Professional Canoer ‘Died Fighting’ Waves and Wind During Race on Lake Michigan

by Taylor Cunningham
No release required

Professional canoer Nick Walton died on Oct. 8 during an unsanctioned race on Lake Michigan.

According to the Michigan Canoe Racing Association, Walton was competing against “many others” over the weekend. But the race was in no way affiliated with the organization. The death came after continuous strong winds and waves hit the canoer

A friend and competitor of Walton’s posted a statement of the incident via the association’s Facebook account the following day.

“This tragedy has impacted many people,” the association noted. “But the MCRA would like to extend condolences to any and all [affected].

“Our friend Nick Walton died today doing what he was known for – not quitting,” the friend wrote. “We were competing in a downwind race from Point Betsie to Peterson Beach on Lake Michigan.”

The post explains that the weather was harsh with temperatures in the low 50s. And strong waves had caused several people, including Walton, to fall off their boats “multiple times just trying to get out through the surf.”

“Nick wouldn’t quit remounting and managed to make it a couple miles down the shore,” they continued. “But he was in the water as much or more than he was paddling.”

Professional Canoer Remembered For His ‘Big Personality and Smile’

The race organizer watched the canoer with binoculars as waves continued to knock him into the water. And when they noticed that he stopped trying to mount his boat, they called the Coast Guard. The City of Frankfort Fire & Rescue team said it received a call at 2:10 pm. And rescuers “had eyes” on him by 2:45.

A DNR boat and Coast Guard helicopter responded to the scene. Guardsmen pulled Walton from the water and took him to the hospital “immediately” with the help of a fire and rescue team. By the time he arrived, he had no pulse and his body temperature was extremely low. Doctors attempted to warm and resuscitate him, but they could not, and they pronounced him dead shortly after.

Nick Walton had been competing for nearly two decades. Friends remember him for his “big personality and smile.” And a fellow racer said that he was “tenacious, relentless, and also had a lot of heart—a friend who will be greatly missed.”

“Nick died fighting today,” the MCRA post added. “And I believe he wouldn’t have had it any other way. Many feel blessed to have called him a canoe partner and a friend. He will be missed deeply in our paddling community.”