Water, Sea Lions & the Joys of Chocolate

 

A chocolate moment – waiting for the wave.
A chocolate moment – waiting for the wave. © Stephan Wright
It took me three days of shivering on shore, waiting for the wave to break, before I remembered that the greatest invention for cold weather paddling happiness is chocolate. Don't get me wrong--I fully appreciate that I wouldn’t be paddling at all in British Columbia (BC) in November without all my NRS gear, but it was chocolate that kicked my internal heater into OVERDRIVE.
After watching sea lions ripping apart salmon, birds diving into the freezing salt water for food and my dog foraging in the rainforest for smelly bits of who-knows-what, I started to wonder if there was a way that nature could be a warmer and more peaceful place. Maybe the local wildlife would appreciate a Canadian national movement to provide chocolate to the masses of cold woodland creatures.  We kept warm with fires, down jackets, warm dogs and a million calories...the least we can do is contribute some of our magical chocolate for animal cold relief!

In 10 years of kayaking, I've always wanted to get to paddle on the mythical waves of the Skookumchuck Narrows. This fall, I finally had the opportunity to drive 18 hours north of Reno with my girlfriend and our two dogs for five days of surfing action!  For me, the trip to “Skook” was a totally unique adventure for a number of reasons:


Jud Keiser, Team NRS, stylin’ the wave
Jud Keiser, Team NRS, stylin’
the wave. © Stephan Wright
  1. The "river" is actually a narrow place in an inlet on the BC coast, across the Strait of Georgia from Vancouver Island. The current flows in one direction at high tide and then slowly stops flowing. Then it flows backwards during low tides!
  2. Paddling with sea lions in the eddy is cool to think about, but SCARY--those things are big!
  3. It's a 45 minute walk-in to the wave each day through a beautiful rainforest.
  4. Because it's the tides that form the current, the different levels of tides make the wave different each day, and it's constantly changing even while you surf it. Skook was typically surfable during a mere 4-hour window.  During high peak flows (15 knots or higher), the wave goes from small and foamy to huge and green, then back down to small and foamy over those 4 hours.
  5. The salt water is EXTREMELY clear, so we could see the bottom of the inlet under us as we surfed, even though it was at least 5 feet deep in the trough of the wave!
For a freestyle kayaker, the shape of the wave is incredible--a steep pocket wave on "river" right and a breaking monster on "river" left. The entire thing is the smoothest glass water I've ever surfed and every trick in the book is possible there. I was excited to be able to paddle with lots of great boaters including Jud Keiser, Ruth Gordon, local boaters Drew and Emily, Jessica, John Fulbright and Ottawa legend James Roddick!  This trip is a must for anyone who enjoys freestyle paddling. Kayakers from all over the world have made the trip to surf this magic carpet of waves and it was everything I hoped and more. I hope you can make the trek someday!

Team NRS member, Stephan Wright, catching some major air.
Team NRS member, Stephan Wright, catching
some major air. © Jessica Yurtinus
To get there, you'll want to take the ferry out of the city of Vancouver to Sunshine Coast. You'll then drive the main road for two hours to Egmont, BC, where you'll want to get a cabin at any of several resorts (we stayed at Strongwater Campground, which is right across the street from the trailhead to the wave. You should probably paddle-in your first day, surf, then leave your boat on the boat rack at the wave so you can hike in and out each of the following days. Look for tides (listed as "max flood" on the tide charts) to be between 10 and 17 knots for good days.
The water temperature stays a pretty constant 50-55 degrees year round, so buy enough quality NRS gear to paddle comfortably in those temps--I was PSYCHED to have my Inversion Drysuit!. Make sure to hike-in lots of chocolate, peanut butter and other carb-rich foods for those cold times when you're waiting for the wave.

 

Stephen Wright
Team NRS