Riding the Skook
by Mark Rainsley
(first published in Paddles magazine, 2003)
Twice a day, in an obscure sea inlet hidden off the coast of western Canada, a small miracle takes place. As each tide rises, the water flows faster and faster over a submerged bedrock ledge. A wide wave mysteriously emerges from completely flat water. The wave grows in size until it forms a huge foaming pile with steep shoulders and easy eddy access. This is the stuff of playboaters' wet dreams and sure enough, they converge from all around the world to pay homage to this perhaps not-so-small miracle. The miracle goes by the name of Skookumchuck Narrows. Skookumchuck is a Chinook word roughly meaning, 'big water'. Ooh yes, it's lovely.
We could rant on forever about what a blast it is to ride this wave. However a picture says a thousand words, so we'll just let them do the talking. Do you really want to know what riding the Skook is like? Hopefully there is just enough info below for you to go and find out for yourself.
Dull Figures for Pub Bores
200 billion gallons of water gurgle into the 30 mile long Sechelt inlet on an average tide, forming a 300 metre wide 'river' with a peak flow of 600 000 cubic feet per second flowing at up to 17 knots. The wave formed is up to three metres high and 10 metres wide, lasting up to five hours twice a day. All of which puts the Tryweryn cafe wave into perspective.
When to go
Some form of wave appears every day at Skook, but the size varies with the strength of the tide. For non-beards out there, a little explanation is needed here. The tidal flow is strongest every two weeks after full moons and new moons, because the sea rises and falls further. All you need to know for Skook is the time of slack water when the 'flood' begins - this is your launch time - and the speed of the tide. This is obtainable on the web
http://tbone.biol.sc.edu/tide/sites_othernorth.html select 'Sechelt Rapids' from the list.
http://www.secheltchamber.bc.ca/cgi-bin/events/calendar.pl dumbed down version.
The 'Max Flood Speed' needs to be over 5 knots as a minimum. The wave is best over 10 knots, and gets a bit too good (ie. munchy, and hard to catch from the eddy) over 13 knots. You might also want to avoid weekends if you have the choice and dislike queues. Check that the times you have correspond with daylight hours; although expert paddlers have been known to night-surf the Skook, and tell awesome tales of the wave lighting up from natural phosphorescence
Firstly, you first need to fly to Canada. Like, duh. Vancouver is the nearest big city, and these directions will take you from there. Head west out of town on Highway 1, which will take you to Horseshoe Bay. Catch the ferry (www.bcferries.com) from Horseshoe Bay to Langdale, costing about 40 quid return for a car and four paddlers. The ferry takes an hour (plus a fair amount of queuing beforehand) to reach Langdale, and it's then at least an hour and a half along Highway 101 to the turnoff onto Egmont Road. Follow this for six kilometres to Egmont, where there is parking at the water's edge. The wave is still three kilometres away, up the inlet to your right. There are two ways to reach the Skook. Paddling in is pleasant and warms you up nicely. You can launch from a public wharf, but waiting until the sea is flooding into the inlet might be a bright idea. The second option is to carry your boat along a forest trail for about four kilometres; this can be accessed from a few hundred yards back up the road. The path is pretty enough (you see Ewoks and suchlike) but is more often used to return from the wave, rather than paddle back against the tide.
Where to Stay
A daytrip to and from Vancouver is just about possible, but you'll likely want to stay and get the Skook wired. Buy all you need in Sechelt beforehand as the store in Egmont is stocked thinly. Egmont Marina is a short distance away from Egmont following Maple Road. There is a motel and the Backeddy Pub which doles out splendid food. The Marina also permits camping for a fee. Cheapskate soap-dodging kayakers will be delighted to learn that it's possible to doss for free close to the Skook, using various small islands out in the inlet behind the wave. Super-minimalists have even been known to bivvy right at the wave's edge - however, recall that the sea rises in the night! Either way, leave no trace of your visit.
And now, the sensible bit. Pay attention. The wave is amazingly friendly in most states of the tide; beatings are boringly rare. Behind the wave is a different story however. There is ample time to regain the eddy, but if you drop too far downstream (and you will eventually, as you tire out) the current pushes you further out into the channel and the route back towards the bank is blocked by phenomenal whirlpools and boils, heaving up to 2 metres out of the water. The slog back below and around all of this is long and lonely, known as the 'Tour' by local paddlers. Needless to say, anyone coming off the wave swimming is in very deep doo-daa and will need fast assistance before taking the Tour. You really do need a solid roll for the Skook.
There is room for more than one paddler on the wave. Absolutely any playboating moves that you can imagine can be pulled off here; but being American seems to help as well, judging from our visit. Old school boaters are also well catered for; the wave is smooth and green for the first and last hour, and intermittently between; front surf your long boat to your heart's content! Whilst waiting in the eddy (in Hurley Weir terms, the wait can be measured in nanoseconds) check out the freakish alien life forms - I don't mean the tourists on the bank, I'm referring to the heaps of huge garishly coloured starfish. Seals lurk about and have even been known to body-surf the wave. Anyone who wants proof that the world was created by a higher power need look no further. The dream wave, warm water, perfect eddy service, reliable and predictable conditions, shelter from wind and swell, camera friendly, etc...none of this could have happened by accident, although it undoubtedly took longer than six days to knock together.
Thanks to Perception Kayaks and Nookie Equipment for continuing support.