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Pawleys Island: Kayak races storm Pawleys Creek

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Madison Bass couldn’t contain her smile after she and racing partner Amelia Jones won their tandem division in the annual Pawleys Island Kayak and Canoe Races this week.

“Last to first,” Bass proclaimed as she and Jones, both of the Pawleys Island area and employees of Surf the Earth, paddled back to the launch area.

Bass said she had finished fourth in a four-team race last year.

What was the reason for the big turnaround this year?

“We got along better,” she said.

The races are as much a tradition on the island as the annual Fourth of July parade for Donna Austin’s family. They have brought their kayaks from the southern tip of Ohio every summer for the past five years to participate. Her daughter, Renee Marshall, and rowing partner Roni Hayes won the master’s division for women’s tandem. Marshall’s daughter, Allie, and niece, Morgan Manns, won the tandem race for 13- to 15-year-olds. And another daughter, Emma, raced in the 12-and-under division.

All the Ohioans were at Pawleys Island to visit a relative, Steve Zimmerman.

This year’s races began with thunder grumbling in the western sky over the Waccamaw River, but the rain stayed away for the better part of two hours.

Nothing seemed to faze racers or organizers. The schedule proceeded on “island time” — whenever racers were ready. A women’s paddleboard race was cancelled because it had only one participant sign up. Four young men were hoping to participate in a new 2-mile paddleboard race from the north causeway bridge, out to the pier in the ocean and back.

Deanna Benston said the race is a tradition that needs to continue. She and her husband, Scott, owner of Surf the Earth, took over from former Town Council Member Bruce Rumage to keep it going. “A lot of families plan their vacations around the races,” she said.

Other people find the event by happenstance.

Bobby Wakefield of Rochester, Pa., and his fiancée, Bonnie Guy of Newcastle, Pa., stopped on the causeway to see what was going on. They marveled at the speed of a front-running racer.

But the Pawleys Island races are not all about winning. The last place team in Madison Bass’s last-to-first race got the day’s most applause — just for finishing.

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