Record turnout makes for a big splash at Oar & Paddle Regatta

More than 100 paddlers of all shapes, sizes, and platforms took to the water Sunday for the 25th annual event.


On a beautiful late summer day, a record number of participants took to the waters of Nantucket Sound and Sengekontacket Pond Sunday for the 25th annual Island Spirit Kayak Oar & Paddle Regatta. In total, 94 kayakers, 25 paddleboarders, two swimmers, and seven dogs took to the water.

The official 2.4-mile loop course began in the calm waters at the boat launch on the pond side of Little Bridge, then continued south to Big Bridge, through the channel to Nantucket Sound, and returned along the ocean-facing beach north to Little Bridge. Sunny skies and pleasant breezes made the paddling pleasant, and splitting the race between pond and ocean provided some variation in the course.

Dana Gaines of Edgartown, a perennial winner in the Oar & Paddle Regatta, was again the first to finish. He darted past the marker buoy in his fast, narrow Surfski kayak with a time of only 21:33. Next up, Pam Browning and Conrad Nuthmann streaked across in a double kayak, with a time of 24:28, followed closely by another double carrying Mark Baumhofer and Otto Pison.

Other variations on the Oar & Paddle theme also had their moments of glory: Seth Besse was the first paddleboarder to finish; Tony Higgins took first in the category of traditional rowboat; several racers competed in handmade kayaks constructed by Islander Randy Durbin; and several kayaks and paddleboards bore canine cargo across the finish line, including regular racers veterinarians Bridget Dunnigan and Rogers Williams, who doubled down on their double kayak with dogs Mullet and Hogan.

The 121 human contestants broke the previous record turnout of 80, said Chick Stapleton, owner of Island Spirit Kayak, organizer of the regatta. She attributed the surge to good advertising and having the full momentum of the rental and tour company behind the event, instead of the wider array of sponsors who coordinated things during previous years.

“We donated our entire day, our entire fleet of kayaks and paddleboards, and donated all our staff to help get everybody out on the water,” she said,

Paddlers who paid the registration fee got the use of a kayak and paddleboard, as well as a T shirt and an end-of-race barbeque.

“It’s the 25th regatta, so awareness has been gained,” Ms. Stapleton said. “There were a lot of old-timers who came back, people who were the original Oar & Paddle group. I have taken over from them as they’ve aged, and passed it on.”

It was also, she said, “probably one of the best weather days we’ve ever had.”