Community Sports

Young Bellingham paddlers making their mark

Elena Wolgamot, left, and Sierra Noskoff paddle in their K1 Sprint kayak on Lake Whatcom.
Elena Wolgamot, left, and Sierra Noskoff paddle in their K1 Sprint kayak on Lake Whatcom. Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

Two 12-year-old Bellingham paddlers have set the new national record for the distance paddled in a six-week period at 773 kilometers.

Sierra Noskoff and Elena Wolgamot, members of the Bellingham Canoe and Kayak Sprint Team, set the record May 30 when they completed the Barton Bantoms Challenge under the guidance of their coach Dan Baharav.

“I bet not many other kids are going to try and break this record,” Baharav said. “To do 773 (kilometers) in six weeks, you have to put in a lot of time.”

The girls have no intention of stopping at this latest achievement. Rather, paddling is something they both want to continue doing as long as they can.

“I want to go to the Olympics,” Noskoff said.

Wolgamot has been training with BCKST for almost three years, and this summer Noskoff will have been with the team for a year.

“It’s such a niche sport, but I really love it,” Wolgamot said.

Both girls played soccer and other sports before switching over solely to paddling. Now, they compete in international regattas and train throughout the year to become as strong and as fast as they can be.

The most important event of the year is the qualifier for the USA Nationals team, Baharav said. This year, six BCKST members will be competing, including Noskoff and Wolgamot.

BCKST is affiliated with the USA Canoe and Kayak organization, which means the regattas and competitions the team hosts or participates in are officially sanctioned, Baharav said.

When he started the team three years ago, the intention was to gear it toward preparing youth for international competition. Now, there is hope that one or more of them will follow through with their Olympic hopes, he said.

Each summer the team has summer camps, open to any youth who wants to learn to paddle, and then usually picks up five or six campers to join the team. There are now about 20 kids who practice and compete with BCKST.

Practices run for two hours, three days each week from about March to October on Lake Padden, Baharav said. During the winter, they meet to practice indoors using an indoor kayak machine.

“As a coach, I have to make sure everything is harmonic and synchronized,” Baharav said.

He attributes the success of the team to more than just the members and the coaches, but also to the support from parents. As the team has grown, more volunteers have stepped up. The number of boats and competitors going to regattas this year has outgrown the trailer the team uses to shuttle gear. As long as they are able to find more space, team growth is a good problem to have, Baharav said.

“This team has become one of the strongest in the Northwest (for its age group),” he said.

When Noskoff first heard of the Barton Bantoms challenge from her coach, paddling that far sounded like a daunting task.

“I thought it would be so hard,” Noskoff said. “I couldn’t even fathom it.”

The Platinum level of competition that the girls reached requires paddlers to go more than 600 kilometers in the six weeks, but Noskoff and Wolgamot surpassed even that.

“I feel a lot stronger,” Wolgamot said.

Her father promised to buy her a gift if she passed 700 kilometers, Noskoff said. Now, she is enjoying the beautiful summer weather in her new hammock.

“I’m really excited because school is almost out and then I can spend more time out at the lake preparing for nationals,” she said.

BCKST is hosting the Third Annual Bellingham Regatta on Saturday, June 20, at Lake Padden. Teams from Washington, Oregon and Canada will compete in the Olympic-style sprint events.

Bellingham Regatta

When: 9 a.m.

Saturday, June 20

Where: Lake Padden

Entry deadline: 6 p.m. June 17

Cost: $20 per racer

More info: email