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Gig Harbor Paddlers Cup gets back in the water this weekend

Posted on April 19th, 2022 By:

After a two-year hiatus, the Gig Harbor Paddlers Cup returns this weekend, April 23-24, to Skansie Brothers Park.

The races draw hundreds of participants and spectators to the downtown waterfront, or they did before the 2020 and 2021 versions were canceled due to Covid-19. The event is a fundraiser for the Gig Harbor Canoe and Kayak Racing Team, as well as good excuse to get out on the water.

“We’re excited,” said Alan Anderson, founder and coach of the Canoe and Kayak Racing Team. “The event had so much momentum, and Covid kind of knocked us down a bit. But we’re still going to have a big year.”

The Inner Harbor Races — open to youth and adult canoe, kayak, outrigger canoe, para-canoe, and stand-up paddleboard paddlers of all experience levels — are Saturday. The popular and colorful Dragon Boat races are Sunday.

Kayakers race in a previous Gig Harbor Paddlers Cup.

Kayakers race in a previous Gig Harbor Paddlers Cup.

Racing with champions 

The racing starts at 9 a.m. Saturday with the 2.5K Youth Inner Harbor Distance Race for those ages 13 and younger.

The 5k/10k Inner Harbor Distance Race starts at 10 a.m., followed by the 100 meter sprint knock-off races at 12:30 p.m. The awards presentation is at 2 p.m.

The field mixes recreational paddlers with elite competitors. The elite part includes the hosting team — The Gig Harbor Canoe and Kayak Racing Team won the 2021 USA National Team Championship. Thre club previously won titles in 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2018 and 2019. 

A former club member, Nevin Harrison, won gold at the Olympics in 2021. Future Olympians may be in the field on Saturday.

“Some of these kids have their sights set on Paris in two years,” Anderson said, adding that Saturday’s competition will include the current fastest male and female kayakers in the U.S. “I think it’s kind of fun for people in town to take a look and see who the next superstar is.”

Dragon Boats

Ten teams are competing in Sunday’s Dragon Boats races. Each team has 20 rowers, with a drummer keeping the beat for those pulling the oars.

Sunday’s schedule includes an Awaken the Dragon ceremony at 12:15 p.m. The first race is at 1:30 p.m., with the awards and festival closing at 3:45.

A dragon boat races in a previous Gig Harbor Paddlers Cup.

These teams aren’t necessarily Olympic contenders. Some are recreational clubs, like the PenMet-affiliated Gig Harbor Dragons team that helps stage the Dragon Boat Races. Others are groups of coworkers who show up with little or no experience. More experienced rowers offer training to newbies on Sunday morning.

“It’s just an excellent way for novice paddlers to get out there and compete in a real safe manner, and it’s exciting to watch,” Anderson said.

Dragon Boat racing is a 2,000-year-old tradition with roots in China. Gig Harbor Dragons members honor that history with the Awaken the Dragon ceremony.

The ceremony is “about opening the eyes of the dragons after a long winter,” said Sharon Shaffer, founder and past president of the Gig Harbor Dragon. 

Shaffer said dragon boating is a “community of its own. 

“You paddle with 20 people, all synchronized,” Shaffer said. “It’s everything you love about being part of a team.”

A partipant in the 2019 Paddlers Cup carries her craft.

A partipant in the 2019 Paddlers Cup carries her craft. Gig Harbor Canoe and Kayak Club