Around the Island

‘Great Peconic Race’ bids for elite status


What the annual Shelter Island 10K has done for feet and legs here, Billy Baldwin wants to do the same for paddles and arms.

He also wants to bring the sport he loves to a wider audience, just as the annual June footrace here has spread the good word on the sport of running to the East End.

Mr. Baldwin is the founder of the first annual “Great Peconic Race” coming Sunday, September 14, a circumnavigation of Shelter Island for kayaks, ocean canoes, paddle boards, surf skis and even some outrigger crafts.

It will also, like the 10K, be a festival and celebration of the sport, with a beer truck from Greenport Harbor Brewery at Wades Beach —the start and finish line — and catering by Schmidt’s.

And like the 10K, there will be serious competitors coming to the Island, vying for a total of $4,000 in prize money; $1,000 to the first male paddle boarder  finisher and $1,000 for the first female paddle boarder across the line.

One of the benefits of the race, Mr. Baldwin said, is to give Islanders a showcase for big time paddle racing. If you haven’t seen surf ski racers, you’ve missed one of the great events on the water, Mr. Baldwin said. Surf skis are long, lightweight kayaks with the athletes sitting high above the water line, controlling rudders with their feet.

“These guys rip,” Mr. Baldwin said. “They’re like windmills.”

Accomplished surf skiers are expected to do the 19 miles around the Island in about three hours .

Open water paddle racing is beginning to hit its stride in part due to the fitness explosion with more and more people taking to the water for exercise. Americans spent $122 million on kayaks alone last year, according to industry sources.

What’s also keeping paddle racing cooking is the many premier races that are now held, including popular events such as the Blackburn Challenge, a 20 mile open water circumnavigation of Cape Ann in Northern Massachusetts, and down south, the Carolina cup, which attracts large crowds along with the elite of the sport.

T-shirts will be on sale and every entrant will receive one free and all entrants who finish the course will receive medals.

But the Great Peconic Race will not just be about wind milling racers churning for cash prizes. There’s a kid’s race on tap, a halfway course, and a two-person relay race, where one competitor starts out and hands off the boat to a partner at certain points to finish the race. There will also be designated spots on the course where racers can get help when they feel they’ve had enough.

Proceeds of the race will go to the Rogue Wave Foundation, a nonprofit that works to help East End children build confidence and self-esteem, Mr. Baldwin said.

There’s a subtitle to the race — “A Paddle for Ted” — honoring Mr. Baldwin’s brother who died four years ago. Mr. Baldwin, who grew up in North Sea and now lives in Sag Harbor, recalled how he and his younger brother “lived on the water” when they were young.

The goals of the race are to foster competition in the sport and give a great show to Islanders of skill, endurance and speed, Mr. Baldwin said. But the race directors also want to focus on the environment, and the fragile nature of the Island’s bays and harbors.

For more information on entering the race or volunteering, go to