Last weekend as many were focused on their long holiday weekend, nearly 100 people were completing the Bay Paddle 2021, an eight-day paddle relay that started in Havre de Grace, Maryland and ended where the Chesapeake Bay meets the Atlantic Ocean.
Chris Hopkinson, a Maryland resident, founded the Bay Paddle in 2020 and made history as the first person to traverse the entire Chesapeake Bay by standup paddleboard. It was an initiative he undertook to raise awareness and funding to help protect the Chesapeake Bay.
This year, Hopkinson decided to give others the opportunity to complete the 200+ mile journey.
Participants included a team of 30 teachers from Anne Arundel County Public Schools, veterans from the Valhalla Sailing Project, and all the Bay River Keepers from WaterKeepers Chesapeake.
Members of the teams shared the task with each paddling a portion of the daily course. But there were also participants who undertook the Bay Paddle as a solo mission, and as a result, four new records were set.
Nicole Stimpson of Severna Park, Maryland became the first female to traverse the entire Chesapeake Bay on standup paddleboard and Alessia Faverio of Asheville, North Carolina was the first to make the journey by Surfski. Brian Meyer of Annapolis, Maryland completed the course by solo outrigger canoe and Mark McCulloh, also of Annapolis, did so by two-person outrigger canoe.
The journey began on August 27, a day where the temperature was over 100 degrees. The first leg was 33 miles, the current was against the paddlers, and a thunderstorm was moving in their direction. On two other days, the paddlers were faced the threat of Hurricane Ida, and they faced other challenges, including some cases of dehydration.
Still, although the journey is extremely challenging, it is also very rewarding, Hopkinson explained, and he was pleased to find that every participant said they wanted to do it again.
To protect the Bay, it’s really important to get people on the water because that’s when you realize this place is really special and we got to do more. It’s one thing to hear about the Bay or read about it, but it’s different when you’re on the water and connecting to the ecosystem. The paddlers were seeing eagles, herons and osprey every day. They were able to see pods of dolphins and some even had little sharks under their board, said Hopkinson.
Hopkinson believes the Bay Paddle can “become something like the Appalachia trail for paddlers.” For next year’s event, he would like to bring in some more experienced, national paddlers, and he is also interested in exploring ways to perhaps get some high school students involved.
So far, Bay Paddle 2021 has raised about $140,000, which goes to benefit Oyster Recovery Partnership and Chesapeake Bay Conservancy. Donations are still being accepted at baypaddle.org.