Vancouver Island By Surfski: Part I --- N. Cryder

The surfski is far from a one dimensional craft. If you think the ski is only for racing and catching waves, you'd be wrong.

Bellingham paddler Nicholas Cryder drives this point home with his attempt at circumnavigating Vancouver Island on a custom built Epic V10 Sport, morphing the stable but fast V10 into a true cruiser replete with sealed bulkheads.  

"Envy" ---Custom V10

Follow Nick on his journey as he attempts the daunting task of paddling around Vancouver Island on a surfski:

My name is Nicholas Cryder, and I am a competitive surfski paddler and expedition adventurist living in the Pacific Northwest. 

I started my athletic life as a serious cyclist, and moved to Belgium when I was in my teens to race internationally. I became deeply disenfranchised with the sport in the late 1990's, yet at the same time was personally enriched by the strategic and training disciplines imparted to me through my formative years. Upon my return to the US, I discovered mountain climbing and was enamored with the relative purity of the sport and the intensity of mountain climbing. The physical suffering and psychological battles of alpine style climbing were familiar to me, but doing so in a beautiful setting and without any finish lines was novel and enlightening. The extreme nature of the sport was a constant threat, and eventually I shifted my focus to backcountry ski mountaineering and less committing days in the backcountry. 

Nick with hammer down

My love affair with the ocean is quite new for me. As a native of Montana, I was never particularly drawn to the water it until one fateful day my stepfather let me take his Hobie peddle kayak out in the Puget Sound. It looked like a plastic barge and I was skeptical. Until I actually hopped in it and started pedaling. I instantly knew this would be a new passion for me. It combined many of the best attributes of both cycling and mountain climbing, but offered a seemingly limitless number of places to go explore. When I am on the water, I feel a distinct and intimate connection to the world around me. But there is freedom too. There are no fences or gates. No traffic jams and no close calls with angry commuters. Just open water, and limitless potential for adventure and personal enrichment.  

My passion for speed and challenge has led me to embrace the surfski, a famously tippy but fast interpretation of the sea kayak. It demands the ultimate mix of cycling-like physical conditioning and mental toughness, but offers a stiff dose of adrenaline and adventure in a fashion similar to my alpine pursuits. Add in the ability to do multi-day trips, and you have a very special sport indeed. 

August 10, 2015

Below is an extended trip report from my recent attempt at the circumnavigation record for Vancouver Island in late July of 2015. I made the attempt unassisted, meaning that I had to carry all of my own gear, water and food (with no resupply at any point). 

DAY 1: Sunday July 25th, 2015 At 7:30am on Sunday morning, I said my farewell to my good friend Paul who had agreed to drive me to the put in at Port Hardy. The drive to Port Hardy was sobering. As you wind your way north the island just keeps unfolding endlessly. And when you finally make it to Port Hardy after many hours on the highway, you are only at the tip of the diving board. 

The second sobering moment was loading my ski with 100,000 calories of food, 10L of water, and enough camping gear to stake a claim on the Klondike on my way home. Lifting a boat this heavy (130 pounds!) and walking it down the boat ramp is no small feat. Doing this in the surf zone was something I didn't even want to think about. I did my best, using two climbing slings to create a reliable and simple harness to lift the ski and walk it down the ramp. Once in the water, the boat moved remarkably well. Just don't expect to catch anything but the steepest runners in this puppy. 

As I left the marina in the fog, my mind settled into the day's work and I found my standard paddling rhythm quickly. I enjoyed clearing skies as I paddled against the current in the Goletas Channel, and made good time to Shushartie Bay where the current switched and I picked up my pace considerably, averaging 7mph as I headed out to meet the ocean. I paddled on the island side of the shore, planning to use the Tatnal Reefs in the event the Nawhitti Bar was an issue (it was not). I had planned to change my water supply at Cape Sutil, but was approached at landing by a black bear who I discovered was feeding on a carcass of some kind. Water would have to wait. 

Naturally I elected to keep paddling, arriving at Cape Scott at roughly 4pm very dehydrated and hot, but in high spirits and ready to face my first real challenge. I found conditions hectic and up to reputation with large, standing waves (10' faces) and some very confused water. My rough water preparation paid big dividends. I was able to make short work of the transition around the cape without any hesitation in the surfski and with only a few sea lions for an audience. However, the heat of day and short water supply caught up to me and I had to deal with a major bonk and a bit of heat exhaustion once I had rounded the cape. I was forced to head in far sooner then I would have liked, and camped at Guise Bay. 

Guise Bay is sheltered by reefs from the Ocean swell, and could pass for a tropical cove. 

A disappointing first day, but not a total disaster. That night however, my phone went completely bonkers and would randomly turn itself on and ring. It did this for six hours, and would wake me even though I had placed it in a small dry sack and buried it in the sand. Suspecting water as the culprit, I took the silica packets from my freeze dried meal and placed them with the phone in a small ziplock bag to try to help it recover. 

Guise Bay was tremendously beautiful, and surprisingly well attended by a mix of hikers and a couple of fellow kayakers. It was here that I met another paddler who was also traveling around the island, but without the pressure of a record attempt. I suspected he would enjoy his circumstances much more then myself! As a strange matter of chance, I would later run into his son in Tofino who asked me out of the blue if I happened to have seen his dad out there. Small world indeed. A side note on Guise Bay, the Tsunami debris from Japan was littered across the beach, and some of it had been repurposed to good effect as chairs, tables and even mooring balls for those looking for a game of beach volleyball. 

Next: Part II---Day 2-3