Photos and story by Rob Casey

Six miles of paddling through tidal rapids in 40-degree December temps with horizontal rain and driving wind isn’t what most people would consider to be much fun. But for the past seven years, 100-plus paddlers of various human-powered watercraft plus volunteers, sponsors and spectators show up to race in the Deception Pass Dash in Washington State.

Unique by design, racers begin with a mass-water start just before slack tide. With only a few minutes before the ebb current begins they must sprint 2.5 miles of open water to circumnavigate Deception Island then paddle to the deep canyon bottleneck of Deception Pass before the current gets too strong to paddle against.  Kelp beds, standing waves, funneled winds, eddylines, whirlpools and boils are some of the hazards along the way. Once around Strawberry Island, the easterly island in the route, paddlers get a free ride down current with the ebb current back through the Pass to again round Deception Island.  The final one-mile leg to the finish line includes crossing strong current, eddylines and tide rips to the finish line in protected Bowman Bay.

Paddlers this year fought a 15-knot headwind that funneled through the Pass, slowing their progress towards the bridge. SUPer Sean Thomas who placed first in the 12-6 division said, “It seemed it took an hour to get in (the Pass) and five minutes to get out.”  Prior to entering the Pass, Sean got stuck in a kelp bed.  He states, “I came to a dead stop, it felt like a creature from the deep grabbed my board.”

Paddling a surfski, Epic Kayaks owner Greg Barton flew into the finish line solo with a time of 49 minutes.  Not far behind Greg were rowers Jeff and Theresa Knakal with 55:33.5, then in an OC-2, Michael Hammer and Colin Smith, with 58:04.6, and Heather Nelson paddling a HPK at 58:59.7.  Shorts-clad Norm Hann of Squamish, B.C. won the SUP division in 1:11:00.8.

After the race, participants met with race sponsors such as Valley Sea Kayaks, Seattle Sports, SEA-LECT, Outer Escape/Contour and Stellar Kayaks. Raffle donations provided the Washington Water Trails Associationwith over $900 thanks to Sea Kayaker, Canoe & Kayak, Mountaineers Books and Contour, among others.

Next race – The New Year’s Challenge in Seattle, an approx 6.5 mile all-watercraft event.