COLUMBIA — Surrounded by countless pieces of different types of wood and sawdust, Charlie Lockwood stood with his handmade paddles and the skeleton of a new canoe. As a seasoned veteran in the canoeing community, he was anticipating the GutBuster.
An avid canoeist and kayaker, Lockwood was hunched over as he polished his newest paddle — experimenting with WD-40, trying to get the best polish possible.
“I may have something here,” Lockwood said, sliding his hands on the paddle. “Feel this — like a baby’s butt,” he said with a laugh. “This has got a couple coats of epoxy on it. That’s walnut blade, with bamboo tip.”
It does not take long to notice Lockwood's attention to detail, and his intense enthusiasm for the sport is contagious.
For the third March in a row, Lockwood will be hosting and coordinating the third annual Perche Creek GutBuster canoe and kayak race Saturday. But his love for canoeing goes back much further than three years.
Originally from New Jersey, Lockwood has an extensive athletic background. He was a swimmer in college, spent time in the Marines, has a background in weightlifting and played football and wrestled as a younger man.
But until he was about 30 years old, he had never been in a canoe.
“Professional canoe racing was like bodybuilding was back in the 1950s,” Lockwood said. “Everybody did it part-time. They weren’t real professionals. You couldn’t earn a living.”
In 1975, Lockwood met Al Camp, a professional canoe racer in New York, at a crafts show where Camp was showing wooden canoe paddles and a canoe he had made.
“I got to talking with the guy,” Lockwood said. “I got interested in it because I grew up in New Jersey with surfing and lifeguarding and boats and all that. But I had still never been in a canoe.”
Lockwood called a high school friend from New Jersey and suggested that he borrow his uncle’s canoe so they could participate in the 70-mile race for money on the Susquehanna River. The race included professionals from everywhere, including the Midwest, New England and Canada.
“And I just figured, ‘Oh this will be a piece of cake,’” Lockwood said. “Anyway, just kicked our ass. Hardest thing I have ever done. This was the hardest sport I had ever been in.”
Lockwood and his friend were not able to finish the race. They found out quickly that canoeing is harder than it looks. It involves high technique and conditioning, he said.
“We got halfway through the race and said, ‘Jeez, this is killing us,’” Lockwood said. “We were in the wrong boat. We weren’t really in shape for it. So that’s how we got interested in it, and the next year we finished it and we did it a third year.”
As his life went on, Lockwood’s love for canoeing stayed strong, but canoeing is an expensive sport so he had to find a way to continue sticking with it.
“Having a new house, a wife and two children, I couldn’t really afford to buy new equipment so I learned how to build my own,” Lockwood said.
Around 1978 he paid $400 for a basic shell of a canoe. The inside was unfinished and no seats were mounted. Lockwood took it from there, learning quickly how to finish the boat.
A hobby was born.
“Then I started building my own paddles, and then I had a partner, and we built paddles, and then I started building boats,” Lockwood said. “I paddled a canoe for a season or so and then sell it to somebody real cheap to give them a chance to get into the sport.
“Then when I came out here (to Columbia) I paddled through the '80s. But I came out here, and there’s not a lot of canoeing done. There’s floating and a lot of beer drinking.”
Lockwood didn’t paddle that much after the 1980s, he said. Until about six years ago when the Missouri River 340, a 340-mile race on the Big Muddy from Kaw Point in Kansas City Core Point to St. Charles, began in Missouri, sparking canoe interest in some of the community. He bought a woodstrip boat and an aluminum boat from a friend in New York.
He emailed Katie Pfefferkorn, the winner of the women's class of the first Missouri River 340 and asked if she wanted to join him as he got back into paddling.
The hobby and love for canoeing was revived for Lockwood. Not long after, he came up with the idea for the GutBuster.
“We started paddling together,” Lockwood said. “We raced a 50-mile race, and we won that. So I got back into it, and now I’m 65 and planning my next 35 years.”
“We have a nice facility down here on Perche Creek and so I figured, ‘Well I’m going to get in the fray and test it out,’” Lockwood said.
The first unofficial year, eight people showed up.
“We threw two bucks each into the hat and paddled up to the McBaine bridge and back, and then we had a drawing for the money. One of the girls won the money, and then we went down to Coopers Landing and had lunch and talked about canoes.”
The next year, Lockwood said about 18 to 20 people came. He got insurance and had the first official Perche Creek GutBuster. The name of the race comes from the time of year that the race is held.
“It's early in the season. It’s one of the first races, if not the first flat water race in Missouri. It’s sort of appropriate because everyone’s been feeding their faces all winter, and they come out here and it’s an all out sprint. It’s not a float trip.”
After the first official year, the GutBuster quickly began to grow in popularity.
“Last year, I figured I’d have 50 paddlers. I had 65 show up,” Lockwood said.
“They way I run my race, I just tell them, this is the cheapest date in town. It’s put on by paddlers, for paddlers. We’re not raising money for (anything), this is strictly for us. I charge $15 dollars a person.”
The organization of the GutBuster has increased, too. While they all compete at once, there are different classes both for the skill sets of the participants and the kinds of boats. Lockwood has given the surfski paddlers their own class as well as added an adult-youth class. There is also a formal United States Canoeing Association class with length and width regulations for the more competitive racers.
There will also be a special participant this year. Three-time Olympian Mike Herbert will be racing and giving a seminar afterward. Rod Ladzinski from Kansas, a dealer for Epic Kayaks, will also be showing people how to use certain equipment.
The water on Perche Creek is categorized as class one. Classes are determined by how high the waves are on the water. Class one means there will not be any wakes or waves over 1 foot high.
"It's on Perche Creek so it's not some glorified river or anything like that," Brennan VanMatre, an employee at the Alpine Shop in Columbia, said. "It's a small little creek, and they pack them in.
"It's a lot of fun. Everybody gets out and gives it hell and gets back and hangs out and has fun, talks about where they're going to meet up again."
There are a number of prizes for either winning the race or the post-race raffle. There will be discount coupons for the Alpine Shop in downtown Columbia, the race's sponsor.
There will also be custom mini paddles that the first, second and third place racers from each class will get. A $400 carbon-fiber Epic paddle, a custom paddle made by Lockwood, will also be available for raffle winners.
Hot dogs and other junk foods will be available for all the participants.
“My favorite part is actually being sort of instrumental in providing a venue for paddlers,” Lockwood said as he continued to polish a new paddle. “Kayaking, canoeing, it’s a great sport for all ages, and all skill levels. There’s something about being out there, you have a whole different perspective of what the land looks like.
“It’s sort of a party atmosphere. And my goal is to create that type of feeling. It’s therapeutic."
The race begins at 11 a.m. Saturday at Perche Creek. No registration is necessary, just a $15 entry fee in either check or exact change.