Thousands of Tulsans turned out this Labor Day to observe a spectacle that had not taken place in Tulsa for 21 years: Tulsa’s Great Raft Race, an event that had been a tradition through the 80s and 90s but was discontinued until this year.
Funded and endorsed in its return primarily by Tulsa’s Young Professionals, the event was not underwhelming; there are plans to continue the revived tradition each Labor Day for the foreseeable future.
The event kicked off at Sand Springs’ River City Park, a site along the Arkansas River with a convenient boat ramp and plenty of parking for rafters and spectators alike. Live music and food trucks contributed to the festival-like vibes of the occasion. Creativity was apparent in the majority of the raft designs, which were carried through the crowds to the water’s edge by their teams and Raft Race volunteers.
Both homemade and inflatable rafts, along with canoes and kayaks, were permitted this year, although motors of any kind were not allowed.
Hewlett-Packard’s team worked around that stipulation in a way by building a paddle wheel attachment connected to a bicycle on the back of their floating platform; their fuel of choice appeared to be low-point canned beer, the only alcoholic beverage allowed. Rafts were required to have a designated driver, and law enforcement was on the river for the day to ensure the boaters’ safety.
Tulsa World staff members constructed a simpler raft made of plastic barrels, rope, plywood and two-by-fours. Complexity wasn’t necessarily advantageous to the others, as the World’s raft appeared more manageable than some others on the water. It stayed afloat just as easily as the two dragon-shaped rafts on the river: one belonged to the “Vikings” and the other was dubbed “The Wraft of Asgard,” with their riders donning appropriate thematic garb.
After floating eight miles down the Arkansas and building camaraderie with fellow rafters along the way, the floaters exited the river at River West Festival Park, a location familiar to anyone who has attended OktoberFest or ScotFest.
Spectators lined the shore, some letting their children swim in the river’s edge, as volunteers directed the rafts to the boat ramp. They then used ATVs to pull the rafts up and park them at the display lot so after-party attendees could observe them.
Downtown Tulsa’s skyline was easily visible from the riverside against the day’s clear blue skies, and although it was uncomfortably warm in the sunlight, a breeze from the river gave some relief to observers. It was surely more enjoyable to be on the river than on its edge this Labor Day; future hopeful rafters should start planning their teams and designing their vessels now–next year will include a timed component, keeping Tulsa’s Great Raft Race true to its name.