Paddles up! 10th annual Yukon River Quest is underway

They come from throughout the world to compete, simply because it’s the longest, most challenging annual paddling race there is.

They come from throughout the world to compete, simply because it’s the longest, most challenging annual paddling race there is.

“Occasionally, there’s a race run on the Mississippi River that’s longer, but as far as an annual race, we’ve been doing it for 10 years, so we take credit,” said Jeff Bradly, president of the Yukon River Quest Organization. “It’s a wonderful event for the Yukon; it brings so many nationalities here.”

The 10th annual Yukon River Quest race got underway Wednesday afternoon. Starting on Main Street in downtown Whitehorse, 240 canoeists and kayakers, making up 89 teams, took off on foot to their boats waiting on the bank of the Yukon River.

“In terms of adventure racing, it puts the Yukon on the map,” said Brady. “It’s recognized in various magazines as the world’s toughest paddling race.”

The eight-stage race, which on average takes about 50 to 60 hours of paddling time to compete, features paddlers manning solo and tandem canoes, as well as solo and tandem kayaks. However, the fastest boats in the race are usually voyager canoes that are large, group vessels. This year’s race has 14 crews paddling voyager canoes.

Boats started trickling in to the halfway point in Carmacks early Thursday morning. Battling it out through the night and right up to the timeline, the Kisseynew team edged out the Texan team by a boat’s length, arriving at 6:40 a.m. Both teams are racing voyager canoes.

Ranging in age from 35 to 59, the Kisseynew team’s members include four Canadians, an Australian and an American. As can be expected, the eight-person Texan team is made up of canoeists from Texas.

Internationally renown, this year’s race also features crews from Great Britain, Australia, Germany, Austria, France, Denmark, Latvia, Israel, South Africa and, of course, the Yukon.

“We had a study done two years ago to assess the economic impact, and it was a quarter-million dollars,” said Bradley. “And it’s bigger than that now by 15 to 20 teams, so we’re probably looking at a $300,000 impact.”

“I’m looking forward to it — the weather’s co-operating for at least today,” said Community Services Minister Glenn Hart, in charge of sport in the Yukon, who oversaw the start of the race.

“I think these guys are very committed to doing this race and I think it’s very commendable to all of them to even attempt it.”

Winners of the race are expected to cross the finish line in Dawson City by Friday afternoon.

“We educate, educate, educate these guys all year long on the website and at the briefs yesterday,” explained Bradly. “Because this is going to be one of the toughest things they ever do in their life.”