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BRIEF: A swift ride down the Nooksack River

Challenges downriver for the 50th anniversary of the Ski to Sea race

Isaac Day and his rowing partner row during the 2022 Ski to Sea tournament. According to Day, the canoe leg of the Ski to Sea tournament is popular for newcomers as it allows them to work with a partner. // Photo Courtesy of Isaac Day

Hundreds of canoes, together in ice-cold rushing water, each one containing a team racing to come in first. Participants travel for 18.5 miles down the Nooksack River to hand off to the biking portion of their team.

The two-rower canoe race for the Ski to Sea tournament on Sunday, May 28 is the fifth leg in the seven-leg relay that takes participants from Mt. Baker Ski Area down to Bellingham Bay in roughly five hours.

One such participant is Isaac Day, who’s going into his eighth year as a participant in the event and has seen his fair share of challenges on the river.

“The upper half of the river is super technical. There’s a lot of turns, a lot of logs in the river that you have to avoid, and that is the predominant scary part where you wanna do most of your training,” Day said.

Day shared a story from a Ski to Sea several years past when a team of rowers, distracted by a target shooter shooting over the river, got caught up on logs and capsized. The boat ended up being completely destroyed by the high-pressure waters, though the racers made it out safely.

Day has seen boats break, flip and leak, all things that can lead to disqualification for a team if they're unable to finish the race.

According to Day, there’s variety in how people train. His personal preference is to begin practicing a few months before the race, training with his partner to get used to working as a team on calmer waters like Lake Padden and Lake Whatcom. As the race gets closer, he moves to practice on the Nooksack River.

Each team provides their own canoe, which can often be a challenge.

Day said most racers borrow canoes from family or friends, but that can mean they have a lower-quality canoe that might not withstand the force of the race-day waters. There are also several resources to purchase canoes, but the cost can range from $500 to $5,000, depending on the quality.

“For me personally, at the core of it all it’s the people you get to meet and race with," Day said. "I’ll be on the river and I’ll see someone that I raced with five years ago, and it’s a friend competition type mindset, but you get to talk some trash here and there — it’s a fun competition.”.

This year for the 50th anniversary, Ski to Sea organizers are trying to get teams from all 50 states to participate.

Day said the race is a great way to enter summer.

The race is scheduled for Sunday May 28 at Mt. Baker Ski Area and will end at Marine Park in Fairhaven.

Joshua Grambo

Joshua Grambo (he/him) is a campus news reporter and journalism/news editorial major in his second year at Western. Outside of the Front, Joshua enjoys reading, playing dungeons and dragons, spending time with family, and working on craft projects. You can reach him at

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