Thursday, October 4, 2012

Okisollo, the fun tidal wave

The Inside Passage between Vancouver Island and the British Columbia mainland is filled with many island and narrow channels between them. When the tide floods in, these constrictions can create fast currents. Fast currents can create standing waves. Waves can be surfed.

View Quadra Island in a larger map

Discovery Island Lodge
The Okisollo Channel is on the north and east side of Quadra Island. The island can be reached by a ten minute ferry ride from the town of Campbell River on Vancouver Island. Once on the island it's a thirty minute drive to the end of Surge Narrows Road. This will lead you to both a public dock (with a ridiculously steep final 50 feet), or to the Discovery Island Lodge. The Lodge is a kayer's hostel right on the water, with plenty of dock space for visiting kayaks and delightful accommodations for your time of the water. It's the perfect place for a base of operations.

While Surge Narrows has plenty of fun action in its own right, the larger, cleaner wave at Okisollo is what really gets people's attention. So here are some more details for those looking to catch the wave.

The Okisollo wave forms just off Cooper Pt. It's about a six mile paddle north from Discovery Lodge. Leave two hours before slack and catch a little of the ebb going through Surge. This will put you at Cooper Pt. around slack (start earlier and you'll get a bigger push but have longer to wait).

Sean and Nick sharing the front wave
The wave forms on flood currents above 7 knots. Use 'Hole in the Wall' on the current charts as your guide. For sea kayaks, currents between 7 and 9 knots are the best - you can surf the wave the entire cycle. Above 9 knots the wave is steep and surging and better for whitewater boats. At those faster speeds you'll still be able to use a sea kayak as the flood diminishes - but it will be a much shorter window.

Within half and hour of flood starting you will see the waves forming. At first it's just a bunch of turbulence, but it soon becomes clear where the front wave is. That's the wave that you'll be surfing. It starts out fairly shallow and will get bigger and deeper as the cycle progresses. We had max currents around 8.5 knots and that gave us a three to four hour window of surfable wave.

Waiting for the wave
There is a nice waiting eddy and rocky landing to get out and watch. The eddy has rocks below that make accessing it once the flood gets going more difficult. Early in the cycle you can paddle up with proper timing and hard work. Later on you have to get out on the back side of the rocks (it's perfectly calm) and portage over the rocks for about ten feet. Not hard, but kind of annoying. As the tide fills in the portage becomes shorter and easier, almost covering the rocks completely.

The wave itself is steepest on surfer's right. The middle is where it gets less stable and where boils or surges could flush you off. It's also where the wave starts collapsing when it gets big. As you surf you will be down in a pit - head below the horizon in front of you. It makes it hard to see what's coming and we saw a number of large logs floating through - having a lookout on shore or in the eddy is not a bad idea.

You can just sit on the wave all day long. People where doing paddle twirls, pulling out cameras for pictures, and just generally resting. But the real fun is cutting back and forth - a good twenty feet of width to play on. The wave is very forgiving and once you find the rhythm it's quite relaxing. It's what's behind that intimidates.

Nick on the second wave as it collapses
The second wave is actually surfable at lower speeds but it's irregular, and it just gets worse as thing speed up. If you flush off the first wave try to surf the second to one side or the other. If you surf to the outside you'll be in clear water but have a longer paddle back to the eddy. If you surf to the middle it's not too bad but expect some crashing waves. As you approach the eddy line be aware of randomly forming whirlpools. Nothing crazy, but enough to flip a boat and suck a swimmer down for a few seconds. But there is plenty of space after the turbulence to pick up the pieces if necessary.

Finally, you may want to start your paddle back before the wave is completely gone. If you wait too long, you will hurt Surge Narrows at ebb and have to fight your way upstream to get home. You can do it, but it won't be fun after paddling twelve miles and playing for three hours on a beautiful wave. The other option is to just camp at Okisollo and save yourself the distance for tomorrow's session.

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