Over the past few years I have been lucky enough to travel to surfski races in distant locations. Travelling with friends to new locales with challenging waters has been very rewarding and has provided many memorable experiences as well as making acquaintances with paddlers from around the world. Paddling to the Statue of Liberty, underneath the Golden Gate Bridge, dodging freighters at the mouth of Hong Kong harbor and paddling big seas between Tahitian Islands are memories that have stuck with me way beyond the end of the party.
So with this in mind, a group of local Vancouver and Squamish paddlers including myself decided to create the Canadian Surfski Champs and invite the world to visit our neck of the woods. Our first race in 2014 was well attended by some of the world’s greatest paddlers. It was from their reactions that I gained a better appreciation about the beauty of Squamish and Vancouver.
“I’d say this is one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited in my life….”
Hank McGregor, South Africa, 5 x World Marathon Champ at 2014 Canadian Surfski Champs
The Canadian Surfski Champs course is located in Howe Sound, a classic coastal fjord. Carved out by glaciers 10,000 years ago, the landscape is dramatic with soaring peaks shooting straight up from the sea. As dramatically as they go up above you, they go down below you - it can be 1000 feet deep in spots. These steep mountains funnel afternoon anabatic winds that accelerate as they approach Squamish and make it a popular kite boarding area. “Squamish” translates to “Mother of the Wind” and the town is known as the Outdoor Recreation Capital of Canada.
“…very pretty! Prettiest course in the world I think.”
Michele Eray, South Africa, - Olympian and Fastest Woman, 2014 Canadian Surfski Champs,
Some international races can be down right intimidating; big winds, marine traffic, sailing fleets, ocean swell and currents can shake a seasoned paddler’s confidence. When the winds are humming in Howe Sound the conditions are pretty friendly. The waves are generally organized, marine traffic is almost zero and you can get good runs, but the waves are not heinous. The race route starts with about a 2 km side on paddle to the Think Hot Spot, with waves of max 2 ft. Compare that to the ICF World Champs in Tahiti with a 3 km paddle to the hot spot and a 6 ft side swell, with chop!
Once you round the Think Hot Spot the waves start easy and build as you pass Britannia Beach and approach Watts Point. As you start to get closer to Watts Point, the ocean sea starts to mingle with the glacial river run off. The colour of the water is a translucent turquoise from all the glacial sediment. This can make the waves difficult to discern and you paddle by feel as much by sight. Here you can feel the reflective waves, and the runs are bouncy.
“…incredible rides, coming into Watt’s Point I think I went for a minute without taking a stroke”
Greg Barton, United States, 2 x Olympic Gold Medalist at 2015 Canadian Surfski Champs
As you round Watts Point things settle down for a bit until you hit the river current and squirrely harbor winds. Here the waves can get steep and tight. Just keep your boat straight and paddle on.
Many CSC participants will arrive to Vancouver early to see the sights, take in beautiful Deep Cove’s Tuesday Night Race (TNR) on July 12th, and do several pre-runs of the Howe Sound race route. Often,international paddling hot-shots are in attendance at this short fun race and the pre-race buzz is usually electric. Post TNR, there is a gathering at the local pub where we watch the race videos and you get to rub shoulders with some of the current legends of Open Ocean Racing.
Things to do in Squamish and Vancouver?
Squamish has excellent mountain bike trails and the North Vancouver trails are world famous. Do a quick youtube search and you’ll see.
Hike the second highest granite rock face in the world and hang your head over the edge to see stunning Howe Sound.
The Sea to Sky Gondola has awesome views
Go to Whistler and hit the Mountain Bike Park.
In 2014, Carter, Kristen and Kenny paddled 30 km down the Squamish River in a canoe!! Now that’s a Canadian Experience.
Secret spots to eat in Squamish.
Java: Galileo in Britannia Beach
Breakfast: Chef Big D’s or Ferg’s Cookhouse. Ferg’s is off the beaten path in Brackendale but it’s worth the effort
Beers: Howe Sound Brew Pub. Near the race finish line, it’s not so secret but the beer is good.
The Watershed on the river with spectacular views of the Tantalus Mountains should be visited, but service and food can be hit or miss. Still worth a visit as you never know when somebody may walk his or her horse by the outdoor patio.
Try the Mountain Woman in Britannia Beach for a good straight up burger, fries and chocolate shake.