a father-son two-seater boat," Charlie Kouba said. The longest training run for Charlie and Coy was 46 miles, which took about 10 to 11 hours to finish, Coy Kouba said.
"Doing it with my dad, we've really gotten a chance to bond more," Coy Kouba said. "A lot of times when we visit, it was normal, day-to-day stuff. But when you're on the boat for 12 hours, you get a chance to talk about things you wouldn't normally be able to talk about."
Charlie's younger son, Keith Kouba, lives in Helotes with his wife and five children. He works in business development for a surgical company in San Antonio.
The Koubas participated in the Texas River Marathon in May, a 35--mile preliminary event to the safari. Coy Kouba had to pull out at the last minute because of an illness, and brother Keith stepped in his place.
Halfway to the finish line at Riverside Park, Keith Kouba had to vacate the boat with intense back spasms. Charlie Kouba was determined to finish the race and placed about 60 pounds of rocks in the other side of the boat and continued down the river.
"That was really telling," Keith Kouba said. "It showed us that no matter what, Dad has the drive and motivation to do this. It's about the sense of adventure, too. We've seen him become a kid again."
Keith Kouba said that he never expected an event like this to bring the family together back to Victoria again.
"We've done a lot of family things in the spring because of training," Coy Kouba said. "I'll bring my kids and wife, and we'll go paddle all day. Then, we'll come back and have a big dinner in Victoria and relax. We've gotten together more frequently than if we weren't doing the safari."
Keith Kouba said that the first night on the river will be the true test for his father and brother.
But Charlie Kouba said he'll just keep paddling through whatever the river has to throw at them.
"Accomplishing this, especially with my family members, and then going on to the next adventure," Charlie Kouba said, describing what he is looking forward to the most.