Dive in! Gowanus Canal race a success

The Brooklyn Paper
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Photo gallery

Risky paddler: Suited up Mike Rosalie of Crown Heights took his chances on the fetid Gowanus Canal in an inflatable kayak.
No splashing: As boaters made their way along the 2.5-mile course on the foul-smelling waterway they tried their hardest not to get wet.
Just keep paddling: Red Hook resident Robert Painter dressed as the “Coney Island Pink Fish” for the Gowanus Challenge.
Cheers!: Patriots from the Boston Beer Company paddled their way through the fetid waterway loaded with contaminants.
Victorious: Ormando Watson of Brownsville and Rob Buchanan of Fort Greene made up the winning team of the Gowanus Challenge. The rowing duo completed the 2.5-mile course in just over 20 minutes.
Gowanus survivors: Councilman Brad Lander and Carroll Gardens resident George Fuches canoed their way through loads of raw sewage and floating dead rats during the Gowanus Challenge.
Taking the canal by storm: Gowanus resident Becky Freeman conquered the toxic waters of the foul Gowanus Canal in the June 15 boat race.

Floating dead rats and decomposing human feces couldn’t stop fearless boaters from racing along the fetid Gowanus Canal.

More than 50 kayakers, canoers, rowers, and even one stand-up paddle boarder, took to the toxic inlet on Saturday for the much-hyped Gowanus Challenge, a non-motorized watercraft race along Brooklyn’s nautical purgatory.

And many of the racers were in on the joke.

A few boaters donned full hazmat suits, goggles, gloves, and even paper face masks, in preparation of paddling through the foul-smelling waterway, which is loaded with hazardous heavy metals, raw sewage, cancer-causing chemicals, and, famously has gonorrhea.

But none of that scared the racers.

“I was hoping not to fall in,” said Red Hook daredevil Chru Brar, the risk-taking paddleboarder who was dressed in protective gear from head to toe.

Throngs of spectators watched about 30 cleverly-named teams race the 2.5-mile course, which started at a dock on Second Street, went to the mouth of the canal near the Gowanus Bay, and looped back to the dock for the big finish.

Brar, a member of the Red Hook Boaters, had to kneel on his 12-foot board when traveling under the low-lying Ninth Street Bridge that spans the canal, and miraculously managed to keep the contaminated tide from touching his skin.

“The hazmat suit really helped,” he said.

Competitors who didn’t wear any protective clothing weren’t so lucky.

“It was really nerve-racking there,” said Williamsburg resident John Marra, referring to when the stinky water kicked up from his paddle and splashed him in the face.

The race, billed as the first-ever to start and end on a federal Superfund site (which basically means humans shouldn’t go near it), was more about advocating for the putrid canal than anything else, said organizers.

“It was a huge success,” said Owen Foote, a founding member of the Gowanus Dredgers Canoe Club, which organized the race. “I think it did exactly what we wanted, which was that everyone walked away saying that this waterway needs a lot of help and a lot of funding from the federal government.”

Foote wanted to raise awareness that every time it rains, millions of gallons of raw sewage flood the waterway. This is why the federal government will likely force the city to install massive $78-million holding tanks to catch the runoff as part of a federally mandated cleanup.

The race also served as a fund-raiser. It generated $10,000 to support the Dredgers’ work of bringing free waterborne recreational activities to the city.

Rower Rob Buchanan of Fort Greene and his student, Ormando Watson of the Benjamin Banneker Academy’s rowing team in Fort Greene, won the race thanks to what they dubbed “superior technology.”

“We had the fastest boat,” said Buchanan, who, paddling a handmade, sliding-seat, rowing boat, completed the course in a little more than 20 minutes. “It would have been embarrassing if we didn’t win.”

Buchanan was awarded a bottle of Perry’s Tot Navy Strength Gin for winning. Second place winners received gift certificates to local restaurants.

Most of the racers were local, but boating teams from Canada, New Jersey, and Maine came to compete, surprising many who thought a race in such a location would, for lack of a better word, stink.

“This was something that naysayers felt no one would join,” said Foote. “The opposite was true.”

Reach reporter Natalie Musumeci at or by calling (718) 260-4505. Follow her at
Updated 10:12 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

Charles from Bklyn says:
June 18, 2013, 9:21 am
manhatposeur from brokeland says:
Insane. Next we will have swim portion of a Brooklyn Triathlon in the Gowanus.
June 18, 2013, 9:38 am
chru from red hook says:
great credit to the gowanus dredgers and owen foote for organizing this event and raising awareness about our waterways and the harbor. cool!
June 18, 2013, 10:03 am
BunnynSunny from The Hill says:
It's a miracle nobody died.
June 18, 2013, 11:25 am
Ethan Pettit from Park Slope says:
Awesome! Congratulations, and thanks to the kayakers for raising awareness about our waterways.
June 18, 2013, 12:17 pm
diehipster from punching Parkers says:
The only awareness raised was awareness of their narcissistic existence. So this is what these interlopers came here for? I really wish they all fell in and contracted the creepiest kinds of diseases and infections. GTFOH.
June 18, 2013, 4:46 pm
Rufus Leaking from BH says:
Can't tell the turds without a program!
June 18, 2013, 6:12 pm
old time brooklyn from slope says:
and when the kid is named Flipper it is our problem
June 18, 2013, 7:46 pm
Pat I. from 70's Brooklyn says:
Couldn't we have gotten soemone to "Silkwood" their canoes?

I preditct in 40 years or so some Erin Brokovich type caklespaniel is going to go after "Big Brooklyn" because her flippered child was birthed in the canal with the aid of a 2 headed dolphin.
June 19, 2013, 12:43 pm
Glenn from Park Slope says:
The guy paddling on the surf board is brave! One fall into that soup and its off to the hospital!
June 19, 2013, 9:51 pm

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