The west coast of Vancouver Island is a magical place, and once you’ve experienced it there’s a continual pull to explore it further. With a forecast swell between 3-5 feet, Jim Martinello, Dennis Flett, Ben Haggar and I headed out on a 3-day paddle along the Juan de Fuca Trail. The trail is a popular hiking route but much of it veers away from the shore and into the old growth forest. By paddling, we hoped to find beaches and breaks that very few people would even know existed. We paddled away from Port Renfrew under grey skies and light spirits. We had three days of surf and solitude ahead.
Stand up paddling is making itself known in British Columbia. I have spent the better part of the last 7 years making sure my expeditions always involve a SUP and, more recently, a chance to surf on one. Prior to this trip I’d always just surfed my 12’6 VOYAGER expedition board but this time I strapped a 9’8 RIDE inflatable surf SUP on the back of my my big board. Time to play!
As we made our way out into open water off Port Renfrew, the winds picked up and made it more challenging. I keep my eyes on a few crab traps to see how we were doing with forward progress, otherwise it feels like you are on a treadmill.
Following the southern shoreline revealed some great nooks and classic coastal vegetation. Rounding the cape, the west winds blowing off the seemingly infinite Pacific became favorable. With the wind at our backs the good times began.
The hiking trail is nowhere to be seen on this stretch so we were utterly alone, paddling in the swell and darting in towards the shore. Soon enough we saw the twinkling lights of Sombrio, a near-mythical camp/surf beach. Putting in a big day and making it all the way to Sombrio had set us up perfectly; we’d have lots of time to search for surf on the second leg of the trip. We found a spot on the north side of Sombrio creek, a sweet platform tucked into the woods. Dinner, pints, fire camping – yes! We even made friends with some young hikers who’d had difficulties getting a fire of their own going with the damp west coast driftwood. (Find the cedar, kids! It’s the wood of wonders.)
After a great sleep and a nice breakfast, the surf at Sombrio was looking decent. With a couple of options we found ourselves lucky, getting the legendary “Seconds” break all to ourselves. For a little while anyhow…
Local surfers rarely see SUP surfers on these waves so as the regulars arrived I wondered what they might say about dudes wearing dry suits and on inflatables. There was definitely no friendly chatting but we know and followed the surfing etiquette and caught some good waves ourselves. Although the looks their faces almost certainly spelled out “Kook.” We caught a few more, I was loving the 9’8, and then decided to move on.
Another prefect tailwind and we covered about 11 km with ease, passing waterfalls and caves, cliffs and old growth. This coastline is virtually untouched and the sense of wilderness really does inspire a person to get outside more often.
We arrived at Bear Beach, hard to access from land, and found it completely empty of people. Unloading gear, drinking a beer, I have a feeling the waves are near!
Wary of the tides, we camped at the only decent real estate available, and set out to explore. At low tide it’s possible to scramble your way around the coast and explore a few cool caves that lead to another beach. After another great meal, we fell asleep to the soothing repetition of incoming waves.
The next morning was relaxing and perfect. Alone in the waves, we paddled and plundered the best waves of the trip. Bear beach really delivered and while we had hoped to find more remote beaches on this voyage, no one was complaining about the quality of the ones we did get into.
Leaving that isolated spot (we still hadn’t seen another person there) we caught another helpful downwinder to Jordan River, where it was time to pack up, get in the car, make it to the ferry on time and reintegrate into reality.
The first few hours after an expedition are always interesting. We perform the tasks we need to get to where we’re supposed to be, but it’s almost like a state of zombie-ism. Our bodies might be on a ferry going home, but our brains and hearts are still out there on the water. And a piece of them will likely stay there, calling us back to the coast to reunite with the waves, the forests, and ourselves.