Paddling events seem to be popping up all over the Chesapeake, and the Chickahominy River is no exception. Paddlers come from all over the mid-Atlantic to paddle this premier paddling race, put on by the awesome team at Paddle On of Williamsburg.
The Virginia Water Trails crew took a moment to chat with Lori Erwin, owner of Paddle On of Williamsburg and a lead organizer for the annual Paddle Round the Island Race, which will take place on Saturday, June 10. Paddle On of Williamsburg is the Chickahominy region’s leading stand up paddleboard rental company that also offers a wide range of instruction and unique experiences. Lori launched the business eight years ago, and in that time, she has seen a huge increase in the number of people taking up paddleboarding and purchasing their own paddleboards. What started as a rental business, quickly expanded into instruction, paddleboard yoga, and fundraising events.
In 2021, Lori and her colleagues wanted to host a race that would benefit a local nonprofit. They chose Tidewater Wildlife Rescue as the beneficiary of the event, and then began planning the logistics of the race. They loved the idea of the race being a loop, and immediately thought of circumnavigating Jamestown Island, but given the distance and potentially tricky currents, it was decided that paddling the 7 miles around Gordon Island would be a safer and more scenic choice.
When registration first opened for the inaugural event in 2021, Lori was hoping for 25 paddlers. But as the race drew near and more people learned about it, they had to increase the registration cap, ultimately welcoming 79 paddlers! And needless to say, the race was an overwhelming success. In 2022, they welcomed 122 paddlers, and 2023 shows no signs of slowing down.
“It’s just a great group of people,” Lori says. “And it’s great seeing the paddling community come together.”
Although the race seems to grow every year, safety always remains a top priority. Buoys donated from the Williamsburg Boat Club will mark the course for easy navigation. Due to the increased interest in the event, volunteers will be scattered throughout the entire course to monitor for safety. All racers will receive a wristband with an emergency phone number to contact. Several boats will also be patrolling the course in the event of an emergency or someone needs to be towed back to land where EMTs will be stationed. In addition, the Coast Guard has assigned a regatta patrol to support the race this year.
This year’s race will have two routes, a 2.5-mile out-and-back, and the 7-mile loop around the island. The 7-mile course should not be attempted by beginners, so the 2.5-mile course is a great alternative. Both courses will depart from the Chickahominy Riverfront Park. For those that have participated in previous years, it’s important to note that the launch point has been moved a short distance down from the fishing pier, and due to the tides, the direction of the course will be reversed.
Whether you have a paddleboard, kayak, surfski, or outrigger, all paddlecraft are invited, and the top three finishers in each class (in both men’s and women’s) will be awarded at the after party.
The after party will take place at Billsburg Brewery, located at the Jamestown Marina. There will be a DJ, three food trucks for all the hungry paddlers, vendors, raffles, and of course the winner announcements. And if one party isn’t enough, Lori highly recommends making a whole weekend out of it! On Friday evening, also at Billsburg, there will be a pre-race packet pick-up event at the brewery for paddlers and their families to hangout, meet each other, and enjoy live music from Barry Manilow’s Wardrobe and more food and beer. If you’re not local to the area, camping is also available at Chickahominy Riverfront Park – how convenient!
If you are a paddler, but you’re not interested in racing, the team could still use some volunteers out on the water to monitor for safety. If you’re not a paddler, you can still watch a portion of the course and cheer paddlers on OR you can volunteer for some land-based tasks. In addition, sponsors are still being welcomed, so contact the team to learn about the different sponsorship levels. All proceeds go directly to Tidewater Wildlife Rescue.
To register for the Paddle Round the Island Race, click here.
Happy Water Trails!
About the Author: Laura Scharle lives on the Eastern shore of Maryland and is a frequent paddler in coastal Virginia. She is a Virginia certified ecotour guide and is an independent marketing contractor with a focus in ecotourism and heritage tourism. Laura can be reached through our Eastern Shore ecotour guide listings.