Sailing, SUPing and surfing up the west coast of Vancouver Island

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“If you have the need to broaden your horizons while on holiday — if feeling small and vulnerable and getting jostled out of your comfort zone is on your downtime to-do list — sailing up the southwestern flank of Vancouver Island in late September is a pretty good start. Especially if you have never set foot on a sailboat before. But if the boat you’re on is a 64-foot, steel-hulled cutter that has circumnavigated the Americas, and if the captain is an intrepid waterman capable of stand-up paddleboarding this stretch of coastline, then the voyage itself, rolling swells notwithstanding, is unlikely to elicit the required humility. Which is why I find myself climbing down the side of said boat, the S/V Ocean Watch, to balance on a paddleboard and manoeuvre closer to land so I can attempt to surf some Pacific waves. Which is something else I’ve never done before.”

That’s the opening paragraph of my most recently published magazine story about paddleboarding, in the September 2019 issue of Western Living magazine. It’s about a trip I took last fall from Orcas Island, Washington, to Tofino, B.C., with Karl Kruger — who runs a sailing charter business, is the only person to ever complete the unsupported Race to Alaska from Washington on a paddleboard, and is getting ready for a solo SUP expedition through the Northwest Passage next summer — and Los Angeles-based photographer/filmmaker Liv von Oelreich, who’ll be making a documentary about Karl and his epic journey.

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Our sailing, SUPing and surfing voyage was one hell of a trip. From stopping to catch some waves at Sombrio Beach, near the mouth of Juan de Fuca Strait, to sunset paddles on the glassy-smooth waters of the Broken Group of islets, it was five days of nonstop bliss — culminating with our arrival at Tofino’s annual SUP Symposium, organized by Tofino’s Swell Paddle + Surf (formerly the Tashii Paddle School) and Victoria-based South Island SUP. My paddle surfing game took a few steps forward in Tofino thanks to the amazing teaching of Emre Bosut, and then I flew further north to the Great Bear Rainforest on this assignment for enRoute magazine (with a million thanks to the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast Tourism Association and Tourism Vancouver Island for their crucial support). But really, it was the five days and nights on Karl’s boat, and on the water throughout, that really resonated — and are the reason we’ll be collaborating on a book about his Northwest Passage expedition.

“We’re a therapy business, really,” Karl said to me one afternoon. He calls paddleboarding an unfiltered experience on the water. It’s just you, a paddle and your board. To him, the sight and sounds of waves breaking over the bow feels elemental, like looking at fire. “People come to us,” he says, “because they need what we have.” Amen.

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