The BC Tide Race Trifecta – ‘Skook, Surge & Oki’
Adventures outside of Canada this year have dominated my time. From the coasts of Anglesey and the Llyn Peninsula in North Wales, up towards Scotland and the Inner Hebrides, to the waters off the coast of Tasmania and Australia and even some time spent paddling the oceans and rivers of Chile, it has been non stop paddling this year taking me to a diverse range of beautiful and challenging waters. So it is with renewed eyes that I return to my home waters to explore some of the gems of the west coast of BC.
With the moon in the beginning of it’s cycle creating Spring tides for a period of 2 – 3 days following the new moon, there is a perfect opportunity to try to paddle 3 tide races in 3 different locations on the BC coast: Skookumchuck Narrows, Surge Narrows and Okisollo Rapids. I had skimmed my tide book searching for dates where Skookumchuck would be running and my search ended when my eyes stopped at the number 16.4. It is an expression of current speed, that is 16.4 nautical miles per hour. That’s as fast as a BC ferry cruises; it is a constant stream of water moving 30 kilometers an hour through a tight constriction, creating a beautiful surfable wave…provided the correct variables. I’ve been paddling ‘Skook’ for years in both longboats and river kayaks and I have seen it at 12 knots but never at 16.4. I wanted to see it, even if it meant spending a little more time watching the wave rather than surfing it and the tides on the days following were setting up perfectly for the other 2 races up the coast. So I headed out with Nick Cunliffe in Sterling Reflections to have a look, first at Skook. It was great to meet up with Mike Gill (from Deep Cove Kayaks) and his dad out there for a play and a night out on the BC coast.
The tide was really low when we arrived and the wave quickly built as the current speed reached 8 knots in under an hour creating a steep and playful green face that we could have some fun on. By the end of 2nd hour the wave had developed a stout foam pile and the downstream waves had followed suit. By the end of the 3rd hour the water was moving a healthy 16 knots and the front wave greened out to a big, boiling lump with two massive holes behind it that would surely keep a sea boat in their clutches for some time. There was also a meaty outwash that I did not fancy tackling in my longboat, so instead…we made dinner. It was delicious, with the soundtrack roar of whitewater playing in the background. As the 4th hour approached and the tide height continued to rise the wave reformed as a green glassy shoulder with a small white pocked on the left… it was worth the wait! The day ended with a sunset paddle back to Egmont government dock and a dark sky as the moon is new, just a sliver in the sky.It was a morning of ferries; first ferry at 630am, second one at 830 and finally a third at 1130, depositing us on Quadra Island with enough time to pack boats and paddle out to Surge Narrows for maximum flood stream. The wave was a fun change from the huge hydraulics and massive whirlpools we had experienced the day before at Skook. Surge has personality though! It is a technical little wave with some fun features behind. It was great to see local Spirit of the West guides Robin Humphreys and Sam Lam out for a play at this little gem!
Two races down, one to go…
Day three took us 6 nautical miles north to Okisollo Rapids. I have spent far less time at this venue than the previous other two. It is a bit more of a mission to get here and so often is a second choice because of that…which is crazy!!!…because this wave is a beautiful, steep, green face when it is at its best. We had to wait for the tide to rise a little before it became surf-able, but again, it was worth the wait for some beautiful, long, clean rides and some smooth turns. As the wave began to flatten out at the end of the 4th hour we loaded our gear back into the kayaks and rode the last of the flood back to surge narrows for some rum and coke and dinner.
So, can it be done? Can you catch 3 different world class BC tide races in 3 days? Answer: of course you can!! It’s all park and play (more or less), you just need a little motivation to get the job done! I recommend starting with something huge. Something that makes you think twice, something that scares the drysuit pants off of you, something like Skook at 16.4 knots. After that, everything else seems easy(ier)!