Introduction to Skookumchuck

June 8th, 2014

If you are not familiar with “Skook”, or Skookumchuck Narrows, then this brief explanation may help:

A tidal rapid is a natural occurrence whereby a fast moving tide passes through a constriction resulting in the formation of waves, eddies and hazardous currents. In extreme cases, such as Skookumchuck, tides can travel at rates faster than 15 knots. That means, very large whirlpools do develop, which are extremely hazardous to navigation.

“very large whirlpools?”, maybe I will need a bigger boat...

Of course, I am not going to be paddling my kayak during a 15 knot day, but the legendary wave that forms at Skook is a bucket list experience that has been calling my name for some time now.

Although there is just one kayak on the roof of my truck, this little adventure is not a solo effort; I am meeting Rowan Gloag and Costain Léonard of Sea Kayak Instruction and Leadership Systems [SKILS] as they host me and 3 other students for their kayaking course, ”Introduction to Skookumchuck.”

The excitement of leaving the city behind for the opportunity to paddle a world class wave, with world class instructors grows with every kilometre. The Backeddy Campground will be my home base for the duration of this program.

This is my first trip to the Sechelt Peninsula.
This is my Introduction to Skook.

Day 1

The paddle from the Backeddy Marina was at an easy pace. Emphasis on conserving energy for the wave was a highlight of our pre-launch talk. We intentionally left for the Narrows a bit early so that Rowan and Costain could provide some instruction on paddling techniques that we could use on the wave. This little bit of practice was a light-bulb moment for me; answering a lot of questions I had regarding surfing a kayak on a standing wave.

Once at Skook, we had a safety meeting on shore and watched the ebb turn to slack, then turn to a flood. Time to get in back on the water and swing a paddle.

More than anything, I learned very quickly that paddling the Skookumchuck wave is all about angles. I have studied a countless number of Skook videos on YouTube and none prepare you for the sense of angles required to get on the wave.

Approaching the top of the eddy with the wrong angle means wasted energy; you are going back around. Crossing the eddy line with not enough angle and your hopes of getting far enough out to hit the wave are next to impossible. Crossing the eddy line with too much angle and you are shot across the wave and into the turbulent water behind the wave.

I managed a turn or two on the wave which was beyond exciting; I barely slept a wink that night with the fresh memories of carving my kayak back and forth on that green wave for the first time.

Day 2

Today, we had a bonus! Kate Hives, a very accomplished paddler, and fresh off teaching another SKILS course, joined our group to help with instruction and demonstration.

If the first day at Skookumchuck was all about angles, the second day was all about energy management. With the lesson in angles under my PFD, I was about to experience how fatigue plays its role in a multi-day trip to Skookumchuck.

The afternoon progressed and the current speeds increased. From my shoulders to my legs and everything in between, I began to feel the extra effort from the day before.

Fatigue is amplified at this place. The greater speed of the current meant a much greater amount of exertion just to get back to the top of the eddy when you fall off the wave. The power of Skookumchuck is one of the greatest lessons I would take away from this course because it tells you what it is and it teaches you about yourself.

Without proper instruction, I could not imagine the countless trips needed to learn the nuances of the Skook wave. Thank you Costain, Rowan and Kate for your energy, encouragement and for the incredible experience your effort provided. To any rough water paddler looking to further develop their skills, I highly recommend these instructors and the courses they run.

Click here for this trip’s photo gallery