MELISSA BLOCK, host:
This is All Things Considered, from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block. A team of U.S. paddlers rowed their way to victory in the Amazon last week. They became the first non-Peruvian team to win the Great River Amazon Raft Race and set the course record in the process. 85 miles down the Amazon over three days. Oh, and they had to build their own raft. West Hansen of Austin, Texas was on the winning team. He's an ultra marathon canoe racer and he joins us from Austin. Thanks for being with us.
Mr. WEST HANSEN (Member, U.S. Team Great River Amazon Raft Race): My pleasure, Melissa.
BLOCK: And this was your first ever raft race?
Mr. HANSEN: First raft race. We've been on several canoe races here in America much longer as a matter of fact, but this one had its own set of circumstances for us to overcome. The first was the building of the raft, which none of us had ever done in our life, much less even seen balsa logs.
BLOCK: So balsa logs were the construction material, how did you figure out how to build your own raft?
Mr. HANSEN: Well, it was kind of funny. Two of the team members out in California, David and Kelly had built a small prototype out of pine, which of course, sank like a rock.
Mr. HANSEN: And then the rest of it was just speculation. We figured, well, balsa floats and we have looked at the pictures on the web from the previous teams, and we came up with our own design.
BLOCK: And I gather your design was very different from the other rafters, and that ultimately, I guess, is what won you the race.
Mr. HANSEN: Well, it did contribute towards that, and it was somewhat different and did raise a few eyebrows when we're building it down there. Instead of having the required eight logs lined up next to one another and lashed together with boards and rope. We spliced four logs to the other four logs in the end, so we ended up with a raft that was twice as long, approximate 32 feet, and only four logs wide, approximate 32 inches. We then carved the front to look like boat as much as it could. And then we painted it blue, sky blue. We wanted to come across as non-threatening, and blue is a real calm color, as our team name, Team Easy Living.
BLOCK: And you said that raised eyebrows among the other teams. What were they saying about your boat?
Mr. HANSEN: Well, my Spanish isn't that good. But they didn't say a whole lot while we were building it on the beach, crossing the little town of Nauta, the other racers, especially the locals would come up and just kind of watch us and whisper to one another and.
BLOCK: So, you have this long, skinny boat. Were they afraid it was going to tip over, tumble you right into the Amazon?
Mr. HANSEN: That was my impression. I don't know if they're afraid of that. I think they are hoping for that.
BLOCK: I see.
Mr. HANSEN: And...
Mr. HANSEN: And it did allow us to move our paddles from one side to the other and that of course allowed us to spread out the use of our muscles instead of just using one side, which the Peruvians were using, just one side and then the other part of their team was using the other side of the body.
BLOCK: Well, tell me about what it was like to paddle this thing, you're used to these really light, fast canoes and then you step onto this balsa wood contraption that you've build.
Mr. HANSEN: Picture a Buick stuck in a big muddy pig sty.
Mr. HANSEN: And then try to push it through that sty.
BLOCK: I'm working on that.
Mr. HANSEN: That's what it's like. Yeah. We're used to paddling really sleek carbon fiber and Kevlar boats made specifically for canoe and kayak racing, whereas this was very unwieldy.
BLOCK: Well, what was is it like at the end when the local teams, the Peruvians realized that this team of interlopers had come in and won their race?
Mr. HANSEN: Well, they- we were welcomed in Ikitos by the locals, by the local population very warmly and then we waited for our competitors los incredibles, the Incredibles, to show up, that was the name of their team the Peruvian team that came in second and those were a wonderful group of guys and we hung out with them for a while, and communicated as best as we can, but there was no animosity at all. I think they proved to be really tough competitors, they knew what they are doing and easily could out maneuver us. We just - we just had a little bit more speed on them.
BLOCK: West do you think you're going to do this race again?
Mr. HANSEN: I sure hope so.
BLOCK: And what if you're going to find yourself paddling alongside another long skinny raft next year from some team who thinks you are on to something?
Mr. HANSEN: Well, there was quite a bit of talk about that before we left. That's one thing we did quite understand was, oh we think we might have influenced things a bit here and we left our raft there of course and it was being poured over quite a bit when we left.
BLOCK: Well, West Hansen, congratulations on your victory in the Great River Amazon Raft Race.
Mr. HANSEN: Thanks so much, Melissa. It's been a pleasure.
BLOCK: That's West Hansen in Austin, Texas. He and his three teammates won the great River Amazon Race in Peru on the Raft at the Blue Dolphin. And you can see a photo of that raft at npr.org. By the way Hansen told me the team gave its $3000 in prize money to the Peruvian racers, he said they live on the river and it seemed more appropriate to keep it there than bring it back.
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