Joël Girouard paddles into second place during the Icebreaker Race on May 29. John Tonin/Yukon News

Joël Girouard paddles into second place during the Icebreaker Race on May 29. John Tonin/Yukon News

Icebreaker Race launches the paddling competition season

Paddlers raced 28 kilometres from the Marsh Lake Dam to Schwatka Lake

Flatwater North held the first paddling event of the season on Saturday. The Icebreaker Race travelled 28 kilometres from the Marsh Lake Dam, ending at the Schwatka Lake day-use area.

After about two hours, those in support of the paddlers began waiting for the first boats to appear on Schwatka.

Shouts of “boat” rang across the water as the first team, a marathon C2 boat powered by Jake Paleczny and Rob Spinks appeared.

The duo maintained their speed as they approached the finish line, completing the 28 kilometre race in two hours, 13 minutes and 50 seconds.

Saturday was a grey, blustery day making some of the sections of the race tough.

“It was good, it was hard,” said Spinks. “It was a little windy.”

“We were working hard,” added Paleczny. “It was really windy at the start with a tailwind.”

As the race progressed Paleczny said they experienced “a little bit of everything.”

Jake Paleczny, back and Rob Spinks paddle into the Icebreaker Race finish line at Schwatka Lake on May 29. (John Tonin/Yukon News)

“The river twists back and forth a lot,” said Paleczny. “There were spots where it was a full headwind, we had a bit of water coming in the sides of the boat. Then you come around a bend and it is a tailwind then a sidewind.”

“It was fun,” said Spinks.

Paleczny and Spinks are Yukon River Quest veterans and this year will be doing the new Half Quest race — from Whitehorse to Carmacks.

Being able to race against other boats is good for training, said Paleczny.

“That’s the thing with training, you go out and try and paddle hard when you’re training but getting to race is always good motivation to paddle harder,” said Paleczny.

“It is good for you, it toughens you up,” added Spinks.

There was a brief lull before a trio of boats appeared on Schwatka. Joël Girouard, in a K1, outpaced the pack to come in second with a time of two hours, 24 minutes and 50 seconds.

“I’m happy with that (time),” said Girouard. “It is better than two years ago when it took me four hours.”

Girouard said it was nice to be back on the water racing, especially because COVID might eliminate all Outside competitions.

Girouard said he and his teammates have only been training on the water for about two weeks and once he reached shore, he was feeling it in his lungs.

The third boat to finish was another K1, paddled by Thomas de Jager in two hours, 25 minutes and 29 seconds.

Contact John Tonin at

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