Monday, April 18th, 2016
Fairhaven’s Dan Harris Challenge Paddle Race on Bellingham Bay
Todd Elsworth

On Sunday, April 24, 2016 rowers, pullers and paddlers from around the region will be gathering at the start line off of Bellingham’s Boulevard Park for the 12th Annual Dan Harris Challenge. The race is held in conjunction with Fairhaven’s Dirty Dan Harris Festival.


Dan Harris Challenge photos courtesy of Dale McKinnon.

Out in front are the fast surfski kayakers. For this year’s International Challenge all surfskis will score points for their team, not just the top 16, making this years Challenge a competition of speed and participation.

Spectators can watch the mass start from Boulevard Park and Taylor Dock at 10 a.m., as contestants sprint toward the Post Point buoy, or on the return to the finish at #4 buoy. You’ll see some amazing athletes and different styles of boats on the water.

Photo by Dale McKinnon

The route goes to the south, loops around Chuckanut (Dot) Island and returns to the finish line at Boulevard Park. Below are two war canoes rounding the southern tip of the island as they make their final push north. Zoom in on the two Oyster Catchers on top of the rock as spectators!


The paddle race brings the best in the Northwest together for fun competition. Amid a group of men, local legend, Heather Nelson pulls her blade up out of the water- with a smile on her face, of course.

Photo by Dale McKinnon

The scenery helps dull the pain of the potentially grueling race around the rock. The Chuckanut sandstone formations on the island make for a nice natural buoy to circle around.


The Dan Harris Challenge will be the first race of the Think International Challenge, matching British Columbia’s finest surf skiers against the best Washington State has to offer. The second race (Tour De Indian Arm) will take place in Deep Cove, B.C. on Sunday, May 9, 2015.

Race organizers are including a short course race. The short course will turn around at #2 (Point Point) buoy and return to the Start/Finish line at #4 buoy (north end of Boulevard Park).

As in prior years, rowers, pullers and paddlers will race each other along the Fairhaven and Chuckanut shorelines in what is becoming one of the most challenging and unpredictable races in the Northwest.

A post-race BBQ awaits contestants, and volunteers. Friends and spectators can join the BBQ, too, with a $5 suggested donation.

Door prizes and awards take place at Boulevard Park, with the rest of the Dirty Dan Days Festival celebration awaiting at the Village Green.

Relevant Historical Note: “In 1854, Dan Harris arrived on the shore of Bellingham Bay as a 21-year-old adventurer. He became a legend as a homesteader, land owner, smuggler, hotel owner, and seaman, who founded Fairhaven in 1883. He also picked up the colorful nickname “Dirty Dan” due to his infrequent bathing. Dan’s amazing feats include traveling by rowboat between Fairhaven and Victoria, B.C. A shrewd business man, he once rolled his piano out of the Fairhaven Hotel in 1890 and straight down Harris Avenue into the bay after the hotel’s new owner wouldn’t pay for it.” –

For more outdoor recreation ideas in the Bellingham region see the full list of Todd’s articles.

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About the Author:

As the co-Executive Director of Recreation Northwest and the founder of the Bellingham Traverse, Todd promotes outdoor recreation and brings people together to enjoy, preserve and improve the places where we play. He enjoys biking, hiking, paddling, skiing and will try anything twice. Get connected at