I’m back in Squamish, British Columbia for the Canadian Surfski Championships. I came last year and had a really good time, so I thought I’d try it again. Only this time, instead of spending a week before the Championships doing family stuff, I decided to be selfish and come in a few days before the race, spend two days in Squamish preparing for the race, then head down to Hood River Oregon for the Gorge Downwind Championships. Also, because I’m also going to be spending some time in “Da Gorge”, this year I elected to get a slightly slower but more stable boat, an Epic V8 Pro. Last year I paddled the V10 Sport identical to the one I spend most of my time in at home, and I was a little bit on-edge at times (and I fell in during the race).
Thursday evening after I checked into my hotel, I went for a short paddle to get used to the boat. I met a couple of paddlers who were coming in as I was going out, including Jasper Mocke who I don’t think recognized me from last year. The area in front of the delta was the usual squirrely mess and I ended up with a cockpit full of water several times – and the water was quite cold. Because it was cold, I was alone, and it was overcast and threatening to rain, I decided I didn’t need to spend a lot of time in that squirrelly water and I basically just went out to about where I’d dumped last year and turned around and came back in. The boat handled well, if a little slow, but it seemed solid and stable.
Friday was beautiful and sunny and I debated with myself whether to do another paddle, but it came down to “will I be faster tomorrow if I paddle today”, and I decided the answer was no, so I did touristy stuff instead. If I’d gotten another offer of a downwinder with some pros like last year, I might have, but no offer showed up.
Saturday morning was another overcast, cool day and it looked like it was going to be a complete shut-out in the wind department. The terrestrial forecast said it was going to remain cool in Squamish with 4-8 km/hr winds, and the all important inland forecasts for Whistler and Pemberton didn’t look any better. If there was one thing I remembered from last year, it’s that hot days in Pemberton are what generates the wind in Howe Sound. But in the parking lot at the hotel I ran into Ryan Taj Paroz, a top “junior” (under 23) pro paddler from Australia. Last year he’d been in the truck when we went for that downwinder, and the next day he found and friended me on Facebook, which was unexpected, and then he’s been really nice to me ever since, which is AMAZING. He’s even offered to paddle with me at the Gorge, which I can’t really believe because like I said he’s an experienced pro who paddles at the top levels of the sport, and I’m some schlub who can barely manage a not-quite-last-place finish at these events. So anyway, Ryan was telling me that somebody (sorry, I forgot his name even though it was one I recognized) had a better forecast that said that things were going to build by race time and we should have two to three footers at least. He also told me that the tide would be going into the channel instead of out like it was last year, so we won’t have to avoid the tongue of water coming out of the channel like we did last year. Cool.
Driving up at 9am to drop off the boat at Porteau Cove, Howe Sound wasn’t just flat, it was glassy. You could see the reflection of the mountains in the water, and there wasn’t even a boat wake on it. Oh oh, am I going to regret my boat choice? Well, not if Ryan’s prediction was right, but based on what I was seeing? Hell, I could have paddled my V12 in that.
After dropping off the boat, I went down to the O’Siem pavilion to pick up my goodie bag and formally register. I’d already gotten my boat number (applied by Deep Cove staff) and race shirt when I’d picked up my boat on Thursday. They gave me a choice of number (actually, they said “pretty much anything bigger than 41 is still available”) so I picked 042, the answer to life, the universe and everything. The goodie bag had some food stuff (a couple of pieces of chocolate, a protein bar, a bottle of Muscle Milk, etc) in it, and a few other things, including a combination bottle opener and knife that I’ll have to make sure stays in my checked bags when I fly home. I went back to my hotel room to change and wait for closer to race time. Most of the food stuff didn’t survive this delay. At 11:30 I went back to the pavilion and had to park literally a kilometer away because there were multiple activities happening in downtown Squamish including a farmer’s market and every street was parked up. At 12:00 we jumped on the bus back to Porteau. On the drive back to Porteau, we could see that the wind had picked up a bit and there were some whitecaps out in the Sound. Good news!
At Porteau Cove, we milled around for a while making sure our boats were set up for the race, talking to other paddlers, admiring other people’s race setups, and getting nervous. At 1-ish, Bob Putnam and Ian Lowe did a paddler’s roll call, a safety briefing, and then we launched and paddled up to the actual cove where the race started.
Paddling out to the start, it was obvious that while the conditions were not as big as last year, they were still big enough to provide a challenge. The side waves on the way to the hotspot buoy weren’t going to be the problem they were last year, but I was still not going to be going full speed on them. But it did look like I was going to be catching some waves on the way down the Sound. The hotspot buoy looked literally on the other side of the Sound (it wasn’t) and many people expressed disbelief that that was actually the buoy we were seeing. We knew it was supposed to be 1 to 1.5 kilometers to it, but it looked two or three times that distance away.
The start horn went off, and once again my typical slow start ensured that I’d be practically in last place by the time I got up to speed. Have you ever paddled in nearly 100 surfski wakes? I have now, and it’s pretty amazing what a mess of reinforcing waves they make. Early on, a guy I’d met at the hotel, Billy, was just in front of me and I tried to get on his stern wake, but he slowly pulled away. Then I was behind two women paddlers, one in a purple Huki ski and I tried to stay with them, but they had a few boat lengths on me by the turn. I went a bit high on the turn and came in sharp, and my stern got clonked by somebody who obviously stayed low and turned wider, so I knew I wasn’t completely alone.
After you make the turn, it’s a sight to behold as some paddlers veer sharply to the right back towards the shore, others go far left out further into the middle of the sound, and some go straight downwind. So from my position near the back, you see this amazing sight of more surf ski paddlers than I’ve ever seen in my life all spread out in front of me filling the Sound from left to right.
As I’d expected, once I turned I was getting some rides. Not like last year where you’d get on the wave and just put on a slight brace and enjoy the ride, like the classic view you have of a surf skier on a wave, but more the type where you continue paddling but with very little effort behind it so as you feel the wave starting to fade you can put on some effort and either get over it onto the one that’s building in front of you, or you can put on a little less speed but be ready to handle the next one coming up from behind. I was getting some good linked runs. There was a guy I keep seeing off to my right who was keeping pace with me. Every time I put a good set of runs together and I thought “surely I’m pulling away now”, I’d look over and he’d also be putting in a good set of linked runs. Fortunately when I stalled out on the back of a wave and didn’t link runs, he’d still be there. But other than him, I was pretty much alone. The woman with the purple Huki was nowhere to be found, nor the other woman who’d been with her at the hotspot.
As we approached Watts Point, which is where Howe Sound makes about a 45 degree bend and the wind and wave conditions change abruptly, I noticed three things:
- The guy who’d been on my right was now way over to the right, almost to the shore.
- There were a lot of people who looked like they were almost under the cliffs at Watts Point.
- The waves were trying to push me directly to those cliffs.
I didn’t want any part of that – I didn’t want to get near cliffs, and the rebound waves from those cliffs were already bad enough as far out as I was. So I was using the techniques I’d learned in Tarifa to use the waves, but redirect to the direction I wanted to go. I ended up passing a little closer to Watt’s Point than I probably should have, and I ended up in the calm water past the tip of the point. Probably not where I wanted to be in this boat – if I’d stayed further out I might have gotten more rides, but it seemed like everybody still out on the course was in tight.
As I got closer to the confused water in front of the river delta, I was thinking that it was much rougher than last year, but also I seemed to be handling it much better – to the point where I was catching waves and getting the occasional ride. There was one guy ahead of me who was the picture of me last year – he was going brace, brace, brace, brace, tentative little paddle stroke, brace, brace, brace. I passed him. Then there was a guy doing a remount who had a safety boat alongside. He managed to get upright again and was paddling with his feet still in the water for stability when I suddenly caught a really big wave and whizzed by. Three people with cameras in the safety boat turned my way and started taking pictures, so I gave them a big smile and a bit of a whoop. Unfortunately just after the wave petered out, I got caught by a couple of cross waves and had to put in one of the only safety braces I’d done the whole race. But I got paddling again and headed up the channel.
The confused water lasted further into the channel than I remembered it from last year, and at one point I was worried that the waves were going to carry me into the log booms on the right of the channel until I managed to get to the hard left where it was more sheltered. I put on what little speed I had left to make sure neither of the two guys I had passed passed me back. I didn’t know if anybody else was behind me, but as far as I was concerned those two were my insurance that I didn’t come last. I was disappointed to see the purple Huki was already in the grass on shore, but I looked back and could see a few people finishing behind me.
They use WebScorer for this event, so the results were online almost as soon as I finished. And while I was a not very respectable 93rd out of 108, I felt pretty good about it. I was 10 minutes faster than last year, and it was a big field of people most of whom spend a lot more time on the ocean than I do. A couple of things I noticed looking at the results though – the guy who was dead last last year was 25 minutes faster this year. I find it amusing that they call the class for V8s and similar surf skis “18 foot male”. Those guys aren’t that tall. Speaking of V8s, last year there was a guy who I passed not long after the hotspot in a V8 who every time he caught a wave, he’d whoop with joy. In spite of my remount last year, he finished a minute behind me. This year he finished 3.5 minutes ahead of me. So I’m not the only one who improved.
An aside about WebScorer. Over the winter of 2014-2015, I was thinking that I should write an app/web site to do registration, timing and results for kayak and other races (I was thinking mainly of orienteering, because I’d meet directed and run registration, timing and results at many orienteering meets in the past). I wrote about 3 pages of requirements for what I wanted this app to do and diagrams of how it would do scoring, etc. And then when it came time to register for the Canadian Surfski Championships, I saw they were using this thing called WebScorer. So I had a look at WebScorer’s web site, and looked at their capabilities. And checked off about 80% of the things I’d had on my list. The only thing I didn’t see on their site that I had on my list were the ones I wasn’t sure anybody would care about, like social sharing, multirace leader boards, and the ability to do timing with devices that were not connected to the internet but which would sync up after they got back into coverage (so you could do split times at a remote location with no cell coverage, for instance). And I also found out about another web site that does the almost exactly the same stuff WebScorer does, only very specifically for water sports, called PaddleGuru. I put my idea back in the drawer of forgotten dreams, along with the other million ideas I’ve had that were either not practical or where I’d been beaten to the punch. Oh well, maybe idea one million and one will pan out.