Nearly 200 paddlers start the 4th annual Deception Pass Dash off NW Washington last December. Photo: Bill Walker

The 5th annual Deception Pass Dash — a curious boat race involving sea kayaks, SUPs, outriggers, rowers, surfskis and even (once) a pedal boat in (typically) spicy open-water conditions — returns on Dec. 4, 2010 off shore of Deception Pass State Park in northwest Washington.

Starting and finishing at Bowman Bay, the course is a six mile loop out and around Deception Island, then east past Pass Island and around Strawberry Island, then back west past Pass Island and Deception Island a second time and back to Bowman Bay. (See secret pirate’s map.)

Olympic gold medalist Greg Barton took top honors at last year’s Dash, but he wasn’t the first Olympian to participate in the Dash. “Sherri Cassuto (rowing, 1984) and Jordan Malloch (canoe, 2000, 2004) both challenged the unpredictable waters in 2008 when huge swells of undetermined size — best described as, ‘If you’ve been in stuff before they were four feet; if you haven’t they were ten’ — swept the course, along with 25+ knot winds creating a quagmire in Canoe Pass and around Deception Island,” says Bill Walker, the race director and owner of Ruby Creek Boathouse. “Thanks to brave work from our safety crew, and plenty of good judgment from some racers who cut back to shore the short way, everyone was sitting on the beach an hour later talking about what a great time they had.”

Naturally, the history of the Dash mirrors the colorful race itself. Says Walker, “So when you own a new paddling shop and you’re just happy to have finished the season with all the bills paid and you’re hunkering down for a nice winter with low overhead and even lower bills… the last thing you expect to hear from your crew is: ‘Hey, here’s another way to spend money.’ But I gotta admit that’s how I took it when Don Kiesling and Will Robens told me they wanted to have a kayak race. In December. At Deception @#$&ing! Pass, one of the wildest, wackiest places I’ve ever paddled.”

“Sure, they said, we’ll charge 15 bucks apiece and everyone gets a T-shirt and a meal. And, oh yeah, we’ll need to pay the insurance rider out of that … and we need to give shirts and meals to all the volunteers too. Uhhh, OK. Sounds like a brilliant business idea — ya’ know, if we’re losing money we’ll make it up in volume.”

“But next month we’re holding the 5th annual — thanks to the fellas’ perseverance against my grand cynicism that first year. DPD No. 1 featured less than 50 pre-registrations and a dozen of those didn’t show because of a blizzard the day before. But those who made it became passionate ambassadors for a continuing event, and we realized we’d started something special,” Walker continues.

Dashing hairdo for David Quasha at Dash 4.
Photo: Bill Walker

“The adrenaline rush of the Dash — get off the beach, around Deception Island and into the heart of the Pass, regardless of conditions, before the ebb current gets so strong you get blown back — drew nearly 200 last year. … an amazing showing of outriggers, sea kayaks, SUPs, surfskis, rowers, a pedal boat and two young studs, and race originator Kiesling, lying flat on their bellies and paddling with their hands.”

The Dec. 4 event is scheduled to start at 1 p.m. Then again, that depends. “What will conditions [be then], just 25 minutes before the chart says ‘slack ebb begins’ in the Pass? Flat and fast with everyone making it past the crux move where the current pinches around Pass Island? Will a south wind-driven surge combine with flooding inland rivers to start the ebb long before schedule, like in Dash No. 2 when fully a third of the racers couldn’t make the crux? Will a stiff Westie and monster swells turn the whole course into a mess? Or will Mama Nature throw something completely new at us? Why don’t you come out and see?” offers Walker, in closing.

Registration costs $45 before Nov. 15 and includes a T-shirt and nice hot meal. (After Nov. 15, registration costs $70 — and no T-shirt for you!)

Follow the latest race updates, learn about volunteer and sponsor opportunities here; register online here. — Tim Mutrie