“Skookumchuck,” derived from Chinook First Nations vernacular, means “strong water.” At Skookumchuck Narrows Provincial Park, on British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast, “strong water” is an understatement.
A massive tidal exchange through the narrows between Sechelt and Jervis inlets puts on an impressive daily show, creating the famous Sechelt Rapids and attracting both nature-lovers as well as extreme sports enthusiasts. As 750 billion litres of seawater rushes through Skookumchuck Narrows at speeds up to 17 knots, the force creates a standing wave that can reach two metres in height. A handful of brave white-water enthusiasts have taken to riding these rapids on stand-up paddleboards and kayaks. This is SUP surfing at Skookumchuck Narrows on BC’s Sunshine Coast—a spectator sport for most, a world-class wave for others.
SUP Surfing Skookumchuck Narrows
Jamie Mani owns and operates Alpha Adventures, an outdoors store on the Sunshine Coast that specializes in kayak and SUP rentals, lessons and sales. Mani has kayaked the narrows before, but advises prospective kayakers and SUP’ers that it is, “Advanced paddling… not for the novice. Knowledge of surfing and moving water dynamics is needed.”
“We have met and chatted with many folks that come to paddle [the narrows], as they drop by our shop—but they are all high-level paddlers,” says Mani. “We provide excellent rentals and lessons—and can give info on tide predictions for Skookumchuck.”
The famous standing wave at “Skook” changes daily, he explains. It can be quite daunting for paddle-surfers. But that doesn’t stop Mike Darbyshire. A renowned SUP instructor in BC, he’s also an experienced wave-rider at Skookumchuck Narrows. Darbyshire makes the trip to Skook from North Vancouver, where he runs the kayak rental centre at Deep Cove Kayak, at least a couple of times every year.
“It’s a unique wave… When you surf, especially in Canada, the longest ride you’re going to get is 10 or 15 seconds—if you’re really lucky, maybe 20—but this way you can stand there and surf for 10 minutes if you wanted to,” says Darbyshire. “You can surf the wave, move around and experiment a little bit. You don’t get that chance when you’re surfing in the ocean in places like Tofino.”
Darbyshire concurs with Mani on the required skillset: “Most people who are doing it have experience paddling rivers and standing waves.”
Wipeouts result in surfers being taken on what’s called “The Tour.” Darbyshire explains these unfortunate souls are taken downstream for “quite a ways” before escaping the current to safety—one more reason advanced whitewater skills are a must.
Both Mani and Darbyshire have noticed the rapids getting more attention in recent years—a few big-name paddlers have travelled to the Sunshine Coast from various parts of North America to surf. However, stand-up paddleboarding on Skookumchuck Narrows remains mostly off the radar, just one more exciting, outdoorsy secret on BC's beautiful Sunshine Coast.
Need to Know
Chances are, if you have the skills to surf the massive standing wave at Skookumchuck Narrows, you already know pretty much all you need—pick up the final details from the staff at Alpha Adventures. For the rest of us, it’s a spectator sport. In fact, just watching the rushing water of every tidal exchange is impressive—whether there are surfers or not. Here are some tips to view one of nature’s greatest spectacles:
• Skookumchuck Narrows Provincial Park is located near the village of Egmont, on the Lower Sunshine Coast; the park is 123 hectares in size and offers a variety of recreation throughout.
The standing wave occurs on the flood tide (high tide). Check the tide tables, and aim to be at the narrows within a half-hour of slack tide. However, interesting tidal viewing can be had on both flood and ebb tides.
• Access the viewing areas via a four-kilometre hike along a well-developed trail with minimal elevation change. The one-hour walk leads to the narrows, where you can choose one of two viewing locations: Roland Point and North Point.
• At a flood tide, choose Roland Point to see the standing wave, and possibly surfers and kayakers. On an ebb tide, walk to North Point to see interesting whirlpool and tidal pool activity.
• The difference of water levels on either side of rapids had been recorded at more than two metres (on a three-metre flood tide) with a current speed of up to 17.68 knots.
• The biggest tidal exchanges occur in June—though Skookumchuck is a beautiful and dynamic destination year-round.
• Along with providing thrills for surfers, the massive tidal exchange floods the area with nutrients and nourishes an ecosystem abundant with marine life. Tidal pools within the park provide viewing opportunities for a variety of intertidal species.
When You Go
Access the Sunshine Coast via BC Ferries sailing from Vancouver (Horseshoe Bay). From the Langdale Ferry Terminal, drive north on Highway 101 past Sechelt and Madeira Park and exit on Egmont Road, driving for six kilometres to Skookumchuck Narrows Provincial Park. (Egmont Road is one kilometre before Earl’s Cove Ferry Terminal.)
Mike Darbyshire rides the wave on a standard surf-SUP; some paddlers use dedicated river-boards. Ask for advice at Alpha Adventures, located in nearby Sechelt.
Spectators should wear athletic shoes, dress in layers, bring water and snacks and pack binoculars to best view the rapids, surfers and wildlife.
For more information: sunshinecoastcanada.com
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