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Racers dash under pass

Two kayakers paddle past icicles hanging from the rocks. The wind and water were calm Saturday, but temperatures hovered in the mid-to-low 30s. - Jenny Manning/Whidbey News-Times
Two kayakers paddle past icicles hanging from the rocks. The wind and water were calm Saturday, but temperatures hovered in the mid-to-low 30s.
— image credit: Jenny Manning/Whidbey News-Times

A small winter kayak race that began four years ago with 30 paddlers is now a water-churning, Olympic athlete-caliber event.

This year’s winner, four-time Olympic medalist Greg Barton, completed the six-mile course in 46 minutes and 24 seconds in a Surfski Epic V12 kayak. Burton’s time blew race organizers’ finishing time estimate of 1 hour 6 minutes out of the water.

Barton, who makes his home in Seattle, said this was his first attempt at the Deception Pass Dash.

Only three Whidbey Islanders paddled the course, said race director Bill Walker. As the Dash gains momentum, he hopes more locals sign up for the race that’s a melting pot of Pacific Northwest kayakers.

“Three-hundred and sixty-four days out of the year we’re competitors,” Walker said, “but when it comes to this occasion, we’re all friends.”

“It’s a camaraderie-type event,” he said.

This year marked the event’s greatest participation yet. A total of 158 people entered with single, double and triple kayaks and a handful of sculls (a type of rowing boat).

The race demographic spanned from 72-year-old Torolf Torgerson, of Anacortes to 21-year-old Brent Couvrette of Seattle.

Each year the weather has provided a unique experience for the racers, Walker said.

“The first year was really, really cold. There was a blizzard the second year with snow on the ground. Last year we had waves and 30 to 35 knot winds,” he said.

The course began at Bowman Bay with a sharp horn blast, continued around Deception Island, under the south span of the Deception Pass bridge, around Strawberry Island, under the north span of the bridge, and back to Bowman Bay.

In preparation for another stormy race, or any mishaps, Skagit Bay Search and Rescue, Skagit County Sheriff, State Park Rangers and the U.S. Coast Guard were on hand, in addition to a team of safety kayakers and paddle-boarders. However, this year was calm and cool with no wind and temperatures hovering in the low-to-mid 30s.

Wade Johnson of Camano Island battled the waves and wind during the third annual Dash, and described this year’s race as “way boring in comparison to last year.”

“But it was still a lot of fun, for sure,” he said.

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