Wesport’s Elk River Challenge


Editor’s note: This story appeared in last Saturday’s Daily World and is being reprinted here to correct errors in the original story.

There will be more boats than usual cruising near Brady’s Oysters on the way to Westport on Saturday.

The 18th Annual Elk River Challenge starts at 11 a.m. in its usual spot for a competitive race in the Elk River estuary.

Rowers start at the seafood shop, heading into the estuary before returning to the finish line. There will be a 3-mile and a 7-mile course.

Many boat classes are welcome. The entry form lists everything from open water shells, to fast sea kayaks, stand up paddleboards and many more.

“Any type of human-powered boat is welcome,” said Jan Heikkila. She and her husband Vern have been spearheading the event from the first race in 1995.

“The only thing that really changes each year is the course, a little bit, depending on the tide,” Jan said. “This year we’re expecting a low tide so we’ll stay closer to the middle of the river.”

Rain, shine or wind, the event has always gone on.

“At least, we’ve never had to cancel because of weather,” Heikkila said. “Generally, we hold it when there’s the best weather in July, so it’s never been an issue before.”

The race is sponsored through Sound Rowers and Paddlers, based in Seattle, which supports similar events throughout Washington state.

“We get a lot of people from all over the state who are following the schedule,” Heikkila said. “We do know of one fella who is driving up from Eugene this year.”

Numerous Westport businesses have signed up to provide seafood snacks and prizes.

Brady’s Oysters always provides oyster shooters to the participants. D&M Live Crab gives fresh crab. The Seafood Connection and Tinderbox Coffee Roasters donate prizes.

“There is a division for every type of boat, and ribbons are awarded in each division,” Heikkila said in an email.

The Heikkilas only have one important rule, which they tell everyone before the race begins.

“It’s a competitive event, but it’s important to have a good time,” Jan said. “We always jokingly tell people, ‘If you don’t have fun, you’re disqualified.’ “

For more information, see http://www.soundrowers.org/ElkRiverChallenge.aspx

On July 28, interested and experienced paddlers/rowers can join the Heikkilas in a free, unsponsored 12-mile-long excursion from Westport around the bay and back. Participants must bring their own food and water.