June 12, 2013 / Brooklyn news / Gowanus / Where to GO / Brooklyn Is Awesome

Boaters racing in natical purgatory can’t let the water touch them

Ships of Fools! Daredevils to compete in Gowanus Canal boat race

The Brooklyn Paper
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A Red Hook Daredevil will risk life, limb, and the need to be decontaminated when he races on a stand-up paddleboard during this weekend’s Gowanus Challenge, a non-motorized watercraft race along Brooklyn’s nautical purgatory.

Paddle boarder Chru Brar said he will race with caution through the 2.5-mile course to avoid plunging into the inlet, which is laden with hazardous heavy metals, raw sewage, cancer-causing chemicals, and, famously, gonorrhea.

“I will try to win the race, but I won’t be reckless,” said Brar, a member of the Red Hook Boaters. “It’s very easy to fall right off a paddleboard.”

Brar, who will have to kneel on the 12-foot board when traveling under the low-lying bridges spanning the canal, said he will definitely be wearing his neoprene booties to avoid contact with the liquid that is still considered water.

“It seems a little too close for comfort,” said Owen Foote, a founding member of the Gowanus Dredgers Canoe Club, which organized the race that’s being billed as the first-ever to start and end on a Superfund site. The race will serve as a fund-raiser to support the group’s work bringing free waterborne recreational activities to the city.

Members of the Gowanus Dredgers have been racing each other on the canal for years. However, this is the first time the pro-watersports group has challenged other boating organizations to test their speed.

So far a total of 26 cleverly named teams have registered to compete in the race that will start at the Dredger’s dock on Second Street. The course will go all the way to the mouth of the canal near the Gowanus Bay, and loop back to the dock for the big finish.

Contenders brave enough to take on the Gowanus Canal will even get the chance to compete against Councilman Brad Lander (D–Park Slope), who will paddle in a canoe for the “SuperFun Sewer Rats” team.

“I’m excited to participate in the world’s smelliest boat race,” said Lander, a St. Louis native, who added that he spent a good chunk of his youth paddling a canoe along the Mississippi River and lakes throughout the Midwest.

“I believe I remember the J-stroke and the C-stroke well, so I hope to be competitive and I pray not to capsize,” he said.

Foote, who will team up with his 73-year-old mother as the “Toxic Avengers,” said while most of the racers are local, boating teams from Canada and Maine will also competing.

And the best advice Foote said he can offer is not to splash and the keep the paddles in the water because the water is contaminated.

Foote added that he hopes holding the race will help raise awareness of the fact that every time it rains, millions of gallons of raw sewage flood the waterway – which is why the feds will likely force the city to install massive $78-million holding tanks to catch the runoff as part of a federally mandated cleanup.

“Expect the unexpected – it is the Gowanus Canal,” he said. “Who knows what we will find floating in it.”

Registration for the race is still open to anyone who can come up with a canal-worthy craft. Foote said the race will also be great for spectators who can best view it from the Third Street and Ninth Street bridges.

The Gowanus Challenge [Second Street dock near Bond Street in Gowanus, (718) 243–0849,] June 15, 11 am, teams using boats from the Gowanus Dredgers must raise $500 from pledgers.

Reach reporter Natalie Musumeci at or by calling (718) 260-4505. Follow her at
Updated 10:11 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

diehipster from Actual Brooklyn says:
So ummm, yeah - what I always say. But what do I know; it's all a delusion.
June 12, 2013, 1:52 pm
ty from pps says:
Yeah, diehipster... charity is a horrible thing.
June 12, 2013, 3:13 pm
itchie from Illusionary Brooklyn says:
For all those not already suffering from some kind of encephalitis, but still want to get out and paddle on the water. Brooklyn Bridge Boathouse will be hosting kayaking on Saturday from 10 to 3.
June 12, 2013, 8:14 pm
Johnny Hammersticks from Brooklyn says:
The most toxic waterway in America. Eff it, lets have a race.
June 12, 2013, 9:56 pm
johnnyboy from windsor terrace says:
Next year they're having a walk on water festival
June 13, 2013, 12:57 pm
Chooch Buster from Park Slope says:
It's a hipster initiative that mitigates toward cleaning up the shytehole we've inherited from the mooks. Shameful. "Authentic" Brooklyn is a sewer, hipster Brooklyn questions that authenticity. One more time folks: Urban blight is the exception, gentrification is the norm.
June 13, 2013, 5:19 pm
scott from park slope says:
some day land along the canal will be the priciest and most desirable in the borough. expensive condos with slips will line the banks. cafes and art galleries will be everywhere.
June 14, 2013, 2:43 am
Chooch Buster from Park Slope says:
@scott from park slope. Yes! That's what the whole waterway movement is about. The kayakers are just the pioneers. The grandchildren of hipsters will one day swim in those canals. We are now living the age in which the City of Brooklyn starts to rise to her highest potential. On our watch - bohemians, hipsters, artists - our beloved Brooklyn surpasses Manhattan as the most lovely and desirable borough. And for the chooch from the old, blighted Brooklyn, who knows this is not his history, it is a bitter pill indeed.
June 17, 2013, 12:08 am

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