SK Team Paddler Christine Burris at the Deception Pass Dash
This is the year we almost lost a great community event. Bill Walker, former director of the infamous race, had made a career shift and needed to pass the baton on this volunteer-dependent event. Word went out and even as late as Thanksgiving, many of the racers still did not know if the contest was a go. And then Rob Casey, author and stand up paddle sports pioneer, stepped in and saved the day.
The community seemed to heave a sigh of relief as shirts were printed, volunteers were organized and it was again a great gathering as paddlers of all kinds congregated in Washington State at the tiny pinch point between Fidalgo and Whidbey Islands known as Deception Pass. The Pass is known for its easy access to lively currents and Sunday’s race offered a 7.17 knot max ebb. The current and strong eddy lines make this a true paddler’s race where reading the water and boat control skills make the difference. This year, the wind decided to play its part by dropping an icy 15 knots down from the mountains in the east with occasional gusts between 20 and 25. The Friday before the race, the pass was offering 25- to 30-knot gusts and 4- to 5-foot standing waves. As a safety crew member usually stationed quietly in the cold, I smiled, thinking race day might be energized with friendly rescues.
I was one of a dozen or so volunteers who met with the safety director, Jeremy Oyen, as we were given our assignments. Bob and his partner were to cover Pass Island while Roy and I were stationed in Canoe Pass. Other teams were stationed at Strawberry Island, Deception Island and Lottie Bay. We headed out about 20 minutes before the start of the race, and my fingers were completely numb by the time we arrived at our post. I quickly replaced my favorite fingerless gloves with some warmer glacier gloves. Paddle in my lap, my boat blew about in the wind and we listened to our radios awaiting the start.
Even with the uncertainty of its existence, the dash had 97 racers. Roy and I monitored the progress as other safety teams announced the first paddlers passing Deception Island. A few minutes later, we began to see them bearing into the wind down the channel toward the pass. The first bow I could make out was that of Greg Barton, former Olympian who, by the time he reached Pass Island, was already a full minute ahead of the next boat. Greg was followed by a hoard of surf skis, outriggers, high performance kayaks, sea kayaks, tandems—including the Valley Girls decked out in matching pink vests and hats—and even a few strong stand up paddlers willing to face the onslaught of headwind. It is great to see so many friends and cheer them on as they passed by. We waited downstream, hoping for some poor soul to come out of their boat so we could play catch. From my perspective, the water was fast and flat and no interesting waves formed, save the occasional power boat coming through. This made for another cold, run-of-the-mill safety duty. New Race Director Rob Casey finished off the day with the traditional raffle. Seemingly unending prizes included everything from paddles and PFDs to tie down straps and t-shirts, which helped generate money for charity.
Although the competition was lively and fun, I’d like to make a request for next year: Racers… remember your faithful safety crew and grant us an occasional capsize to keep us warm and give us a bit of fun!
Find Race Results here: http://www.webscorer.com/race?raceid=5376