Great Raft Race adds Sand Sculpture Contest, rental crafts, and School Challenge

The Great Tulsa Raft Race hosted a press conference Friday morning to announce four new additions to this year's event.

The Sand Sculpture contest that ran for more than a decade through the 1980s and 1990s will return. The contest reportedly drew a thousand competitors at its peak and was featured on Good Morning America in 1991. World Champion sand sculptor John Gowdy is expected to present a Tulsa-themed piece at the race's finish line and will judge the competition.

Kayaks and inflatable rafts will also be available for rent for the first time through the Raft Race website. Registration for the event ends August 15th for both contestants and renters. In addition to renting a craft for the full race, participants will also be able to rent kayaks at the finish line.

Three weeks prior to the event there will be a pre-party presented by the Lobeck Taylor Family Foundation at Fuel 66. Full details on that event are yet to be announced.

American Airlines Government Affairs liaison Chase Beasley announced a new STEM Challenge for area schools. The Regional STEM alliance will create a curriculum around raft building, while American Airlines Engineers will partner with KKT Architects to assist ten schools in the construction of their vessel. American Airlines will provide the entry fee for the student teams, but raft materials will not be provided. 

Raft Race officials will aim to select a diverse group of schools, including Tulsa Public Schools, Sand Springs, and other neighboring districts. Student teams must include five to ten participants including one adult. All students must be 12 years or older. 

The Tulsa tradition ran from 1973 to 1991 before being resurrected in 2015. The Labor Day race will launch in Case Community Park in Sand Springs and will end at the River West Festival Park in Tulsa.

Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum spoke at the event and announced his intentions to participate in the race. "We're doing so much right now to make this revitalized as the defining natural asset that we have here in Tulsa...For generations people were able to utilize the Arkansas River as a point of recreation, and last year the citizens overwhelmingly said 'we want that again.'"

"This is one day out of 365 that we get to use the river for recreation. Think about what it's going to be like here in a few years when you can use it any day of the year," said Bynum.

The official T-shirt for the event was also announced. The mermaid design will be the official shirt received in the registration package, but the runner-up design will also be available for purchase.

Participants can register for the race and find more information at