-Originally Published Dec 8 2008 –
I’m told it is 4:30am but dreams never have clocks. I tried organizing gear on the frosty dock, relying on my other senses to guide me. Soon I was gripping my arms around James Mole. A man I knew very little but now trusting my life with. The sound of the jet ski engine filled my ears as we levitated across the pristine glassy river. The pirate flag flying at my back, a much needed safety blanket in a time of angst. The crack of dawn cut into the glorious mountain valley as the brisk air cut into my nostrils. It is hard to tell if my shaky legs are nervous or chilled. Through the sound of the ski and the raging rapids getting louder with our approach James calls out, “Can I take you through the tour?” I’m hesitant but call out with a Lion’s roar, “Yeah!” As brave as I sounded to James I knew the tour was not a happy place. The tour is where surfers go to die. I grew calm as James steered me through with ease and control. We powered through a huge rapid and I got a shot of salty river water to the face. When we pulled up to Main Wave the dream became a reality. I was looking at the wave of my dreams but the difference is I was going to actually surf it.
Wait lets back up so you can fully appreciate the gravity of the situation.
The first surfer to surf Skookumchuck Narrows is Elijah Mack. This crazy soul surfer has been on the road since he stated river surfing in 1994 on his quest to find the perfect wave. Mack did his research on the wave, yakers even tried to talk him out of it but as he said to me, “the first time I didn’t know better, it was the second time I was scared shitless.” One thing that has made this place and surfing this wave so magical is Mack’s first surf in this amazing river. You see Mack didn’t have a boat rescue crew the first time he dropped in, it was just him and his determination. Well after one of his rides a whirlpool got hold of him and held him under until the point when Mack believed his life was over. Time passed, still held under, his board tombstoning out of the whirl pool, his breath running out, until at last the force of water finally freed him. He immediately got out of the water in search of a way to contact his children. Mack was happy to be alive but he had a strange feeling that something terrible had happened. It was after Mack began his long trip home from Skook that he received the phone call he was dreading. He received word that his Stepfather Victor Mader had passed away. Mack believes that Victor had given his life to save Mack’s. The power of this story had forever made Skookumchuck a sacred place.
Elijah has been back to Skook a number of times now but it was time to bring out his river surfing brethren. He called up some of his closest surfing buddies with news of a date. Skook was going to be firing at close to 17 nots, what is said to be the maximum speed of this wave. Speed equals surf. After formulating the event on riversurfing.ca we deemed it “Respect” in memory of Victor Mader, the first surfing event at Skookumchuck Narrows.
This is another amazing thing about this event, the people. With surfers coming from all over the world they came to do one thing, surf. There was no promise of energy drink and board short sponsors, only an opportunity to surf Canada’s deadliest wave. You could hear three languages coming from the line up at any given time. Surfers from Munich, Montreal, Alberta, British Columbia, and Oregon all sharing the common language of stoke. Everyone had their own way of getting out there but they all had the same reason for being there, passion.
The most obvious thing that cannot go unmentioned is how amazingly beautiful but deeply powerful the location is. Greeted with a totem pole at the harbour, one receives the sense that this land needs to be respected. A short walk through the area’s rich vegetation and the moss will tell you how much bigger this can be than just you. The rich green colours, the fresh air, towering trees – it was surfing the way nature had intended it. The Skook wave itself comes with a reputation of respect. The rapids have killed 13 people over the last twenty years, according to a local of the area. With mountains looking down on the wave on either side and a huge river being dumped out into the big ocean, the rapids boil up unwilling to be tamed.
The wave itself is something surreal. With all of that I just mentioned in mind, gripped tightly to my saviour he pulls me in to this magistry. The face is fat and smooth but still steep and rippable. The tonnes of water flying past us at 16+ knots was forming a canvas that was calling out to be painted. The bedrock in front of the wave, the formation building this wondrous wave structure, was clearly visible through the shallow trough of the wave and the crystal clear water. The algae in combination with dawn’s lighting produced a sea of luminous jade, a green never seen before by my eyes.
It was all of this that made that dream like 15 seconds staring down at Main Wave seem like an eternity. Suddenly everything melted away and I was ready. I couldn’t wait a moment longer, this wave needed to be ridden.
It is strange that the climax of my entire trip would be the first 15 seconds of just seeing the wave, let alone riding it but there is something incredible about the experience of Skook. I assure you that this event holds a lot of stories of great rides, near death experiences, and a lot of fun and games but not too far from your own stories. It seems like what I give to the wave is very tiny compared to what the wave has given me, and that is the story I like telling.