Rolling down the river

Crew members embark on the Great Willamette River Race on the Philip Rivers boat on Saturday morning.

INDEPENDENCE — Waves collided against the shore.

Sailors held on for dear life.

No, this wasn’t quite the open seas. It was the Great Willamette River Raft Race.

The annual event, which took off from Riverview Park in Independence on Saturday morning, attracted sailors on inflatable rafts, homemade ships and rowers looking for a workout.

Six years ago, Joel Robinson and a group of friends were ready to tackle a new challenge.

“It looked like something fun to do,” Robinson said. “We had floated the river quite a bit and looked forward to trying something different.”

The group had canoed down parts of the river before, but they decided to build their own craft.

“That first year, we had a three-person raft,” Robinson said. “It was cross-shaped and very rudimentary.”

They were prepared for the fun — they weren’t prepared for the length.

“We had canoed the river in the past and taken about two and a half hours,” Robinson said. “The first year we did this, it took us about seven hours.”

But it didn’t matter; Robinson was hooked.

Over the years, the design of their raft changed to the two-story craft the group now boasts. The raft included a basketball hoop and slide — though some ideas have proven a little too crazy to execute — at least for now.

“We try to do something new every year,” Robinson said. “That’s our goal, at least, to mix it up. We’ve wanted to do a rope swing, but I have no idea how we would figure that out. We’ve also talked about a bike driven propeller, but that hasn’t come to fruition either.”

Though there is a race going on, the main focus is on having fun, Robinson said. Whether that means enjoying a snack or going for a swim in the slow parts of the river with friends, the raft race is something he intends on being a part of for as long as he can.

“Spending a day floating the river with friends, it’s the perfect way to spend a sumer day,” Robinson said.

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