By: Kyle Thomas
The Deception Pass Challenge (formerly the Deception Pass Dash) is an annual race held in December in Washington state. Paddlers in Kayaks, OC’s, SUP’s, Surf Skis, and Rowing Shells come together to endure challenging currents and experience beautiful scenery. The race is approximately six miles in length, which may seem short to sea paddlers. …but there’s a twist.
The race starts at slack (before ebb), racing from Bowman Bay around Deception Island then through the main Deception Pass. Racers must navigate the pass before the ebb current becomes too strong to paddle against. In 2017, half of the sea kayak division did not finish (DNF) due to the currents being too strong. I relate it to being on a kayak…on a treadmill. There were moments in 2017 where I was in full sprint, looked to the side, and noticed that I had not made progress (and if anything was being pushed back).
After a race hiatus in 2018, I am thankful for Salmon Bay Paddle bringing back the event for 2019. Being a “veteran” of the race, I felt like I knew all the tricks and wouldn’t get fooled this time. In 2017, I didn’t know how to attain the strong currents and eventually witnessed other paddlers eddy hopping to attain. To succeed in this event, you need to have strong fitness and strategy. In 2019, I planned to execute the same strategy. …only I didn’t realize that the race started earlier than usual and the current wouldn’t be as insane as it was in 2017. I should have taken note of the tides from 2017!
I worked my way toward the edge of the channel, a bit behind my competition. But this was the moment of truth. The moment where my “brilliance” would shine and I would attain the channel while most others were pushed backwards. Something was different. People were attaining from the other side of the channel. Oh no! The current was attainable. …and I was getting further and further behind the other paddlers as I had to ferry across the channel before circumnavigating Strawberry Island and heading back toward the start/finish line. The current was still opposing our motion, but it was certainly attainable with max effort.
I paddled with all of my might and was able to finish the race with a 10th place finish in the sea kayak division. I may have thought my 2nd time in the race would make me a veteran, but it certainly taught me quite a few lessons. Even though I was disheartened by my poor strategy, I was just excited to be a part of the race again. It was fun to push myself to the limits, test my endurance, and try to master nature’s mighty race course. Deception Pass is such a unique area which requires strong technical paddling skills and a thorough understanding of tides and currents.
If you find yourself in Washington in December, grab a kayak and hop on over to Deception Pass to watch or enter in the Deception Pass Challenge! See you on the water.