Skookumchuck means “Strong Water.” Skookumchuck Narrows is an unusual geological feature.
It consists of a narrow opening between the ocean waters of the Georgia Strait and the large Sechelt Inlet.
As the tide comes in and out, water pours through this opening, creating the Sechelt Rapids.
The difference in water levels between one side of the rapids and the other can exceed two metres in height.
The speed of the current can exceed 30 km/hr. Experienced kayakers can often be seen riding the rapids.”
Every time I brought up the topic of SUP surfing “Skook”, it was immediately followed with a warning.
|Whirpools behind the wave|
Mike Darbyshire, SUP instructor and Starboard athlete from Deep Cove Canoe and Kayak Center in North Vancouver, BC, mentioned that at certain tidal flows the wave is super glassy and perfect for surfing. He’d been up there surfing it on a SUP already and showed me some footage. So, last winter we made a plan to hit Skook at the end of June because the tidal flow was going to be just right at the time I was in the area doing SUP clinics.
Still, every time I told anyone about our plans to head up there I only got looks of concern and instructions to ‘be careful’. Hmmmm…I made a mental note.
Dan Gavere happened to be in town at that time, too, so he decided to come along at the last minute. He has been there before to surf in a kayak and mentioned that I should very quickly paddle back to the eddy or swim aggressively back to my board once I’m off the wave to avoid going on the infamous ‘tour’ as they call it. (‘The Tour’ is the long and sketchy swim/paddle through whirpools and turbulent water behind the wave) Okay, now this was going from fun to just a little bit stressful, so I just decided to ignore everyone’s comments and go see it for myself. This was supposed to be fun, right?
From North Vancouver, BC, it’s a 30 minute ferry ride and a two hour drive to get to the ‘thriving metropolis’ of Egmont. It’s beautiful country, but not much of a town. From there, it’s about a 3 mile hike from the trailhead or a 30 minute paddle to the wave from town. The hike in was absolutely gorgeous, although schlepping the boards and gear into the wave was a bit of a mission.
Dan tried to ride his mountain bike while pulling a kayak trailer full of boards and gear. The trailer tipped over countless times, tourist hikers encountering us with a scene of exploded equipment all over the muddy trail. After the final trailer mishap about halfway through, which included Dan’s bike seat flying off the back, him throwing some gear around out of frustration, and a jar of pickles breaking inside the gear bag, (The bottle of Crown Royale thankfully stayed intact), the bike was temporarily stashed in the woods and the boards and gear were carried by hand the rest of the way in.
Arriving at the wave during slack tide you would never guess that one of the most epic standing waves of all time is at that very spot. Lo and behold as the incoming tide starts to move, a glassy wave begins to emerge as the ocean pushes all it’s water through the very narrow inlet. Within minutes the wave is waist high, then shoulder high, then it’s a big surging head high wave with several waves behind it along with about a half mile of whirlpools, boils, and crazy water that wants to suck you under.
My first attempt at getting on the wave was a success. You can either catch the wave from the eddy behind the wave or drop in from above. I dropped in ‘on the fly’ meaning you catch the wave from upstream, ferrying your board across the current and then letting the current pull you in backwards. You need to paddle, align and trim your board just right and get your speed up before hitting the wave or else you’ll flush through. Once on the wave I surfed it for several minutes, feeling the wave surge and listened to the foam pile build up behind me then recess and glass out several times. It’s important to watch and feel what the wave is doing at all times because it’s constantly changing. It’s an amazing feeling to have so much water and power rushing under your board so quickly while hearing the water roar behind you.
After the first day of surfing, we just stashed the boards right there at the put-in to make it easier to get in the next day. On day two, we watched again as the current began to build from just a little bit of moving water into a head high wave in only a matter of 20 minutes or so. At one point, while I was surfing the wave, I could feel it getting steeper and steeper, faster and faster, and the foam pile was building and surging behind me. Amazing! It was also beautiful to see the hundreds of starfish clinging to the bottom of the ocean and hanging out all around the shore.
Once you’re done surfing the wave, you can carve your board hard and turn it downstream to try and catch the turbulent eddy. Otherwise, if you fall, you need to swim like hell back to your board and get on top of it and start paddling hard to avoid getting sucked down in a whirlpool. A long swim in turbulent water is not only a little freaky, but also cold and exhausting…wasting precious energy best left for surfing.
After the tide comes in and the wave disappears, it soon ebbs, or begins to flow back out to the ocean. The glassy wave is now nonexistent and in its place is a nasty class V+ rapid that you don’t want to be any part of.
The weather was a bit rainy, cold and overcast, but we hardly noticed while we were on the water and all of us had some great surf sessions out there. The Starboard and SUPinstruction.com crew, Dan Gavere, Mike Darbyshire and Chris Emerick, all scored and had an epic time. In closing, and this is just my .02 here, as tempting and beautiful as this wave looks, it’s only for experienced paddlers. You have to know the tides, the gear needed and how to use it, how to efficiently maneuver on and off the wave, and lastly how to self rescue when you fall into the rapids after the wave.
Stay tuned for more pics and video. What an epic trip! Boards used included: Starboard 10×34 Whopper, Carbon 8’5 Pro, 9’8 Element, 9’0 Converse
|As the wave disappears, Chris Emerick and I celebrate our
post surf session with a little Crown.