Think of it as Bend's version of "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation," married with a slightly smaller Rose City Christmas Ships Parade. Above Bend's Whitewater Park comes a sea of Santa beards, elvish hats and ugly Christmas sweaters, as participants launch their vessels in the annual Holiday Lights Winter Paddle Parade.
Linda Hudder and friends Sheila Walker, Jeanne Russell, Linda Olsen, Lori Prime and Coco Jo, otherwise known as the original "six-pack," were the ringleaders of the first holiday disembark. According to Hudder, the maiden voyage was stalled in Mirror Pond when the group needed to chip ice to create a through passage.
Kayaker, raft guide and founder of Tumalo Creek Kayak & Canoe, Geoff Frank, says the annual holiday river parade is one of the most popular events in the paddle sports community. "We've been organizing this holiday event for nearly 20 years! Usually folks start calling about this event in late summer, before we even have a chance to plan it. Dozens of paddlers participate in the parade, and many more watch from shore. There's all sorts of paddle crafts, kayaks, canoes, paddle boards—you name it."
Participants even wear special gear in preparation for the possibility of full immersion. "While it's never anyone's goal to tip over, it can happen," explains Topher Robertson, TCKC programs director. "I paddle throughout the winter every year, including the parade, and wear a dry suit. Winter paddling can seem intimidating but it isn't what you might think."
The dry suits Robertson refers to are waterproof as a result of fitted booties and gaskets on each wrist and the neck. Picture a Gore-Tex Power Ranger-esque pajama onesie. Even better, they come in red and green.
"A splash top and splash pants keep me dry plus some insulation layers for warmth. You can stay so dry and so warm with today's technology. Even if you don't have the latest gear, many participants layer up with their burliest ski clothes or whatever's on hand," says Drew Oldfield, retail manager.
For local ink and water color river artist Christina McKeown, last year's postponement due to inclement weather and thick ice sheets was pretty devastating. "The Christmas lights parade is the best way to celebrate our love for the rivers, our tight-knit community, and Christmas," she says. "...I'm very eager to bedazzle my kayak with lights this year!"
Pro Tip for participants: Battery-powered Christmas lights can be found at Ace Hardware, Fred Meyer, Lowe's and other hardware stores.
Pro Tip for spectators: Key places for viewing: Deschutes River's east bank, south of TCKC, up river to the flag bridge. The parade route will take participants up river to the Flag Bridge and back down to TCKC.