Brantley resident secures victory in Great Alabama 650

By Haley Mitchell Godwin

Earlier in the month, Brantley resident Matthew Taylor, alongside his teammate Myles Sumerlin of Moss Point, Mississippi paddled 650 miles of Alabama waterways in seven days, three hours, and nine minutes, becoming the tandem boat winner and finishing fourth place overall in the 2023 Great Alabama 650, the longest paddle boat race in the U.S. 

Matt and Tara Taylor of Brantley along with Myles Summerlin of Moss Point, Mississippi display the $2,000.00 check their team 2 Strokin received for their win in the tandem division of the 2023 Great Alabama 650, a 650-mile kayak race that begins in northeast Alabama and finishes on Mobile Bay. Photo submitted.

Elite athletes from across the globe paddled their way through the daunting 650-mile course, traversing Alabama’s diverse waterways from Weiss Lake in northeast Alabama to Fort Morgan in the southwest corner of the state.

Competitors faced a relentless 10-day deadline that began Sept. 30 with eight of the 19 entrants forced to bow out, leaving only 11 paddlers in the competition.

A pivotal moment in the journey of Taylor’s team, Two Strokin, occurred when they were within 9 miles from the finish and Mother Nature sent a storm their way, necessitating an emergency paddle to shore. Undaunted, the pair regrouped, rallied, and emerged victorious on Oct.7 thanks to the camaraderie and support of fellow racers.

Taylor and Sumerlin’s triumphant victory in the grueling race was almost derailed when a storm forced them to make an emergency paddle to shore just 9 miles from the finish, but with unwavering determination and the support of fellow racers, pictured here, they claimed victory on Saturday. Photo submitted.

Taylor shared the hardships encountered, particularly when navigating through Mobile Bay, during what stands as one of the most demanding and grueling paddle races on the planet. 

“There were 3- 4-foot swells and 22 mile-per-hour winds,” Taylor said. “It took extreme focus to paddle and brace against the waves trying to toss us over. Due to the drought, the rivers were low with no flow it was very grueling.”

Nonetheless, Taylor emphasized that the breathtaking beauty of Alabama’s river systems and its abundant wildlife made the exhausting journey immensely rewarding. 

“It was amazing to see the mountains of north Alabama, the beautiful lakes, the endless curves of the Alabama River, the eerie delta at night, and the saltwater bay,” Taylor said. “We had so many people yelling and cheering us on from shore and some even shot fireworks in honor of all the competitors as we went by. Sometimes as we quietly paddled through the night, we’d hear someone cheering our names.”

Taylor’s roots run deep in the area as his ancestors settled in the Patsalagi Valley near Lime Creek, local landmarks in Central Crenshaw County that very few still recognize. Today, Taylor resides with his wife Tara, son Lane, and daughters Marci and Stassi on a ridge atop the Patsaliga River where Taylor’s ancestors, the Nichols and Wellmaker families, settled over 165 years ago.

Racing is a big part of Taylor’s family’s history as not only did his pioneer ancestors race from Georgia to Alabama in search of better opportunities, his late grandfather, George Marvin Taylor, was a truck driver during the iconic “Smokey and the Bandit” era when truckers were renowned for racing to meet deadlines. His father, Mack Taylor, is a 1971 graduate of Brantley High School and was a member of “The Rocky Hill Ridge Runners,” a group of local mud track racers mostly hailing from the Rocky Hill and Springhill Communities near Brantley.

Given his upbringing in Mobile and summers spent around the Patsalagi, Taylor’s connection to river life and proficiency on the water flows naturally. 

According to Race Director Greg Wingo, the idea for the race emerged in 2018 in alignment with the Alabama Scenic River Trail’s mission to promote the state’s 6,000 miles of magnificent and navigable waterways. 

“The core section of the Alabama Scenic River Trail, spanning 650 miles, is the longest water trail within a single state in the United States,” said Wingo. “We aspired to organize a race that would attract paddling enthusiasts and racers from around the world, inviting them to experience both the beauty and challenges of this trail.”

Not just anyone can participate in this race according to Wingo.  Competiors must have finished one of 20 qualifying races on a list that includes competitions in France, Australia, Belize, South Africa, The Netherlands, Canada, The UK and Canada.

Taylor and teammates Myles Summerlin, John Chapman of Mobile and Bobby Johnson of Tampa, Fl during the Texas Water Safari, a 260 mile race to Seadrift from the headwaters of the San Marcos River that qualified them to participate in the Alabama 650. Photo submitted.

Taylor credited his wife as the unsung hero of the team’s success. Tara played a pivotal support role, ensuring the team had the necessary supplies and providing emotional reinforcement throughout the race. 

Taylor and Summerlin qualified for the Great Alabama 650 when they, along with teammates John Chapman of Mobile and Bobby Johnson of Tampa, FL came in 17th overall out of 160 teams and eighth in unlimited class in the Texas Water Safari, a 260 mile race to Seadrift from the headwaters of the San Marcos River.

“My beautiful wife Tara is the real MVP, the unsung hero behind our victory, who made our success possible,” Taylor said. “She worked tirelessly, driving all over the state, meeting us at every supply point, getting us food, water, and gear. She arranged a bed for our precious few hours of sleep and encouraged us to keep going. She took great care of us and never missed a beat, and I love her so much.”

The last to finish the race was Chris Logan of Missouri who finished the race on the 11th with 20 mins to spare from the 10-day cut-off time. 

To learn more about The Great Alabama 650 visit .