It's a long way to Skookumchuck

It'a a long way to Skookumchuck,
it's a long way to go…
It's a long way to Skookumchuck,
To the sweetest wave I know.

Skookumchuck is a tidal rapid, famous world wide for its big fast waves that kayakers flock to, like bees to a honey pot, except plastic and brightly coloured.

So flock we did. The tide tip off we had said it'd be good right before we needed to be in Vancouver to meet Gina and Conrad, and given that 'Skook' isn't far from the City, it worked out well. Simon and Cheryl were heading over with their friend Alex and so we tagged along.

The trip started with an exciting 45 minute ferry from the mainland – it really felt like we were going on holiday. The views from the ferry were great, with mountains rising from the water all around us. A 50 mile drive across the peninsula brought us to a beautiful lake with a good, if a little noisy campsite. The heatwave was still with us, so a cool down swim in the lake was needed and a floating log provided amusement as we tried to balance and walk along it.

Conveniently the tide meat that we didn't have to do anything unti lunchtime, which is about when we started our 10 minute paddle out. At a point around the bay from Egmont the sea channel narrows between the mainland and the island and as it does so, it forms a huge series of standing waves when the tide is flowing fast enough.

We arrived just after the slack water point, and got to see the wave build from nothing – it started off flat and built right up to a wave train of a dozen or so of the largest waves I've seen. As it starts to form the ripples get larger and larger, until they're surfable – at this point the longer, faster boats provide good long surfs and the queues are short. As the wave builds and the pile (white bit) gets bigger, the shorter more playful boats come into their own. We'd obviously chosen a good time to go, since there were probably 20 other paddlers around and about the same number of observers.

When the wave is at it's biggest, the water downstream is an almost indescribable mess of churning and bubbling water with nothing better to do than unseat even the most careful paddler. I got knocked off the far side of the wave and one time didn't manage to quite get back in far enough, I managed to stay upright, but couldn't quite fight the huge boils and spent much longer getting back into the eddy than I would like – the locals call this taking the tour. Cheryl didn't fare as well when she took her tour, the water was higher and faster making it even messier and she was eaten by a whirlpool that sucked her out of her boat and spat her out. Eventually. She was safely reunited with her boat and paddled back to shore, cold but otherwise ok. This marked the end of our first day at Skook.

We'd planned ahead and brought locks so we could leave our boats near where the wave forms and hike back along the trail to the car park. This meant we didn't have to paddle the boats against the tide on the way out both days & it was a popular option – the bushes turned into a storage shed for kayaks and kayak gear. The hike was longer than we expected – somewhere in the region of 3 miles, and we were glad to cool off in the lake at the campsite, washing the salt from our kit as we did.

Friday morning started too early when unexpected thunder rolled in and threatened to dampen our drying kit and stoves that had been left set up form the night before. The meanacing thunder crashes never materalised into the heavy deluge we expected, and soon after we started the hike back in, just after lunch, the sun started shining again.

Our timing was spot on again and we arrived just in time to rest a little before kitting up and jumping on. At first it was just the 5 of us on the water, with Sharon catching almost the first surf of the day and impressing the audience no end. Soon the crowds got on the water and the wait increased, but so did the water. It was quite a high tide, which means the wave gets bigger faster, eventually becoming too big to surf. However, before it got too big and the whirlpools became huge we all got some good rides in and then sat around watching paddlers who either hadn't got up as early as us or clearly had more energy.

I'm glad we saved some energy for the paddle back, we decided the 3 mile hike would be too far with a boat on our shoulder, so paddled back around the bays to our launching point in Egmont. It was a hard paddle against the current – it would have been dark had we waited for the slack water – and took about an hour. But we did get to see Seals playing about during the paddle, as well as purple starfish and what we think was a kingfisher.

Skook is a great all day activity, we turned it into two full days, it's one of the best playspots I've been to and set in awesome scenery, it's well worth a visit and would make an impressive spectacle for the non paddling visitor who chose to walk the trail too. Our tides were maxing out at around 17 knots, which is a little too large for it to be ideal, so I'd probably go on smaller tides next time.

Logistics: Getting there from Vancouver is easy, follow signs to Horseshoe Bay, get on Langdale ferry ($50ish return). Once on the Peninsula drive towards Sechelt, this is the last main town and best bet for picking up groceries and petrol. Camping is good at Klein Lake, not far up the road from Egmont and the Egmont Marina does good food, hot showers and has laundry facilities.

Paddle out on a slack tide, ~ 3hrs before the peak flow. Once on the water, turn right and follow the bays around, past a red house, then a chain link fence with “Skookumchuck Provincial Park” sign and then take out at the next point & watch the wave build, getting on when it looks like fun.

Sharon says: Skook is one of those names in kayaking that has an almost mystical quality about it – its where some of the best moves can be seen since the wave is so big and fast. However turning up in creek boats wasn't such a bad idea since the early stages of the wave forming is when its at its glassiest and greenest and thats when I got my surfs. The water is some of the clearest sea water I've ever seen and while sat on top of this magnificent glassy wave, you can clearly see the rock creating the rapid and seaweed dancing underneath you. My Mamba did me well and treated me to long rides, surrounded by snow topped moutains – it is indeed an awesome place, where the seals play as much as the pro-boaters – definitely a place I'll look forward to returning to (especially when I can throw some of the moves there!)