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Deep Cove celebrates 25 years of North America's largest weekly paddlesport race

Deep Cove Kayak owner Bob Putnam kickstarted the summer fixture Tuesday Night Races in 1998

There is often celebration to be had on a summers’ Tuesday night down by the waters of Deep Cove, but on the evening of April 2 there was an inordinate level of excitement in the air.

Deep Cove Kayak’s iconic Tuesday Night Race had kicked off, marking the start of another season, and the 25th anniversary of North America’s largest weekly paddlesport race.

For a quarter of a century paddlers of all vessels and all levels of expertise have taken to the Indian Arm fjord to race among other like-minded individuals.

Bob Putnam, co-owner of Deep Cove Kayak, said the race has grown “beyond belief” since it first began in the summer of 1998.

Putnam was running the canoe and kayak rental store when professional adventurer Dave Norona approached him, suggesting the idea of creating a weekly race among sea kayakers and surf skiers.

“I think we ran ten races that year, mostly of people in sea kayaks,” said Putnam.

“Over time the event grew, and we started to make the races multisport. Sometimes there would be a run, sometimes there would be a swim, but there was always a paddle involved."

Sometimes the races would be dreamt up an hour in advance with more elaborate circuits, involving sprints through Cates Park or paddles across the water to Belcarra. Occasionally there would be partner races. After a while, the growing paddleboard community led to the more modern stand-up vessels being involved.

After around three or four years, the event saw close to 150 people attending each week, said Putnam. 

The multisports were never the most popular events, he added – most people preferred low impact exercise and not everybody was great at swimming – but the paddling routes remained a hit among the water-loving locals.

One of Putnam’s most cherished moments over the event’s 25-year span includes starting and organizing the Canadian SurfSki championships in 2014, an event that has gone on to be one of the most in-demand water races around the globe.

“The paddling community in the world is very small, and with social media making it easy to connect we had people coming from all over the world: Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa,” he said.

That crowd comprised some of the best international paddlers, including Australian sprint kayaker Clint Robinson and South African canoeist, and Putnam’s “hero,” Hank McGregor.

For long standing racers the sense of community has become just as important as the sport itself, said Putnam. During his time overseeing the event he has seen friendships formed, love sparked and even the odd marriage or two.

Deep Cove Kayak is like a “community centre for the sea,” he said. The weekly race has become a fixed point in the weekly routine for many locals, as has the post-race social event at Deep Cove’s The Raven pub.

Putnam said the community will likely rally for an official anniversary event in June, when the weather is warmer. 

Those who hope to try their hand at water sports should dip their toe in by attending one of the races, said Putnam. They are open to kayakers of all skill level and require no previous training, or fitness level, to start.

“Come out and try out as soon as possible. Don’t put it off,” he said. “One of the main excuses I hear is that people want to wait a little bit to get in shape before racing. Ignore that – this is the best way to get in shape.’

Everybody is nervous when they first take to the water, said Putnam, but the community is “really friendly” and full of kayakers and water skiers who started out at a beginner level.

This year’s Tuesday Night Race series runs until Sept. 10.

Mina Kerr-Lazenby is the North Shore News’ Indigenous and civic affairs reporter. This reporting beat is made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.

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