MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) -- It's the longest annual paddle race in the world -- and it's taking place right here in Alabama. The 2nd Annual "Great Alabama 650" kicked off Saturday in Northeast Alabama at Weiss Lake and is set to end along the Gulf in Fort Morgan.

The 650 mile paddle race takes racers through some of the most beautiful waterways, including whitewater rapids, and aims to promote Alabama as a paddle destination.

"We really have a lot to offer kayakers, canoers, stand-up paddleboarders... In that we have a 6,000 mapped river trail -- the Alabama Scenic River Trail," said Laura Gaddy, Alabama Scenic River Trail Communications Director.

Using a real time GPS map on AL360's website -- FOX 10 News was able to track frontrunners Paul Cox and Joe Mann (two-person team) at Cliffs Landing in Bay Minette.

"It's been extremely challenging. You've got lakes, you've got dams, you've got lochs, different types of rivers, and now we just went through the swamp land and saw half a dozen gators," said Joe Mann, from Kansas City, Missouri.

Taking a quick break -- they've been paddling for 9 hours straight and say the clock never stops.

"People are always trying to catch you so you always have to manage your sleep very well... And that often means very little sleep -- so you try to race as fast as you can and sleep as little as you can, which always doesn't work together," said Paul Cox, from Atlanta.

Competitors have 10 days to finish the race. Along for the adventure is their support crew. They stay ahead of Cox and Mann -- traveling with supplies and 3 additional kayaks. During this stop they're changing out their kayak to a much sturdier one as they head out into Mobile Bay.

"So it's almost like we are a pit crew for Nascar. The race car pulls up, which is there kayak... While we get off all their gear, we change out the batteries in their flashlights and their GPS. We restock their water and their fluids and whatever they're drinking -- we take off the old and we put in the new," explained Shelly Muhlenkamp, Cox's sister-in-law from Pittsburgh.

Back in the water and the finishline within reach -- they'll tell you the Great Alabama 650 has been everything they'd hoped and a whole lot more.

"It's the beauty -- to have the mountains and the ocean in the same race -- that's pretty cool. It's something I'll never forget and my family won't forget - because I'll be telling them stories forever," said Cox.

Prize money will be divided across three divisions (male solo, female solo, and two-person team). It's not an easy race. All of the racers had to qualify. They started out with 16 boats -- as of Thursday evening only 12 boats remained in the race.

Click here to track the teams.

All content © 2020, WALA; Mobile, AL. (A Meredith Corporation Station). All Rights Reserved.

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