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‘Da Boiz’ Take Home Da’ Prize at 2024 River Raft Race

Da Boiz push their raft to the shore after hopping out for a traditional final dip in the river. Ben Townsend photo.

The sharp burst of a start gun sent adrenaline into the veins of close to 50 river rafters. Split into 10 teams, the competitors held their handmade rafts tightly and trudged through the cold water of the Nome River. Once free from the shoreline -and nearby competition- they heaved themselves onboard and prepared for the two hour journey to the finish line. 

Two teams, “Da Boiz” and “Da Gurlz” quickly separated from the pack. They were floating on identical rafts, a design borrowed from local river rafting legend Steve Longley. Longley perfected his design over the course of several decades while earning numerous victories in the Bering Sea Lion’s Club Midnight Sun River Raft Race. 

A key design element the leading teams borrowed from Longley were the tapered ends, a feature Da Boiz Captain Bubba McDaniel attributes to a smooth and fast ride. 

“Last summer we just duplicated his design, one for the girls and one for the boys,” McDaniel said. “We don’t have to paddle very hard, we just float and have a good time.”

Da Girlz trudge through the water at the start of the 2024 Nome River Raft Race. Ben Townsend photo.
Da Boiz jumping onto their raft, a design inspired by Steven Longley. Ben Townsend photo.

About one mile downstream a large crowd gathered above and below a bridge to cheer on the teams. Some even set up foldable chairs to take in the scenic view of the Nome River as steep hills, still covered in patches of snow, dominated the background. 

The competitors dug single-paddle oars into the clear water as they made their way under the bridge, arms still fresh from the start of the race. They then settled in for a nearly seven mile journey that snaked through the tundra. 

Da Boiz and Da Gurlz maintained their lead throughout the race. Coming around the final corner of the river first was Da Boiz, seen scrambling around their boat for a fresh beverage to celebrate their win. They cracked their cans and quickly finished them to cheers from a crowd assembled along the riverside.

“That’s a thing for the boys I guess,” McDaniel said of the celebration. 

Da Boiz finished in one hour and 35 minutes and was captained by Bubba McDaniel. Taylor McDaniel, Bobby Koezuna, Klay Baker, and Bish Gallahorn served as crew members.

Supporters in folding chairs watched as teams passed by. Ben Townsend photo.
Da Boiz crack cans of a cold beverage as they round the final corner of the race. Ben Townsend photo.

Da Girlz finished just one minute later, captained by Ada Harvey and crewed by Senora Ahmasuk, Kerry Ahmasuk, Katy Tomter, and Brandolyn Ahyakak.

The River Raft Race has been put on in Nome for about 50 years, according to City of Nome Mayor and Bering Sea Lion’s Club member John Handeland. While the exact rules of the event have evolved over the years, Handeland said there is one that matters more than any other. 

“Rule number one is always have fun,” Handeland said.

A beach party in progress on the riverside of the Nome River. Ben Townsend photo.

The top three teams received trophies for their efforts at a beach party, complete with a bonfire and freshly grilled chicken and hot dogs. Competitors and supporters exchanged smiles, sunscreen, and bottles of bug spray as they took in the last evening of the Midnight Sun Weekend. For Handeland, this makes all the work the Bering Sea Lions Club put in for the big weekend worth it. 

“It’s not necessarily just getting in the water and on the raft. It’s just having a nice outing and being able to interact with people,” Handeland said. “The Bering Sea Lions Club is honored to be able to serve the community and put on some of these events.”

First and second place finishers Da Boiz and Da Girlz pose for a photo. Ben Townsend photo.

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