Spring time means you get to find out how bad your wrist and neck gaskets have degraded over the winter.

Spring time also means Robe Race and for 2015 the Xavier Engle Memorial Robe Race.


There were murmurs that the race might be shifted by a weekend, as there was no rain in the forecast the week leading up to the race. But level bumped up to just below 5.2 feet and by Friday afternoon we knew how we were going to be spending our Saturday; racing Robe Canyon and praying not to take home the Gnome!

It’s an easy template for a race: paddle as hard as you can for roughly 3.5 miles and crush around 40 rapids with as little carnage as you can manage. Then, just for shits giggles, throw a hideous portage in the middle of the course to see just how flexible those ankles really are…


The flow range is 5.0-6.0 feet. Teams of two, as you set your own safety… The race starts in the eddy below T1, above T2 and ends in the pool a quarter mile(ish) downstream from Mrs. Robinson

With water levels low, the stoke was high. We had a large turnout with 14 teams and scores of safety boaters, we also had two Robe Race “firsts”.

2015 gave birth to the inclusion of the first female participants as well as the first long boat entries.


Ellie Wheat and Hillary Neevel are not the first women to paddle Robe, and they certainly will not be the last. They are, however, the first to step up and chase the glory that goes hand in hand with swimming in front of your friends. There was no carnage on their part; instead they shut out a couple male teams and came out the gates hot!

Joe Keck and I decided to take our love of long boats and our fear of fatal pins and combine them into one stressful morning.


I had never taken a boat longer than a Dagger Mamba down Robe prior to the race and despite several spinouts in and below rapids; it went way better than I thought it was going to go. The Dagger Greenboat is quickly becoming the only kayak I want to paddle. I had so much fun in that boat!


David Spiegel & Will Grubb went the fastest and took the most chances this year; taking home the Robes and dominating the field with a 30 second lead over reigning champ Ben Hawthorne and Brian Fletcher. Sam Chesley and Jordy Searle came in third place.

1.) Dave & Will – 29:50
2.) Ben & Brian – 30:20
3.) Sam & Jordy – 30:42
4.) Sam & Benn – 31:00
5.)Henry & Adam – 31:29
6.) Darren, Scott & Christian – 31:40
7.) Brad & Evan – 32:15
8.) Trevor & Chase – 33:20
9.) Joe & Dan – 33:39
10.) Chris & Chris – 33:56
11.) Hillary & Ellie – 37:14
12.) Jon & JD – 38:45
13.) Chris & Leif – 39:37
14.) Steve & Conor – 53:54

Eric Mickelson is an awesome photographer, great paddler and an all around decent dude who operates out of Bellingham. Eric took some awesome shots at T1, T2 and Last Sunshine.




You can see more of Eric’s work right here: http://ericmickelson.com/

This years event follows the loss of a Seattle transplant boater in Robe Canyon.

27 year old Xavier Engle tragically passed away on Robe Canyon this past winter. Xavier grew up in Alaska and moved to Seattle and enrolled in the UW school of medicine after attending Dartmouth College.

After the race was over, everyone paddled over to the Lounge and sat around drinking beers and dissecting race lines. Earlier in the year a couple folks took it upon themselves to haul an amazing tribute to Xavier into the canyon for kayakers and rafters to enjoy. It’s definitely worth a stop to sit and reflect on why we do this incredibly rewarding and sometimes dangerous sport.

Once we paddled out of the canyon it was back up to Paca Pride at the putin. David had offered to allow us to host the event on their property and we obliged. These guys are amazing. They let us park on their property and they put up with all the shenanigans that go hand in hand with kayaking all the while running a successful business.


If you’re in the area or looking for a great non-paddling weekend adventure, take the time to check out Paca Pride. And if you paddle Robe, go in and say hello; they would love to meet you.


Leif stands by to name the winners and the rest of the losers.

Joe and I assumed that we were going to take home the Gnome this year, but due to a broken paddle, we were saved. This year the Gnome will be traveling with Conor and Steve as they boat in and around the Pacific Northwest. Enjoy it boys!


Leif does the honors.

Will and David.


I have to say that in years past, I’ve paddled Robe so often that I’m surprised I don’t have the combo for the gate at Paca Pride. This year however; the combination of out of country travel for work, school and a shoulder surgery had me dreading that phone call. I practiced my excuses for not racing in the shower, on the drive to work, in class. Every day my ability to say that I wasn’t going to race was getting better and better. By the time I could say it with a straight face, without sweating, I got the call from Joe Keck.

“Hey bud, how’s the shoulder feeling? Lets just get wild and let it all hang out. Lets race long boats. C’mon man, what’s the absolute worse that could happen?”

That’s a quick summation of the conversation that went down on, I think, the Wednesday before the race. Joe was motivated to rally the longboats down the Canyon and do it while completely out of breath. I was terrified and thought it was a horrible way to spend a perfectly good day.

But it was awesome. My biggest fear was screwing up the line at Sunshine and going into that left wall, smashing my shoulder and potentially my face on the lovely undercut that waits to reward those with a poorly timed boof stroke. As level was on the lower side I was very concerned that some of the more vertical drops would present more of a pin potential.

But it actually went pretty well. I still buried my nose in the pile at Sunshine, but it didn’t kick me as hard as I thought it would. Hole in the Wall got a bit sportier than I usually prefer and I am still kicking myself for not wearing the GoBro to catch the amazing gaze of terror that Joe and I shared when our eyes locked, mid carnage. But if it’s not on camera; it didn’t happen.



Good times.

Thank you to everyone that raced. Thank you to all the safety boaters. Thank you Leif Embertson for taking charge and herding these cats. Thank you David Capocci and Paca Pride for hosting us and just being awesome in a general way. The Washington kayak community appreciates your generosity and help in gaining access to this incredible streambed.

Until next year. Go fast and take chances!


Article by Daniel Patrinellis