Island couple to compete in 70-mile race

Drea and Jason Park will canoe from Tacoma to Port Townsend starting Friday, June 4.

Two Whidbey residents are representing the island in a two-day boat race up Puget Sound this weekend.

Drea and Jason Park have lived on the island since 2013 when they were brought here by Jason’s Navy career, from which he recently retired after 30 years.

Drea, who grew up in Guam, has been boating almost her whole life. Jason, from Riverside, California, picked up the hobby about a decade ago. Drea has participated in the Seventy48 race every year since it began, making this her third year.

Seventy48 is a 70-mile race from Tacoma to Port Townsend. Participants have 48 hours to complete it on any boat of their choosing, so long as it doesn’t have a motor, an engine or sails to power it.

“It’s basically a big smorgasbord of different kinds of human-powered watercraft,” Drea said, adding that some racers even take up the challenge on stan-up paddleboards.

The Parks’ vessel of choice is a Hawaiian outrigger canoe, a type of boat once used by Polynesians to travel between islands. Now, the outrigger is a popular sporting boat.

Seventy48 participants will take off from the head of Tacoma’s Thea Foss Waterway at 7 p.m. this Friday, June 4.

“The anticipation of that horn going off gets your blood flowing,” Drea said. “You’re hot, because you’re getting a little bit of anxiety starting to kick in. But once we start going, that feeling of just paddling with five other people — it’s calming. It’s soothing.”

Some participants will choose to stop and camp over the course of the race, but Drea and her five teammates from Seattle play to win. With cash prizes awarded to the top finishers of the various divisions, and the satisfaction of beating their 13 hour, 49 minute record on the line, Drea and her team intend to paddle through the night and finish Saturday morning.

“It definitely is physically challenging, but to me, it’s more of a mental challenge,” Drea said. “Once you hit a certain amount of time, your mind starts getting the best of you, and you’re wanting to quit.”

Jason, who participated on Drea’s team in 2019, will be racing solo this year in a one-man outrigger. He said he chose to race alone this year for the challenge of it and hopes to finish within 15 hours.

The Parks have been training in paddling since February, but Jason said they’ve implemented the final phase of their training just this week: practicing staying up all night. It’s essential that racers stay awake and alert on the course not just for the sake of their race time, but also so they don’t miss the surreal beauty of Puget Sound at night.

The Parks said one of the most memorable things about the experience is seeing the interplay of light and water — first at night, when bioluminescent plankton light up the ocean surface and cling to their paddles, and again at dawn, when the earliest beams of sunrise shoot like rays from the ocean into a horizon of pure black.

Another element Jason enjoys about events like Seventy48 is the sense of community and camaraderie among the outrigger paddlers.

“I think Drea’s dedicating her race to some of our friends that are dealing with cancer,” Jason said. “She doesn’t know yet, but I’m dedicating my race to her.”

The race officially ends at City Dock in Port Townsend at 7 p.m. June 6.

Jason Park practices for his 70-mile solo race.

Jason Park practices for his 70-mile solo race.