Paddlers to take on the challenge of Deception Pass

— Created December 8, 2021 by Kathy Reed

By Kathy Reed

Experienced paddling enthusiasts will take on some of the most turbulent waters around Saturday morning as they participate in the 15th annual Deception Pass Challenge. Those interested in taking on the 6.1-mile course can sign up until 8 p.m. Friday at The race gets underway around 9 a.m. Saturday.

Race director Rob Casey, with Salmon Bay Paddle in Seattle, said the event not meant for beginners.

“Racers must have experience paddling in the Pass and/or have strong experience in rough water, current and waves,” he said. “Being able to comfortably paddle 6-plus miles is a plus. [Paddlers and rowers] must be able to self-rescue. Tidal current in the Pass can halt an inexperienced paddler in their tracks. In 2008, large waves completely buried paddlers.”

The Challenge, started 15 years ago by Oak Harbor resident Bill Walker, is open to all human-powered paddling and rowing craft over 12-and-a-half feet in length. The longer length is necessary for speed and control in these waters, Casey explained. Up to 150 paddlers, ranging from single-person entries to teams of six, are able to participate in this year’s race, which is unique among paddling/rowing events.

“It is the only paddling/rowing race in tidal rapids in the region. And it’s in December,” said Casey. “The goal originally was to make it a hardcore race, and December is definitely more of that than July. December also separates the serious from the casual paddlers, thus it’s more safe for us.”

Safety is key when planning an event like this and Casey said COVID-19 protocols will be followed, such as requiring masks and social distancing when paddlers are on shore.

“I run a very safe event,” he said. “Each racer will be required to wear a vest life jacket and bright colors. Immersion clothing is recommended. Additionally, leashes for paddle boards and other craft are required. We will also have a Zoom safety meeting the evening before.

“I have three power safety boats, one jet ski and a half dozen safety paddlers, each connected by VHF radio,” Casey continued. “I’ve been teaching [stand up paddling] and kayaking classes in the Pass for ever a decade, we know it well!”

This year’s race will follow the original course, beginning and ending at Bowman Bay. Racers will go around three islands and under Deception Pass Bridge twice. There’s also the potential of winning a prize for those who go around Pass Island twice.

“We have prizes and awards from top local and national sponsors such as Epic Kayaks, Kai Wa’a in Maui, Mustang Survival, Seattle Sports, Giant Fish, Kavu and others,” said Casey, adding the event link has race details and his online guide to help races complete the course successfully.

For those who aren’t as experienced on the water, they can always watch the fast-action fun.

“The bridge is the best view,” Casey said. “The trails surrounding Bowman Bay, Reservation Head and the Pass do require some effort. Plan to arrive early to specific spots, as paddlers are fast and will pass before you get there if you’re late!”

A portion of the proceeds from this event will be donated to Skagit Bay Search and Rescue, which donates its time to watch out for the racers.

Experienced paddlers and rowers who haven’t yet signed up for the Deception Pass Challenge are encouraged to do so by Friday to get in on the action on Saturday.

“It’s a super fun event if you have the skills,” said Casey. “Seeing all the different water craft is inspiring and it’s a beautiful place to paddle in.”

Registration closes at 8 p.m. Friday. Go to to learn more.