Great Alabama 650 returns in 2020 with changes

Great Alabama 650 returns in 2020 with changes
Bobby Johnson (left) talks with his crewman during the first portage of the 2019 Great Alabama 650. (Dennis Washington / Alabama NewsCenter)

Registration opens Jan. 1 for the second annual Great Alabama 650, a grueling 650-mile non-motorized paddle race across some of the most scenic lakes and rivers in Alabama.

The Alabama Scenic River Trail said registration will open at noon CST on PaddleGuru. The race will be held Sept. 26-Oct. 6, starting at Weiss Lake in northeast Alabama and finishing at Fort Morgan in Mobile Bay.

Great Alabama 650 paddle race showcases state’s beauty, racers’ endurance from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Organizers have made a few changes for 2020. Participants must have competed as a solo or two-person tandem racer in a qualifying race within the past five years. The event will also be capped at 20 boats.

Racers who have not competed in a qualifying race will be given an opportunity to compete in a 65-mile race in June on a section of the Great Alabama 650 course. The winner of that race will get an automatic spot into the 2020 Great Alabama 650.

The first Great Alabama 650 was held in September. Of the 12 entrants, only the three winners completed the course. Florida resident Bobby Johnson won the race in seven days, eight hours, one minute and 55 seconds, despite trailing for the first 500 miles. Johnson covered more than 85 miles per day on the course, which includes several Alabama Power dams and waterways.

Not far behind Johnson was Salli O’Donnell, the only female solo competitor. O’Donnell, who lives in Fort Walton Beach, Florida, led for the first 500 miles of the race but finished six hours behind Johnson.

Tandem paddlers Ryan Gillikin of Bay Minette and Susan Jordan of Mississippi finished on the ninth day of the race. The finishers, as the top male, top female and top tandem, split a $22,500 prize equally among those three divisions.

To learn more about the Great Alabama 650, including a detailed list of rules and requirements, visit

Related Stories