PORT ANGELES — A 32-year-old Port Angeles paddleboard champion raced across the Strait of Juan de Fuca on a board she calls her rocket ship to raise money for care of domestic violence survivors.
Hannah Nelson, an emergency room nurse at Forks Community Hospital and the mother of a 2-year-old, made the crossing on Saturday, choosing to go a day earlier than she had scheduled because of forecasts of 30-knot winds on the Strait on Sunday.
She paddled 20 miles in five hours, leaving Dungeness Spit at 9:30 a.m. and arriving at Ogden Point in Victoria at 2:30 p.m.
Her average speed on her racing-style board was 4 mph, she said.
The point, Nelson said, was to “shine a light on domestic violence,” something she calls a “silent epidemic,” through raising money for Healthy Families of Clallam County, an organization she said was essential to her survival after she had left her abuser.
“You’re not alone,” she said she wants others to know, “and even when it feels your life is over, it’s actually not.”
When I left an abusive relationship, “I was not doing well, but look at me now.”
Her initiative had raised $4,474 by Sunday for Healthy Families.
Donations will continue to be accepted on her website at standupagainstdv.org through the month of October, which has been designated Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
“While I was paddling, my friend on the boat was telling me when new donations were made,” said Nelson, who was accompanied by two chase boats carrying seven people, one manned by her uncle, Jack Church of Port Angeles, and the other by a family friend, Joe Daubenberger of Port Townsend.
She said Healthy Families responded immediately when a relative called to tell them of Nelson having left an abusive situation. The organization aided her in legalities — getting her a restraining order and a pro bono lawyer — and offered safe housing.
“I was so lost and confused, I really needed that help,” she said.
“The beginning was super rough, but they held my hand through it,” Nelson said, adding that an advocate even attended court with her “and literally held my hand.”
Domestic violence is not “seen or talked about very often,” Nelson said. “It’s seen as a private issue. It’s a hard topic for people to understand, I think.”
Nelson, who has been paddleboarding for 11 years, decided she could use her skill to raise awareness of domestic violence and funds to help Healthy Families continue its work.
Her board is a 12-foot, 6-inch racing, ocean-going paddleboard.
“It has more of a pointed nose that cuts through the waves,” she said.
“I call it my rocket ship because it’s red.”
She took first place in her division in races in June and August in the Columbia River Gorge, she said.
A Port Townsend High School graduate, Nelson lived in lived in Hawaii, Australia and Alaska before returning to the North Olympic Peninsula to attend nursing school at Peninsula College.
She graduated in 2018 and went on to her first job at “a small, rural, family hospital,” Forks Community Hospital.
On Saturday, the weather on the Strait was mild, although at one point she was paddling through rainfall. It was cold, she said, but she was warmly dressed in wetsuit pants.
She saw porpoises and jellyfish, she said, and unfortunately, piles of floating trash with plastic stuck in it.
The immensity of the Strait struck her.
“It felt like being in the middle of the ocean,” she said. “You can’t tell how fast you’re going. There are no reference points. I could see Victoria’s buildings on the horizon, so I knew which direction I was going.
As she neared shore, “the buildings just got bigger and bigger … toward the end, I could see the red, flashing light at Ogden Point.”
Nelson paddleboards at least two times a week, she said, generally at Lake Crescent and then on the Strait to become accustomed to salt water, and so Saturday’s venture “was like another day of paddling.”
Once she reached her destination, she returned in one of the motor boats, sipping champagne in celebration.
“When I got back in the boat, I said that wasn’t as hard as I thought it might be.”
For more information, see Nelson’s website at standupagainstdv.org.
Executive Editor Leah Leach can be reached at 360-417-3530 or at [email protected].