SALTON SEA — The Salton Sea is normally seen as calm, peaceful, and a swirl of toxins. Most perceive it as a dead body of water since there are rarely any boats or people out on the water.
But that was not the case Saturday morning as dozens of paddle boards, canoes, and kayaks cut through the glassy water at the Second Seathletes’ North Shore Xtreme competition.
North Shore Xtreme brings together athletes from several different water sports including outrigger canoes, kayaks, surf skis, stand up paddles, and prone paddling (using one’s arms to paddle a board).
Initiated by Davy Aker, founder of Palm Springs Seathletes, the North Shore Xtreme is an effort to raise awareness that the Salton Sea is still a viable source of recreation and is not polluted, he said.
The athletes learn it is only very, very salty and smelly.
In the 1950s and ’60s, the Salton Sea was a booming recreational lake. However, due to natural events such as fish die offs and weather, the sea lost its appeal and has gone into a recreational decline ever since.
Aker said the event is meant to change the narrative about the Salton Sea, and claimed the idea began with a bet he made with his friend two years ago on the shore of the Sea during the paddling off-season.
Once it was proven the water was not polluted and indeed healthy, they began to organize a race, getting in touch with local and state groups willing to do something out at the Salton Sea. Two main races were held in six mile and 12 mile stretches around the Salton Sea for all paddling sports.
What began as a simple bet between friends boomed into something more with a purpose that means a lot to Aker, who wishes to show people, especially the locals and the children, that the Sea is a good recreational spot in their backyard.
“Through sport, we just want to bring attention to the sea,” said Aker. “The most important thing is you can make an impact and you can make a difference in life, but it really starts in your backyard.”
Last year’s event brought 210 paddlers down to the Sea. This year there were about 150, less than last time, but that did not dampen the eager spirits of the people ready to compete and have fun. After a ceremonial Pule, or blessing of the land and the athletes, the competitors were ready to get under way.
“We like to race, we like to be on the water, and we thought it would be challenging to race on the Sea,” said Joey Duimovich from Santa Barbara.
Many participants use the event as a practice to keep the edge on for races on the open sea in the summer.
Carlos Hernandez, a member of Team Arizona, came to practice with his team and family after the season ended in October.
“Any chance to paddle we go for it,” said Hernandez. “And the event is to bring awareness to the Salton Sea, bring back positive vibes.”
The Salton Sea is the largest inland lake in California and one of the largest salt water lakes in the country. It was created in 1905 when the Colorado River overflowed from a man-made canal into the salt basin, creating the modern Sea of today. Agricultural runoff, bringing fertilizer and pesticides along with salt, supported the Sea after the Colorado’s flow was dammed and regulated. Since water conservation measures have been instituted, the Sea’s water level has fluctuated due to shifting runoff totals, causing large fish and bird die offs as well as algae blooms that contribute to the strong smell.