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Published: August 18th 2009
“We're going to Skook.” It really wasn't even our saying. It was story Jessica told me from her first time at Skook. We just stole it and it makes me smile every time I say it.
Skookumchuck is a tidal rapid on the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia Canada. It is about a 45 minute paddle or hike from the small town of Egmont out to the “rapids.” The rapids are massive standing waves that form at a constriction of the inlet. They are formed by the waters from the ocean flowing in and filling up the inlet during high tide. Sometimes the tidal current is not enough and sometimes it is too much for good kayaking. But when its right.... it is OH so RIGHT.
So before I get into the story of the adventure, and an adventure it was.
Click here to see the pictures of silly kayakers having fun on big waves
The most important part of this adventure is “The Wave.” Without it, well we wouldn't have made the trip. And it gets massive, like scary massive. You don't realize how big it is until you see three people surfing it and when they go to the bottom, well they are a long way down there. Once it forms, you perma-surf, as long as you are upright. I didn't see anyone really get stuck upside down. So when on, sometimes it will spit you out, but often you have to surf over to one of the edges, either left or right is good. I recommend getting off on players left though. For several reasons, well players right is bigger and generally trashier. Also if you really don't want to take “the tour” then you want to get out on players left as close to the shore as possible.
What is the tour? Well the wave for the most part forms at a rocky point jutting from the river right bank, as you paddle in from the town. There are a couple of eddies right around this point. But if you miss, you are going on tour.. how long, well that sort of depends. As the massive amounts of water flow past this point, large swirly whirlpools are known to form on the eddy line in the slack water behind the point. These whirlpools really are big enough to suck down a boat and make life no fun. There is also a massively strong eddy fence helping to keep you in the land of the whirlpools. So “easy” answer if you miss the eddy is to stay out in the flowing current, avoid more big waves down stream, miss any stray whirlpools and when the current slacks and starts to turn into the monster eddy, turn right and paddle back along the shore. This turns a very short maybe 100 meter total rapid into maybe a 1km long rapid. But the paddle back through the kelp beds is sort of serene. Ok that is just me justifying taking many tours.
I didn't really do much on the wave. I spent lots of time front surfing, some back surfing, and to get between the two I must have been spinning. Mostly I was just holding on, and having so much fun. I remember front surfing and talking to myself as I looked down at the starfish in the clear water below me and thinking, damn that is some fast moving water, and wow I'm at the bottom of the foam pile and I'm below the water level in front of me. Most people were, well pretty damn good and there were lots of tricks being thrown that I don't even know what they were or are or do I care. It was just fun to be there. And really, look at the pictures... they do a better job.
I guess now is the point that I should confess that I swam. I was sitting in the eddy above. Oh yeah, as the wave forms you can paddle up onto the wave from the eddy below, but then once it gets really formed you have to hike up the point, put in above and drop down. Don't worry, if you hit the foam pile you will catch the wave. Anyway, as this was day three and I was getting bolder, I told myself, I was going to try more than just front surfing, didn't know what I was going to do, but I was going to really try something. I didn't get to try anything. Not sure how I managed to catch my nose in the green water but I promptly was thrown ass over teakettle and flushed off the wave. Don't know how many roll attempts I tried, both on and off side. I just seemed to be always picking the wrong time. I finally swam because well, I was sure that at any moment I was going to get sucked into a whirlpool and I need some air before that happened. So I swam. Funny but like many swims I was pretty much in the eddy. Well at least I was down past most of the whirlpools, I was still in the middle of a huge tidal inlet. Amazing, and it’s good to have great paddlers around. Three guys were there to help drain my boat and get me into it, mid-stream. I was tired, frustrated, and embarrassed.... but such is life. I finished my tour, rested, tried to get warm and went back out for a couple of redemption runs before the wave greened out and we were done for the day.
The logistics of this whole undertaking are not tough but somewhat ridiculous and well we should have done some more prep. We just knew that the surf was going to be good on the weekend of August 1, 2, and 3.
What we didn't know was that this was BC day. Sort of their equivalent of our labor day. What it meant is that as we rolled in at midnight on Friday night camping was really sparse, we found out Saturday morning that we were pretty much SOL. But we found a spot. We camped out at a little grass spot next to the liquor store in town. The town consists of a general store/liquor store, motel, and marina, all within about 100 meters of each other. We were between one of the docks and the motel. We had a little concrete patch to park on with a picnic table and a grassy area for the tent, right under the motel balconies. We called it the Fishbowl because well everyone that came by could see exactly what we were doing. “Let’s go down to the dock and see what the campers are having for dinner tonight.”
But it was amazingly quiet and convenient.
From our campsite we just paddled out to the wave. Well you only do that the first day. There are boat racks out there for you to leave your boats locked out there and then you can just hike back to town... coming out just about 300 meters from our campsite. On the way back every night we jumped in the lake along the way to rinse the saltwater off. (I'm sure Jessica thought I was crazy obsessed with washing salt water off everything--- thanks Paul). It was amazing warm water for swimming though so it was a good end of day highlight.
Oh yeah, the lake. The last day there we had decided to stop at the lake and have lunch before we went out to surf. We started at the jumping rock but really wanted to try and find this other dock that we had seen people at. Bushwhacking through the woods proved unfruitful so we went back to swim at the jumping rock. Well Jessica came up with the idea that we could just swim over to the dock. Sounded good. When we got there we found rowboats and canoes and all sorts of stuff, and an obvious trail leading away from the dock. So we “borrowed” the rowboat to go and get out stuff and lunch to have lunch at the dock. Upon our return we found the owners of the boat returning (“And somebody slept in my bed and they are still there” Not sure where the Three Bears reference comes from.). We also found that the trail from this dock goes through private property and returns to the road where we started, not the wave we wanted to surf. Well the people were nice enough to let us borrow the boat again to take our stuff back to the rock and then we swam back. So our nice leisurely lunch before surfing consisted of a bushwhack, swimming to the dock, rowing back and forth twice and then swimming back. Not sure how far the distance was, maybe 100 meters or so, probably more.
I guess you could paddle your boats back every night, it only took us 45 minutes to paddle out there. Unfortunately, the surfing is done while water is still coming in. You have about another hour to wait for slack tide, so barring that the paddle back in is against the tide. It isn't too bad though, only a few places you really have to work to get around a point.
Oh yes, well how to get there. If I recall if is about 400 miles from Portland and takes about 4 hours from Seattle if you are lucky.
Number 1: Don't forget your Passport, if you do, make sure you have cool roommates in Portland to FedEx it to you in Seattle overnight. Good thing we were there for a few days before the trip.
The next tip is when you cross the border find the quickest way to Highway 1. 99 goes through Vancouver and is very slow. You need to take 1 all the way through Vancouver as if you are going to Whistler, then get off at Horseshoe Bay, take the ferry to Langford then drive another 1.5 hours to Egmont. It isn't trivial, you don't get there by accident, but its worth it.
More advice.... well don't go on BC weekend. Ok go on BC weekend if is flowing, it’s worth it. Besides the lack of camping we had tremendously more spectators for our shit show. I think on Saturday and Sunday there might have been 50 people sitting on the rock watching. It was crazy. I got pictures of that. Of course they do have good questions. “What happened to you? What didn't you come up? Did you get water in your boat? Hit a rock?” This was after my swim. I finally just said, the turning upside down is easy, the rolling back up is not a given, sometimes you just F!@$ up.
Oh yeah the dog. We had a silly golden walk up to the waters edge above the rapid and walk in, to be promptly swept downstream along the eddy line. He got some down time, and was almost rescued in the first eddy. He was lucky and managed to go on tour on the bow of someone’s playboat. Lucky they didn't hit any whirlpools on tour.
Link to Tidal Chart so you can plan your trip
Ideally you want about 12-14 knots. Faster than that and it greens out early, slower than that it takes too long to form. Between 12-14 knots you will get about 4 hours of good surf time. About two hours before max flood until about 2 hours after max flood.
Tot: 1.25s; Tpl: 0.046s; cc: 16; qc: 78; dbt: 0.045s; 1; m:saturn w:www (18.104.22.168); sld: 1;
; mem: 1.5mb