Ocean City Today

Annual Canoe Races at BJ’s on the Water, July 11

By Kara Hallissey | Jul 06, 2017

(July 7, 2017) A popular summertime tradition in Ocean City, the annual Canoe Races at BJ’s on the Water, returns for the 38th year to the 75th Street restaurant on Tuesday, July 11.

“We lose a lot of traditions in our everyday lives from the hustle and bustle,” said Maddy Carder, co-owner of BJ’s on the Water with her husband, Billy. “The canoe races are a joyful experience with friends and coworkers. You will never forget the laughs for the rest of your lives and it makes your summer. Everyone is in a great mood and partying.

“It’s stuck around this long and I am hoping it continues for a long time,” she added.

Registration will begin at 10 a.m. on Tuesday with the races slated to start about an hour later. The cost is $50 per team of four, which must consist of two women and two men. In addition, participants must be 21 or older with a valid ID and wear closed-toe shoes.

“We don’t shut out teams and you can sign up until noon,” Carder said. “As long as you’re 21 and you can get two guys and two girls together, you can participate.”

Sometimes there is a line wrapped around the building during registration, she added.

The number of teams participating in each heat depends on how many show up to compete on July 11.

“The reason we do not have registrations in advance is due to many variables,” Carder said. “We have a lot of security to make sure everyone is 21 years old— even the spectators. We have to be careful that day and you must be 21 to walk in the door [during the races].”

The races kick off at 11 a.m. when the first duos will paddle around the island behind the restaurant, come back and then jump out as their teammates hop into the canoe to complete the same half-mile route.

Depending on how many teams come out on Tuesday, the winners of their heat, wildcard and semifinal races will move onto the finals where the 2017 champions will be determined.

“We had 96 teams in 2015,” Carder said. “Personally, I like about 40 teams, then we can stretch it out and have wildcard heats. It’s exciting and fun. All winning team members get trophies.”

Each participant on the top three placing teams will win a trophy and cash prizes. The first-place team will have their names engraved on the official canoe race trophy along with the previous 37 winners and take home $500. The trophy will remain on display at BJ’s. Second place will receive $300 and the third-place team will win $200.

“The winners have bragging rights until next year,” Carder said. “We ran out of space on the original trophy a couple years ago. I added to the trophy to continue putting the winners’ names on.”

Anyone 21 and older can participate in the Canoe Races where teams pick a theme and dress accordingly.

“It is important to know you don’t have to be from a bar or restaurant to participate, although the majority are,” Carder said. “Any business or even a family as long as they are 21. We’ve seen lifeguard teams participate [in previous years.]”

Last year, a team from Seacrets came in first place, BJ’s on the Water took home second and Blu Crabhouse employees finished in third with 52 teams participating in the competition.

“It is a long way around that island— longer than you think [and] at a fast pace, fighting the wind and tides to tag the next teammate,” Carder said. “And if you make it to a wildcard or finals, you do it all over again. It’s survival of the fittest.”

Participants are asked to refrain from wearing glitter because it washes off in the bay, causing environmental issues and interfering with the wildfowl sanctuary BJ’s on the Water has been building up for 38 years.

Each competitor will also take home a souvenir T-shirt.

“They are collector’s items and we have a different design every year,” Carder said.

Many restaurants and bars have rivalries, come with several teams and use the event as an employee party. Since there is no pre-registration for the canoe races, it’s always a surprise to see how many teams will come out, she said.

“It truly is an Ocean City tradition,” Carder said. “It started so many years ago and the fun part is people who work here and in town— their kids are participating now. It has come full circle just like our class pictures from every summer since we opened. People are always pointing themselves out to their children. I always take the picture the day before the canoe races.”

In addition to the races, BJ’s will have a grill set up on the deck to serve hamburgers and hot dogs as well as its regular menu. There will also be a number of drink and food specials going on during the event.

Every year, the date of the Canoe Race is determined according to the highest tide in July to make sure the bay has enough water to last the six hours of pandemonium.

“Ask off now,” Carder said. “You are not going to be able to work that night.”

Call BJ’s on the Water at 410-524-7575 for more information.

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