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Feature - The Skookumchuk legend

Kayakers from around the world come to surf the reversing rapids

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And Skookumchuk is can literally reach out and grab you. At its peak, the rushing tide is so strong it is forced out on a convex curve against the banks, and viewers are within a few metres of the main wave. Maines says witnessing the reverse flow is even more spectacular.

"It’s wild! The middle turns into a massive whirlpool and the vortex is so deep," she explains. "You certainly don’t want to go anywhere near it."

As it turns out, white water action isn’t the only thing to keep spectators spellbound. A family of huge sea lions frolicking gracefully in eddies upstream of the rapids had everyone scrambling for their cameras, while seabirds called to each other overhead. Then there was the float-plane pilot that buzzed us, flying by a mere 10 metres overhead.

And don’t forget the underwater sea life. Enriched by a constant supply of plankton and dissolved oxygen, the clear waters of Sechelt Inlet teem with a spectacular array of marine life, such as giant barnacles, sea anemones, hydrocorals and starfish. Paddler Peter Spear from Vancouver recalls a late night session when he and friends made the 40-minute flat-water paddle back towards the car park, rather than walk the trail.

"The phosphorous in these waters during the summer is amazing," he explains. "There was no moon and there were all these torpedoes of light shooting around from the fish underneath and our boats were all lit up. Absolutely amazing."

Spear says he paddles all year round because the water temperature is fairly constant.

If you haven’t yet caught the kayaking bug, a trip to Skookumchuk might change that. Or maybe the words of Bill Hay could sway the tempted.

"For me it is soul boating. It’s a pretty amazing feeling spinning around on a green wave and it doesn’t require a huge amount of skill because it’s Skookumchuk. Once you get over the fear of the wave it’s phenomenal."

Regardless, Skookumchuk Narrows is a beautiful place to spend the day, see marine life in and above the water and watch people do cartwheels in brightly coloured boats. But before you go, here’s an insider tip: parking is a nightmare at Horseshoe Bay. Especially if you plan to leave your vehicle more than three hours. Having arrived with two vehicles, we wanted to leave one behind but all long-term spots were full. In his quest to find overnight parking our photographer, Hugh Marsh, ended up way back near Highway 99. Despite a sprinting effort worthy of the Olympics, the ferry departed with our group safely onboard minus our photographer, who was inconveniently still on the dock watching us sail away. But as you can see from the pictures, all’s well that ends well. He made it in the end.

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