The Great Alabama 650, the longest annual paddle race in the world begins September 26

Photo courtesy of Alabama Scenic River Trail

Here is a trivia question that will stump you.  Where is the longest annual paddle race in the world held?  Answer: Alabama.

That’s right. The Great Alabama 650 or AL650 is the longest annual paddle race in the world, and it is one of the toughest endurance events on the planet. Racers face whitewater, battle tidewater currents, and hike around a dozen dams in this 650-mile, adventure-style paddle race that kicks off in Northeast Alabama at Weiss Lake to Fort Morgan.

From September 26 to October 6 –  twenty of the most fierce paddlers in the world will converge on Alabama to tests the will of even the most extreme athletes.

Here are the details.

Elite Race

This race is a big deal according to Laura Gaddy, Communications Director for the Alabama Scenic River Trail.

“One of the real exciting things about this year’s race is that we have attracted an especially elite class of racers. This is because our race is an elite race. Our reputation, even after  just one year, is that our course is very difficult.  

In 2020, organizers also implemented admittance requirements and limited registration to 20 boats, narrowing the field of competitors eligible to compete in the AL650. Now at just 20 racers, this year’s class of competitors features a concentration of title holders.

Alabama Scenic River Trail

Photo courtesy of Alabama Scenic River Trail

The racecourse is the core section of the Alabama Scenic River Trail, a 6,000-plus mile mapped river trail in one of the most biologically diverse regions of the United States. The 650-mile core section of the river trail extends from the foothills of the Appala- chian Mountains in Northeast Alabama through alligator country to the Gulf of Mexico.

The Rules

Racers will have up to 10 days to complete the course and vie for prize money, which will be divided across three divisions – male solo, female solo, and two-person team. Racers will be allowed to use kayaks, canoes, or stand up paddle boards inter- changeably throughout the event. There is no sleep requirement.

How to Follow the Race

Photo courtesy of the Alabama Scenic River Trail

Spectators can follow the event virtually at where race organizers will post a live map that will report up-to-the-minute updates on each boats’ where- abouts. The map will be augmented with Facebook and Instagram posts from the field, which spectators can find by following official race accounts or by using the hashtag

The AL650 is a naturally distanced event, but organizers will implement procedures to comply with state orders that are in place to curb the spread of COVID-19. These procedures include requiring face masks during stops at dams along the route and limiting event admittance to race staff, racers, and crew members.

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Pat Byington
Longtime conservationist. Former Executive Director at the Alabama Environmental Council and Wild South. Publisher of the Bama Environmental News for more than 18 years. Career highlights include playing an active role in the creation of Alabama's Forever Wild program, Little River Canyon National Preserve, Dugger Mountain Wilderness, preservation of special places throughout the East through the Wilderness Society and the strengthening (making more stringent) the state of Alabama's cancer risk and mercury standards.
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