In this podcast I’m joined by Reivers Dustin, who at 70 years old, is still every bit as passionate about downwind paddling as anyone I’ve met. Reivers is highly regarded as one of the founding fathers of the Bellingham surfski community.
This story started out with my intent to explore the downwind paddling in Bellingham Bay. Anyone who has raced on the West Coast, knows that there is some serious talent developing in this hotspot and I was excited to learn about the paddling conditions that are making this possible. But in speaking with Reivers, I soon realized the story of Bellingham’s success in creating a sustained paddling community, is much more than the downwind conditions. I’ll leave the details for the Podcast/YouTube, but to summarize, I believe the five key elements in Bellingham are:
- An extremely welcoming community of paddlers who go out of their way to introduce newbies. This is supported by a simple but effective message board that greatly facilitates communication and open discussion (side note: feel free to join this message board, there is a wealth of information on it)
- Although there are no significant dealers or retail shops in Bellingham, there are reps for all the major brands who have boats available to be loaned out
- A large multi-sport team race (Ski to Sea) that includes an ocean paddle as the last of 7 events. This is the event that first brought surfskis to Bellingham Bay, and continues to be a big motivator for interest in performance paddling
- A long running Wednesday night flat water handicap start style race. This works very well as a non-intimidating, safe, fun way to introduce new paddlers. They can spend the time needed developing fundamental skills, power, and fitness before hitting the ocean
- Technical, but not massive, downwind conditions that provide plenty of challenge even for experienced paddlers to continuously hone their skills and build the fundamentals to paddle anywhere in the world.
I don’t have the data, but would speculate that Bellingham has the highest per capita number of surfski/OC paddlers of anywhere in the US. They have achieved this despite not having a big ocean sports / surf heritage, and water temperatures that are always cold (see below). I find this all quite impressive.
If you are interested in visiting Bellingham, it is no doubt one of the best outdoor active sports towns in the United States. In the same day you can shred powder in the morning and surf runs in the afternoon. if the wind doesn’t blow and the powder isn’t dumping, there are endless hikes and world class mountain biking everywhere. Below I’ve pasted a promotional video for the Ski to Sea race, as I think this tells the Bellingham outdoor story much better than I can with words.