A fun time was had by all last weekend at the seventh annual Gig Harbor Paddlers Cup at Skansie Park and in the harbor.
The cup, which is hosted by the Gig Harbor Canoe and Kayak Racing Team, features three signature events: the Cross Narrows Challenge, inner harbor races and on Sunday, dragon boat races.
The Cross Narrows Challenge is a six-mile course from the harbor to Point Defiance, and back.
Unfortunately, the Cross Narrows Challenge was canceled this year, due to a small craft advisory April 21. So the competitors were forced to stay inside the harbor.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Gig Harbor Canoe and Kayak Racing coach Alan Anderson was a bit disappointed for the athletes who were ready to take on the challenge.
Anderson said, “These folks really like to take on challenging conditions. Going out across the Narrows and to Point Defiance is a nice challenge.”
Regardless, the inner harbor races went off without a hitch.
“We had over 100 paddlers on Saturday in the (challenge), the 10k and 5k races,” said board of directors secretary Kirsten Gregory. “Teams came up from Portland, from Idaho, from British Columbia and all over Washington. It was an exciting day of canoe, kayak and paddleboard racing.”
The big hit was on Sunday: The dragon boat races. The races have become increasingly popular since they were introduced to the Paddlers Cup a few years back. This year’s event had a whopping 10 dragon boats competing, mostly from local businesses, including CHI Franciscan, the Hangar Clinic, Windermere Real Estate, and Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
“That was amazing to have that many teams participating and getting that many new paddlers out on the water,” Gregory said.
The biggest draw for dragon boats is that it requires little to no paddling experience, unlike the high-speed competition kayaks used by kayak and racing teams, which can take serious practice just to balance and not tip over into the water.
“It’s also a great team building exercise for businesses,” Anderson said. “You can reward your staff with a fun event. It’s a chance to compete, work together as a team. It’s a really good deal when you can put 20 people in a boat. That’s the appeal. It’s an easy appeal.”
The Paddlers Cup was originally an idea from the city. With the kayak and racing team bursting onto the national scene, the city of Gig Harbor pitched Anderson an idea of hosting the USA Sprint Canoe and Kayak national championships.
“It was really ambitious,” Anderson said. “But you’ve put to put in all these lanes, grandstands, finishing towers, starting towers. So I told them that sprint canoe and kayak is relatively small. The way we should be thinking is bringing multiple disciplines: Stand-up paddleboards, outriggers, etc. Get more people involved. That’s how the idea was born. The city of Gig Harbor can actually take credit for that.”
Event organizers also took time on Sunday to recognize cancer survivors and caretakers. Anderson, who founded the local kayak and racing team and has taken it to unprecedented heights, was grateful for everyone involved .
“Since I was in on the start of this, I’ve never seen this level of organization, the amount of volunteers it takes to put this thing on,” Anderson said. “Everyone on the team really stepped up. I just want to say thank you to all of them. It was an incredible team effort. I was texting, asking, ‘What can I do? What can I do?’ They just told me, ‘We’ve got it covered, don’t worry about it.’ They did an amazing job.”
For the Gig Harbor Canoe and Kayak Racing Team, the cup is a sort of unofficial start to the competitive racing season, which stretches from late spring and into the fall.
“This is just a fun race for us,” Anderson said. “We’re a year or two away from reclaiming the national championship. We’ve got a really strong group of parents behind us and a lot of good momentum. The future looks really great.”