Paddlers to brave cold in Deception Pass Dash

The Deception Pass Dash returns Dec. 11 after being cancelled last year because of COVID-19.

Kayakers, canoers and paddle boarders will participate in the Deception Pass Dash Dec. 11 when the winter race returns after being cancelled last year because of COVID-19.

Race organizer Rob Casey said he expects around 100 paddlers from around the Puget Sound area to brave the cold for the 6.15-mile course around Deception Island, under the Deception Pass bridge, around Strawberry Island and back through Canoe Pass, ending at the Bowman Bay dock.

The dash was founded in 2006 by Bill Walker, then-owner of Seattle kayaking shop Seattle Raft and Kayak. Walker’s employee Don Kiesling came up with the idea of hosting a race in Deception Pass during what Walker called the “slow season” of paddle racing.

“There really was very little going on in paddle racing in December,” Walker said. “It’s sort of a February through October calendar, so he figured this would be a great addition to the circuit for people that actually do a lot of races.”

Though the timing of the race was selected to fill a gap in the paddling calendar, its winter setting has become part of its challenge and part of the allure for some kayaking fanatics.

Casey said though the pass is typically well-protected from extreme weather, the race saw one particularly “gnarly” year in 2008. Walker said winds that year caused waves which briefly covered some paddlers entirely.

“You see the paddler coming through, and then they would completely disappear. They’d be underwater, and then they would come out the other side of the wave,” Walker said. “The people that were in that race that enjoy that kind of conditions still, 10 years later, 13 years later, still talk about that — ‘Man, I wish we could have another one like that!’”

Past years’ adverse weather — or exciting weather, depending on who you ask — doesn’t mean the event will be unsafe; Skagit Search and Rescue will be providing two boats to watch over racers.

The race heats will begin around 9 a.m. Dec. 11, though start times will vary depending on tide conditions on race day. Awards for winners include gear and gift certificates from local paddling and sports shops, and the grand prize is a Deception Pass boat tour for two.

Register for the race at Registration ends Dec. 10 at 8 p.m.

Photo provided Peter Turcan and his family participate in the 2007 Deception Pass Dash.

Photo provided Peter Turcan and his family participate in the 2007 Deception Pass Dash.