Witches Paddle’s Bewitched Beginnings

Written by Theresa-Marie Wilson

Theresa-Maria Wilson has been a journalist covering the North Coast and South County area for over 20 years. She is also the founder of Cat Noir CC and is currently working on a novel.

November 4, 2021

Information gathered by Judy Salamacha and Theresa-Marie Wilson – Photos by Neil Farrell

The witches came out to play, paddle, and ponder another year of celebration on Oct. 29. Amidst a cackling of “tee-hee-ing” and “ha-ha-ha-ing” from the flotilla of mischief, were vessels of many types — paddleboards, kayaks, inflatable rafts and boats, and more, as men, women and kids paddled over the calm waters of the bay, and through a gathering fog bank that lent a spooky atmosphere to the spectacle. Our own warlock, Neil Farrell, shot photos from the view of a harbor patrol boat

According to the Guinness Book of World Records’ website, the largest gathering of people dressed as witches (on land) is 1,607 and was achieved by La Bruixa d’Or (Spain), in Sort, Lleida, Spain, on Nov. 16, 2013.

But there doesn’t appear to be a world record for the largest witch’s “paddling” parade on water. Paddling witch gatherings for Halloween are held in several harbors on both the East and West Coasts.

The next big water-borne spectacle for Morro Bay is the return of The Lighted Boat Parade in early December.
Estero Bay News thought readers would love to hear the origins of this annual wicked event that brings joy to participants and those watching from the shore travelling from Coleman Beach to Tidelands Park and back.

Annette “Nettie” Ausseresses, who leads the coven that has been flying across the water since 2013, provided the historical perspective. “It began as a way to get together some friends to celebrate three birthdays.” The original group was about 30 people. This year about 300 witches and warlocks joined in and put their “good” spells on the bay.
EBN: When did it start? Is there an official name?
Nettie: The Witches Paddle started in 2013 as a way to celebrate the birthdays of our friends born on or around Halloween. It was a very small group. There is no official name. We just call it the Witches Paddle.
EBN: Are there any rules/unwritten protocols?
Nettie: We meet at Coleman Beach and then paddle down along the Embarcadero. There is no organization behind this event. There is no sign-up or registration. This is just friends gathering to paddle. To participate you should be an experienced paddler. There is no instruction, lifeguards, or supervision at the event. Paddlers must provide their own equipment and costumes, and are encouraged to follow Coast Guard requirements for personal flotation devices and leashes.
EBN: Who were the first witches to paddle?
Nettie: Well, that’s a good question. Since no one had any idea that this event would explode, no one really felt the need to document the first outing. But some of the originals are Muffy Johnson, Kim McCurdy, Chrissy Hall, Susan Clifford, Kelly Stella, Karla Von Zup, Joan Solu and myself – Annette Ausseresses.
EBN: How has it grown annually? How have people heard about it?
Nettie: After years of word-of-mouth, in 2019 a Facebook group named Paddle SLO was created. The Witches Paddle is posted as an “event” in this group so that if weather causes a cancellation or change (as was the case in 2018 due to rain) paddlers could stay informed. The event gets shared between friends. In addition, a photo of the event was on the front page of the Tribune in 2014 and KSBY has covered it as well. So the event has grown from a handful of friends to 150-plus paddlers.
EBN: Why do you think it caught on?
Nettie: Because it is really neat to see a bunch of people in costume paddling on the bay. It is fun for the participants and fun for the onlookers, and everyone wants to be part of something unique and fun.
EBN: When did men start showing up? What about kids? What is the age range or witches and warlocks?
Nettie: Warlocks have always been welcome. It’s never been an exclusive event. Again, it is just friends gathering to paddle so if your friend is a witch or a warlock it doesn’t matter. Some people bring their kids.
EBN: What’s been the most unusual costume?
Nettie: Some people really put effort into their costumes. I don’t know that any single costume has stood out in particular. While we paddle collectively as a “coven” it is fun to see the groups of friends milling about and enjoying the event.
EBN: Where has it expanded that you know about?
Nettie: In 2016 a woman from Portland was in Morro Bay when the event was taking place. She organized a witch paddle on the Willamette River and contacted the media in the area so they got great coverage (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cyl3jM9h4w0). I think the story may have even gone out on the Associated Press wire. Now there are witch paddles all across the United States as well as in Canada, Mexico, the UK, and possibly other countries.
EBN: Do you or your friends have any aspirations for this to grow, continue – or keep it loose and just for a fall day on the bay?
Nettie: We are happy with it just being a way to enjoy time on the bay and to celebrate birthdays and friendships. A few years ago we started using the event to raise funds for charitable organizations. This year we are partnering with the South Bay Women’s Network to help with providing scholarships for female re-entry students.

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