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Credit: John Thomson

Whether you're kayaking the Skookumchuck Rapids or simply spectating, you'll get a real thrill from these spectacular ocean waves

Witnessing freestyle kayakers battle raging currents at Skookumchuck Rapids will add thrills to your visit to the Sunshine Coast

It starts as a ripple just east of the Skookumchuck Narrows at the northern tip of BC’s Sunshine Coast. Incoming and outgoing tides slowly converge in ever increasing speed and ferocity. The water churns. Waves form. Soon the channel erupts into a cauldron of churning foam and waves up to three metres high.

At the height of this frenzy, stubby little kayaks take to the water riding the surf and doing tricks in mid-air. Welcome to Skookumchuck Rapids, one of BC’s unique, if unusual, natural wonders.

Skookumchuck Rapids Attract Extreme Kayakers and Spectators

Skookumchuck is a Chinook word for rapid waters and the waters around these parts are very rapid indeed. That’s because the incoming and outgoing tides from three inlets converge at the same spot and when they do, it creates a two-metre drop in water levels and a current that races along at up to 30 kilometres an hour. The action lasts for about an hour before the waters settle and the channel reverts to its calm, placid self. Four or five hours later it starts up all over again.

This whitewater bonanza attracts freestyle kayakers from all over the world anxious to perfect their boat-handling skills. The Skook, as they call it generates world class turbulence, great for practicing.

Hanging out with the Paddlers in Egmont

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Visiting paddlers stay in Egmont, a small village east of Earl’s Cove. Egmont consists of a general store, a post office and two marinas. There’s ample accommodation in the area - three resorts, a B&B, two campgrounds and an RV park – plus many more lodgings further south near Sechelt and Gibsons.

I stayed with my family at the Westcoast Wilderness Lodge, one kilometre north of Egmont, to watch others run the rapids, not do it myself. I’m a spectator not a daredevil and a plate of hemp-heart crusted halibut or local prawns in a yellow Thai curry is my idea of a good time. As you might have guessed, the lodge is renowned for its award-winning restaurant.

The lodge also offers a range of solo and organized activities. Recreational kayakers like myself, unaccustomed to risking life and limb, can paddle down the calmer parts of the Skookumchuck with or without a guide. Mountain bikes are also available. The lodge, in fact all the hoteliers in the area, can arrange a four-hour boat tour of neighbouring Princess Louisa Inlet and Chatterbox Falls. Or, if you’ve got the coin, a scenic sightseeing tour by float plane or helicopter.

For hikers, a 40-minute romp to the top of Pender Hill 20 kilometres south of Egmont is strenuous in spots but the view from the summit – Pender Harbour and the rest of the Sechelt Peninsula – is well worth the exertion.

Hiking through the Skookumchuck Narrows Provincial Park

Hiking is the preferred way to get to the rapids. In fact it’s the only way. Since the water shows can be four to five hours apart and it takes 40 to 60 minutes to get there, I checked out the tide tables at the lodge and back timed our departure to make sure we wouldn't miss the action. Tide tables are also available on the ferry.

I entered the trailhead at the entrance to the Skookumchuck Narrows Provincial Park off Egmont Road. It’s a well-groomed bark mulch trail with moderate changes of elevation. The kids rushed ahead and I pulled up the rear. Shortly after passing Brown Lake we hit a steep rise and a rocky promontory overlooking the channel. The rocks led down to the water’s edge but we elected to stay up top.

We weren't the first to arrive. Other spectators had staked out their vantage point and more were streaming off the trail. Suddenly and silently, paddlers in wet suits emerged from the shadows. Tiptoeing through the crowd they retreated to the bushes and pulled out their kayaks, which they launched near the shore. These weren’t ordinary kayaks but stubby, truncated craft designed for their stability and manoeuvrability. 

Marshalled together in the eddy, each kayaker slipped into the current and paddled to its crest. Some performed 360-degree spins in mid-air before returning to the water. Others attempted the Pan Am or the Donkey Flip, complicated twists and turns that doused the paddlerd and their boats. The crowd responded with gasps of disbelief. Most paddlers were content to ride the waves to their conclusion; barrelling down a flume of water at 30 kilometres an hour is harrowing enough.

And then it’s over. The tides abated and the tempo slowed down. The kayakers melted back into the bush and rest of us returned to the trail that brought us here. Skookumchuck_3c.jpgIt was exhausting running the rapids or, should I say, watching the rapids. We rewarded ourselves with drinks on the lodge’s ample deck overlooking Skookumchuck Narrows. A gentle wind tickled the wind chimes, birds were chirping and the lodge was pumping out raucous music. Too bad. Great lodgings, great food but the music killed the ambience. We fled the scene for peace and quiet and ice cream cones at the general store in Egmont.

Getting to Egmont and Skookumchuck Rapids

Egmont is a three-hour drive from Vancouver including the 40-minute BC Ferry crossing from Horseshoe Bay to Langdale.

Once on the Sunshine Coast, follow Highway 101 north to the end of the peninsula. The Egmont Road turn-off lies approximately one kilometre south of Earl’s Cove.