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Paddlers lap Bellingham Bay in Peter Marcus Rough Water Race

More than 100 athletes compete in various watercraft

Paddlers set off March 18 on the first lap of the 2023 Peter Marcus Rough Water Race in Fairhaven. More than 100 athletes competed across 20 categories.
Paddlers set off March 18 on the first lap of the 2023 Peter Marcus Rough Water Race in Fairhaven. More than 100 athletes competed across 20 categories. (Finn Wendt/Cascadia Daily News)
By Finn Wendt Visual Journalist

Wind gusts topped out at 3 knots as 103 athletes launched their boats into Bellingham Bay in Fairhaven for the Peter Marcus Rough Water Race on a sunny March 18. 

Although the waters weren’t so rough, Bellingham’s paddling community was happy to get together for another race on a pleasant 50-degree morning. 

The race, formerly known as the Bellingham Rough Water race, was renamed to honor Peter Marcus this year after he died of cancer in January. Marcus, a stalwart of the Bellingham paddling community, created the race in 2012 and directed it until this year when he asked Kevin Olney to take over. 

“[Marcus] was a really good friend, paddling buddy and he let me live … in his ADU for four years,” Olney said. “There’s some sadness, of course, but really [the race] is a unifying thing. I think a lot of people show up just because they want to be part and reconnect with everyone.” 

The starting line was just off the boat launch at the Community Boating Center. From there, athletes headed west past the ferry terminal before turning north to paddle across Bellingham Bay. The course made a U-turn at Salish Landing before running parallel to the shoreline until reaching the finish line back in Fairhaven. Racers in the Short Course division did one 5-mile loop while the Long Course entailed two laps. 

Twenty categories of watercraft competed simultaneously, ranging from high-performance kayaks to stand-up paddle boards. 

In the end, Bellingham’s own Ana Swetish (1:24:55) and Jonas Ecker (1:17:25) emerged victorious in the female and male Long Course High-Performance Kayak categories, respectively. 

Meanwhile, Linda Warren and Jeff Hilburn topped the female and male Short Course categories, with times of 58:56 and 42:27, respectively. 

After the race, spectators and athletes alike congregated to eat a corned beef lunch prepared by Kristine Elliot, a board member of the boating center. 

Larry Bussinger, who has been paddling for three decades and has competed in every Bellingham Rough Water race since its inception, walked away with the Grand Barnacle award, which is given to the fastest racer in the Long Course who is 70 years of age or older. 

“Oh man, the paddling community is incredible,” Bussinger said. “It’s probably one of the largest paddling communities in North America.” 

For more information on the race and full results, visit the Pacific Multisports website

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