Always Beautiful on the Sunshine Coast: Surfing the Alchemy
Posted: 10.27.2014 by
I’ve only been on a handful of sea-kayaking trips, but it's one of my favorite ways to get around, go camping, and enjoy the wonders of the salt.
Of course, I love multi-day whitewater trips, but it’s definitely a luxury to be able to pack twice as much stuff and have it all much more accessible in a sea kayak. I’ve gotten to paddle my Alchemy all around the San Juan Islands, which are just out my back door, and recently I took it to Skookumchuck Narrows on the Sunshine Coast, BC. It was my first time surfing it, or any long boat like it. It was also a plus to have the Alchemy for the ~40 minute paddle from Egmont to the wave, making the paddle out a bit shorter and being able to carry lots of gear, food and of course beer to the wave.
If you haven’t heard of or seen videos of Skookumchuck, it’s an incredible wave formed by peak flood tides rushing into an inlet. As the water is constricted at one point of the inlet, a perfect wave forms for a few hours each day, depending on tide strengths. As the water rushes by at about 15 knots during the peak of the flood, paddlers take turns surfing and throwing their best moves.
After the tide slows, the crashing wave begins to shrink and lose its foam pile until it’s just a set of a few small waves. This is when I got to take advantage of the Alchemy, Dagger’s versatile 14’ touring kayak. Although I’ve spent a lot of time in the Alchemy taking it island hopping and spent the whole morning surfing Skook in my Jitsu, I had never surfed a boat as long as the Alchemy on any waves before. It was definitely a bit of a learning curve, but once I got the hang of it I had the time of my life.
The Alchemy has a nice rocker to it, so on the wave it was very maneuverable and easy to transition from the eddy onto the wave. No one else had long boats that could surf the small waves, so I got a solid twenty-minute soul surf while everyone jealously watched.
As a beginner I had no idea how small of a wave a long, fast boat like the Alchemy could stay on. I assumed that with around 10 knots of water rushing by I wouldn’t be able to stay on the wave, but to my surprise I could surf and carve on a wave not much taller than the boat itself.
I can't wait to go back to Skookumchuck and surf the Alchemy before and after the peak of the tide when the wave is good for playboating, and find some more surf spots in the San Juan Islands soon!
Also check out the video of my weekend trip to Skook playboating in the Jitsu and surfing the Alchemy here:
This year I wanted to try something a little different, so I got a Katana 10.4 not knowing quite what to expect. Unwrapping the boat, I was super excited to see the hull that looked like it could definitely handle whitewater.
Plus, it had all of the extra features to make it the perfect boat for long over-nighters on rivers and even to explore the San Juan Islands outside my back door in Bellingham, WA. With a drop-down skag and convenient back hatch, I feel confident taking this boat out on longer trips in the bay, lakes and rivers.
As soon as I got the Katana, I couldn’t wait to see how it would perform in whitewater, so I went to the river I knew best- the Green Truss section of the White Salmon River in Washington. This is the river that I honed in my skills as a class V kayaker, and know it better than any other. I haven’t spent much time paddling long boats in whitewater, but I love the feeling of keeping my speed through everything and not being concerned of getting spun out as easily as in a short boat. Rather, I focus on taking fewer, precise strokes to keep on-line, and getting my bow up as best as possible through holes and ledges. I was impressed with how well the Katana sped out of features and stayed on-line. With its rocker profile, I didn’t have trouble keeping its bow up over drops and making tight turns. Overall, I am stoked to have this boat in my quiver to use on a variety of paddling trips.
Check out this video of my testing the Katana out on the White Salmon River and stay tuned for the release of more Mountain Mind Collective videos!
Another week in the Columbia River Gorge....with a helicopter!
Posted: 06.07.2014 by
I can't think of a weekend this whole year where I didn't go on some sort of adventure, from back country skiing in the Northern Cascades to kayaking trips across the Pacific Northwest.
I know it's a bit late, but here's a post from a few weekends ago.
Rush told me that over the weekend, there would be a helicopter filming some of my favorite rivers and waterfalls around my home town of Trout Lake, Washington. I was super excited to see a new perspective on kayaking, especially on the rivers that I have grown up with and have shaped me into the person I am today.
We started out the weekend by driving to one of my very favorite drainages that runs off the east side of Mt. Adams-- the Lewis River. The all too classic Upper Falls was at a perfect level and something like fifteen paddlers rallied to the falls for a glorious huckfest in the sunshine. The falls went much better for me than the last time I was here, when I ended up behind the veil of the waterfall in a nasty undercut cave.
Here's a sequence of me running Upper Lewis River Falls (Photo by Max Blackburn)
Here are some my favorite shots I took of the day-
Jared Seiler boofing into a rainbow
Fred Norquist, rolling upright as he comes over the lip of the second drop. Somehow he even managed to pull off a boof stroke on his way down and stick it!
Erik Johnson at the point of no return
Fred Norquist on round two, sticking it a bit better this time.
The following day, Eric Parker, Kyle Hull, Rush Sturges and I drove to the notorious Skate Park Falls on Summit Creek. I hadn't been back to Summit Creek since Griff Griffith savagely shattered his spine on Summit Falls, and I hadn't run Skate Park Falls since my brother Todd Wells and I made the first descent of the creek a few years ago.
Although I had a good line a few years ago, I was super nervous for this drop after a number of people injured themselves running it. Nonetheless, I was fired up to drop back into the steep, beautiful gorge again. We waited for about forty five minutes before we heard the beating of the helicopter come roaring up the gorge. Inside the chopper was a crazy pilot who actually got so low, he was chopping off tree branches, and the talented Cineflex operator who filmed most of the footage for possibly the greatest action sports movie made, All. I. Can.
Rush led the charge off the falls with what appeared to be a good line. I followed him, and as I rolled over the lip, my stern caught a rock on the flake which caused me to start to go "over the bars," or sent into an inverted position. This is not ideal for any waterfall, especially the unique Skate Park Falls, which drops vertically about forty feet then transitions out into a flat slide. As I felt my momentum rotating in the direction of landing on my head, I took a useless stroke to try and correct myself. I ended up riding the transition out with only the bow of my boat, rotating and landing backwards looking strait up at the sky. Not the ideal line, but I rolled up uninjured and after emptying my boat out from an imploded skirt, I paddled straight into the drop below called "The Well," a narrow 25ft. slide that pinches into nearly a boat width wide at the bottom.
Myself, just before hitting the transition at the bottom.
Kyle Hull followed me with a sick line and right behind him, Eric Parker came flying off almost doing a complete kick flip.
Eric Parker staring down the lip
As soon as we got off Summit Creek, we drove straight to the Little White Salmon River while the helicopter filmed something like fourteen people drop over 80ft. Metlako Falls and another group of ten or so paddlers fire off Upper Lewis River Falls.
The Little White was at an exhilarating 4.2ft and having a helicopter roar overhead the entire time adds a little something extra to the experience. At a few points during the run, the heli was so low that the force of the wind from the blades was so strong it made it difficult to take forward strokes, as my paddle blades felt like a feather in a wind storm and there was so much water blowing into my eyes I could barely.
Here's a shot of me running Spirit Falls at the end of the run. Thanks to Eric Parker for the great photo!
The footage from the day was some of the best I have ever seen. Apart from the epic amount of kayakers paddling over some of the most massive drops runnable in a kayak, the Cineflex captured some of the most awe-inspiring shots of the beautiful rivers around the Columbia River Gorge, epic shots of the Cascade Mountains and even some rarely seen views of Osprey nests, huge Elk running through the woods and giant machines destroying acres and acres of wilderness. Look forward to seeing this footage in River Roots newest film!
With news of all of the rivers in the Columbia River Gorge flooding, Olin Wimberg, Eric Parker and I drove to the gorge for a weekend of high water paddling and a much needed break from school.
When I arrived home, there was a new Dagger Mamba 8.6 waiting for me, as well as a box from Bomber Gear. Eager to test out the new equipment, I headed to one of my favorite runs in the world-- the Little White Salmon River in Washington state.
The Little White was running at a very juicy 4.3 feet on the bottom gauge and because of a giant ice storm a few weeks ago, there was a ton of new wood throughout the run. I was a little nervous of the new hazards, but I was confident following my brother Todd Wells who knew all of the new dangerous logs and how to avoid them.
I was a bit hesitant taking a boat I have never paddled before on a new run, but I had already heard lots of good things about the new Mamba and was stoked to put it to test on one of the more difficult class five runs in the country. Through the first quarter mile of warm up rapids, I noticed that it accelerated very quickly and was exceptionally fast. The added volume in the bow and stern allowed me to boof as well as in my Nomad, which I have used since I started creek boating. My favorite things about the new Mamba were its speed and the increased volume, two things that fit perfectly with my paddling style. I like to charge down rapids and stay on top of holes and the Mamba helped me do just that.
It took a bit of getting used to the sharper edges but I soon learned to love them. With softer edges in the back I found the Mamba much easier to turn than boats that have similar hulls and speed like the Burn and Remix and easier to roll (yes, I flipped a number of times) as the bow and stern are more rounded out. Last but definitely not least, the Mamba boofed like a dream! From sticky ledge holes to twenty footers, I flew over everything and instead of losing speed and changing direction like many boats do coming out of a hole, the Mamba kept right on track and kept its speed extremely well.
Overall I was impressed by the Mamba’s performance on a very difficult class V creek run. The high volume kept me on top of giant holes as well as very comfortable. As much as I love my Nomad, I’m definitely going to be taking the Mamba on more creek and big water runs. I ended the day rallying off 30ft. Spirit Falls and had a sweet line over the drop and above the man eating hole known as Chaos. I have a feeling the Mamba is going to be seeing more air time over some taller waterfalls in the near future too!
Photo by Eric Parker
On the way back home we stopped at Bridal Veil Falls for a quick park n' huck.
I woke up Saturday morning to my phone ringing and a groggy ten second conversation. “We’re going to Skook, I’ll pick you up in a half hour,” said a voice that I couldn’t quite put a face to.
I knew it had to be one of the young local Bellingham paddlers and without thinking replied, “I’m in, see you in thirty.” Impulse decisions have always led to the most exciting adventures of my life and I knew this weekend was going to be one to remember. On Friday, my plans to fly to the Homathko River fell through and I was just waiting for an adventure of some kind to fall into my lap.
Before I knew it I was driving through British Columbia on my way to the Skookumchuck Narrows, or more commonly known as “Skook.” Skook forms the entrance of the Sechelt Inlet on British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast in Canada. As the tide changes, billions of gallons of water flow out of the inlet and are forced through the narrows creating the Sechelt Rapids. At peak flows these giant rapids create the infamous Skookumchuck wave. The wave fluctuates from a small rolling wave into a giant ten foot standing wave with a huge foam pile in just a matter of minutes; a dream come true for freestyle kayakers. The crew of five young Bellingham boaters consisting of Todd Wells, Eric Parker, Olin Wimberg, Ben Dann and myself motivated like I’ve never seen before. As the sun was setting we arrived at the campground next to Skook and recognized the familiar vans of the World Class Academy (WCA); a traveling high school focused on character, academics, and kayaking. All five of us attended the school at one time or another and it was great to see some of my former teachers and classmates continuing to live the dream. After a good night sleep we were all awoken in classic WCA fashion with cowboy coffee, cereal and leftovers. We were on the road by seven a.m. to catch the peak flows as the wave only forms for a few hours a day. The sunrise over Skook was one of the most beautiful I’ve seen in months. The fog and low lying clouds rose and a brilliant blue sky appeared just as the wave began to shape into full form. It was obvious that the WCA students and teachers had been shredding Skook for over a week as I got to witness some of the biggest tricks I’ve ever seen in person. Even if it was just for a day, we had one of the best WCA reunions ever.
Unfortunately school and other obligations forced us to leave after just one morning of amazing surfing. It was great to finally get back on a big wave after not surfing anything comparable since I was in Uganda with World Class last year. I can’t wait to uncover more of British Columbia’s whitewater gems and keep checking in for an update on our next mission North!
Here's a few pictures from our weekend at Skookumchuck. Thanks to Eric Parker and Todd Wells for the photos!
7:00 a.m. fog over Skook
Todd shreds the classic orange Ultrafuge with friends
I couldn't ask for a better wave so close to home!
From left to right: Myself, Eric Parker, Olin Wimberg, Ben Kinsella, Todd Wells