Ray Pellerin, one of the Tour du Teche founding board members, said what happened at Berwick Sunday is what the tour is all about.
“My whole thought is what you see happening here,” he said. “What else could Berwick do to draw people from Washington, Minnesota and all these states that show up here?”
The 99 kayakers and canoeists began the 135-mile course in Port Barre on Friday where they launched onto Bayou Teche for a 49-mile paddle to St. Martinville. On Saturday they made the 59-mile trip to Franklin and Sunday 46 paddlers made the final leg of the tour, a 27-mile journey to Berwick that included three portages.
Mark Addison of England and a resident of Houston, was the fastest solo paddler of the tour ever with a time of 18 hours, 59 minutes and 43 seconds.
“It seems pretty fun and the organization seems really good,” Addison said of the tour. “There is a party going on here as well.”
The hardest part of the tour “is getting back in your boat on Day 2 and Day 3 when your hands are all blistered,” Addison said.
The top team time, also a record for the tour, was 18 hours, 31 minutes and 43 seconds set by Brad Pennington and Joost Zeegers in the tandem double blade category.
The paddlers were greeted by a street festival on the waterfront where arts and crafts and food booths had been set up.
Berwick Mayor Louis Ratcliff said, “It has just been fabulous.”
Jackie Ackel, a city councilwoman, said, “We think it is awesome that they are letting us be the big finale. We hope to grow this.”
Ann Martin of Berwick, who was selling candles at a booth, said business had been good.
“I’m really enjoying it,” she said. “I think they ought to do it more often.”
The crowd was estimated at several hundred by Ratcliff.
Ken Grissom, a founding tour board member, said Tour du Teche began as an economic effort.
“We saw Bayou Teche as a tremendous and under-utilized resource, in fact, an endangered resource because people threw junk in it,” he said. “What we wanted to do was focus on Bayou Teche. We figured the best way was to get people from out-of-state to come and pronounce how good it is.”
The race began and started attracting top-notch paddlers from across the country, but there was another impact, he said.
“We didn’t realize how much local interest there would be,” Grissom said. “Before we started you never saw anybody paddling Bayou Teche. Now you see it all the time and it is local people.”
Kayaker Denise D’Abundo of Baton Rouge completed her third Tour du Teche Sunday.
“I was so naive about what it is all about,” she said of her first year. “The next two years I had to do it again.”
Bethany Wright, 15, of Breaux Bridge was paddling with her father, Stephen.
“It was an adventure,” she said of the trip that included their kayak flipping in the wake of large boat as they approached Berwick.
The Tour du Teche organizers planning an additional tourism-building event off the water in April 2013. Pellerin said the plan is for 400 bicyclists to travel from Berwick to New Iberia to Breaux Bridge to Eunice.