In breaking with my tradition of not getting around to blog entries for days or weeks after the event, I am writing this one up the very next day!

Last year was the second annual Deception Pass Dash, a kayak race staged at Deception Pass in northern Puget Sound and last year was the first year that I volunteered to be a safety kayaker for the event.


For those who have never seen it, Deception Pass is a narrow slot of water between the mainland and the northern tip of Whidbey Island. On every tide change, the water rushes back and forth through this narrow slot, which has a small island in the middle, dividing the pass into two passageways, one much smaller one named Canoe Pass, and the larger side known as Deception Pass. There is a tall bridge connecting the mainland with Whidbey Island.

at Deception Pass

On a large tidal exchange, like those near the full or new moons, the current speed in Deception Pass can reach over 7 knots, and the turbulent water attracts kayakers from all over to play in the standing waves and whirlpools.


The race was organized for the first two years by Seattle Raft and Kayak, but this year it was handed over to the Outdoor Adventure Center in Seattle for them to run. Considering the last minute change in organizational personnel, things went very smoothly.

getting ready to race

The day began with arriving at Bowman Bay, just north of the pass. Safety boaters had their meeting at 8:30 and then headed out to their various stations around the course. Racers had their meeting shortly after, and the race began at 10 AM.

Bowman Bay lauch

The race starts in Bowman Bay, goes around Deception Island, and then heads back east to the pass, under the bridge through Deception Pass, around Strawberry Island just inside the pass and then out through Canoe Pass. Before returning to Bowman Bay though, racers have to go back around Deception Island again. This course is about 6 miles, and is timed so that if you are reasonably quick, you can get around Strawberry Island at slack tide, and ride out through Canoe Pass with the ebb. If you are not so quick, you may miss that timing and end up paddling on a treadmill under the bridge, as the ebb tide builds and attempts to push you back out to to sea.


Last year I was at Strawberry Island, and the only rescue that needed to be effected happened right there, when one of the racing surfskis cut to close to the rocks and snapped off his rudder, capsizing him. I rescued him and his craft, and he continued on with the race, rudderless. This year, I took that same station, since I was the only person there that had worked at that location before. But this year, there was no action in my area at all. All the surfskis stayed clear of the rocks, and our station was uneventful, but we could hear on the radio that the Deception Island station was much busier, with many capsizes and troubles out there, since there was a brisk southwest breeze and 3 to 4′ seas at the beginning of the race.

kayak and kelp

After the last racer went past, we packed up and followed him back through Canoe Pass, where there was a nice standing wave pattern building up. I stopped to play briefly and then headed out a little ways towards Deception Island to see what all the fuss was about. Another paddler who I had met there last year came along and we were both thinking the same thing: that we wanted to go out and play, but neither of us felt we should go alone. So we went together.

Canoe Pass and bridge

The seas had gotten larger since morning, and now were looking more like 4-5 feet, with stronger wind and a strong current. When we got around to the southwest side of the island, we found ourselves in an area where the waves were getting very big and close together and were interacting with the waves reflecting off of the rocky island as well. It was an exciting area to be in, and I took a lot of pictures, most of which were blurred from water on the lens. Right after I took this one, I dropped the camera in favor of the paddle, and the wave broke right in my face, shoving my kayak backwards quite a ways. What fun!


After some of that, we headed back to the bay and portaged the kayaks over the little sand spit and headed back over to Canoe Pass to see if anyone else was over there. It was just the sheriff’s deputies on the jetskis, and we played around in the standing wave for a little while, before finally heading back over to the launch to see if we could find some food. All in all, a good day, and no snow like last year!


Once again, the camera was all wet and gave me another pile of almost useless, out of focus pictures. This one though, was kind of cool the way it was, so I kept it. Coming soon: a somewhat grumpy and not entirely glowing review of the Pentax Optio W60. There is a lot about it that I like, but it falls short in some significant areas.

Jonathon and the waves


check out the totally awesome “stern cam” video of the race at Andrew Elizaga’s blog here and some stats from the race at his blog here.