Wild BC sea kayak: Skookumchuck

Last summer I took a trip to the famous British Columbia tide races. Traveling with Kate, we visited three classic venues: Skookumchuck, Surge Narrows and Okisollo.

Driving north from Vancouver, we took the Sunshine Coast ferry and drove to Egmont, camping close to Sechelt inlet, home of the famous surfable standing wave known simply as ‘Skook’.

A new venue for me, I was keen to get afloat and curious to witness the large spring tides coinciding with our visit, guessing that the exceptional conditions would simply create more exciting surfing. Kate advised me that a 10-knot tide was ideal for long boats, while our sessions would encounter 16-knot speeds. It all sounded great, to this naive Brit visitor at least.

We paddled a few km to a spur of rock, the submerged ledge of which creates the Skook surf wave. Arriving at LW slack, we enjoyed mellow surfing as the wave gradually developed. Within 30 minutes we were blessed with a 20-metre wide face of ever-steepening green water, becoming more dynamic with the passing minutes.

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In a borrowed Sterling Reflection my only view was the deepening trough upstream of the wave face, dominated by a huge green slab of water pouring over the rock ledge. I was looking into a pit several feet lower than the eddy from which I had recently exited.

Anxiety won the day and I returned to the eddy – just in time to see the wave close out as the crest collapsed into the trough, creating a powerful recirculation. Lucky timing! It was easy to imagine its potential effect on me and my boat. Returning to shore, I settled down for an afternoon of sunbathing.

As the peak hours approached and passed, I felt little desire to launch into the mayhem of the top wave, a turbulent washing machine promising only carnage. I also had no wish to challenge the appalling conditions extending a kilometre downstream of Skook, on the biggest tide of the year. Possible? Certainly, and surely paddled by some. But not me, not today.

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The closest experience I could compare was high-volume Alpine white water paddling, with added whirlpools. It looked nasty, a likely swim – and a certain horror show if unseated. I cracked open a beer, gazed at the sky, and chilled out until the final hour of the flood tide arrived.

I waited impatiently for the white wall of foam to relent as the wave began to reveal occasional breaks, the recirculating crest reaching less far into the trough. As the wave turned green I jumped afloat, crossed onto the wave and enjoyed a minute of fabulous surfing – before the crest dumped on me again. Buried in the trough, I felt a mix of frustration at the end of a fantastic ride, anxiety at Skook’s watery grip, and delight at experiencing a classic BC tide race adventure – immersed in a turbulent void in the ocean, in a suddenly-inappropriate vessel.

Digging myself out the trough like a car from a ditch, I spun back into the eddy and launched into the wave as it greened out again. The next 45 minutes were bliss, enhanced by Mike and Kate’s excellent company. Lapping the service eddy, we exhausted the final minutes of the huge spring flood, revelling in the wonderful energy of the wave.

Oh, and the next day? We did it all again…