This race recap was originally posted by Ivan Storck (pictured below next to #41) on his "Good Paddle" Facebook page
As I looked to shore from my paddle board, the land wasn’t moving. I was paddling as hard as I could. Not going anywhere. The current of the Tacoma Narrows was against me. If I can’t make it past this, I won’t make it back to the race start in Gig Harbor. The current was so strong they couldn’t anchor the turn-around buoy in the channel, and had to use a boat to hold the buoy in place. Then the boat must’ve got distracted, because I saw it moving the buoy back to the place where it should’ve been, near the day mark. Or maybe the humpback whale that was seen on the course earlier was in the way, I don’t know. Maybe it’s the fault of the Narrows’ famous giant octopus.
The 2022 Narrows Challenge pits human powered vessels against the strong tidal currents between Tacoma and Gig Harbor. About a third of Puget Sound flows through the deep and narrow channel. The race is open to stand up paddle boards (SUPs), outrigger canoes, open water rowing shells, and is mainly attended by surf skis, also called high performance racing kayaks (HPK)s. It has 5K (3 mile), 10K (6 mile) and 20K lengths. The Gig Harbor Canoe and Kayak club puts it on and it’s such a great adventure race. Especially the amount of kids that participate from the sponsoring club.
During the 10K SUP race, as we neared the turn around point, Nick, who was about 50 feet in front of me, got the short straw and ended up going about a quarter mile more than me, chasing the buoy/boat against the current. Crawling against the bubbling currents in the shallow water on the shore side of the eddy line was the only way to make any progress. I saw Adam, who smartly remembered where the buoy should have been, gliding downstream, positioning to be in 1st place now. We got to the shore together, with me just in front, then started paddling hard upstream in the shallow back eddy there. Whenever a group of rocks would stick out into the current, there was no escape from the water and waves piling up. The only way forward was to power through, in as little water as possible.
If there was a boulder, better hope you see it before your fin hits it, and you get launched forward off the board . On the other hand, if you know whitewater currents, you know boulders create back-currents that push upstream. The rocks were sometimes barely visible under water, and a lot of quick corrections were necessary. I gradually gained distance from Adam and solidified my lead in first place.
It’s not a position I am in often. I’m much better with a “rabbit” to chase. I had to use a lot of mental self-talk to try to do my best, without pushing too hard, or taking it too easy. When the current eased up and I could see the finish line, I didn’t dare look behind me, because I knew Nick would be chasing me down. It was amazing to get cheered in, in first place, by the race committee and crowd at the harbor’s entrance.
As is typical in our SUP community we stayed at the finish to cheer the other 10K racers in before we paddled back to the awards ceremony. I love the support we all give each other in this sport, it’s one of the things that just makes it even better.