Last weekend, I had planned to go for what would perhaps be my final paddle of 2019. Then, on Saturday night, the day-long rainfall that raised the river level (and would have made paddling more fun!) abruptly changed to snow as the temperature plummeted. So on Sunday, with blowing snow whipping around the city, I removed my SUP gear from the back of my van, threw in my cross-country skis and poles, and hit the trails instead. I still may make it onto the water before New Year’s Eve (although it is about -30 Celsius with the windchill right now). But even so, in the spirit of all the “best of” and top-10 lists appearing in newspapers and online this time of year, here are my five most memorable paddleboarding experiences from 2019. (The above picture, taken by my talented and beautiful wife Lisa Gregoire, was shot at Ontario’s Bon Echo Provincial Park during a family camping trip last June.)
Paddle-campers-in-residence at the Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort
In May 2019, I was lucky-beyond-belief to have a chance to return to the Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort, in British Columbia’s Great Bear Rainforest, where the featured photo for this post on my homepage was shot. Both that pic and the below image were taken by the amazing Tofino-based photographer Jeremy Koreski, who shot my enRoute magazine June 2019 cover story about my first visit to Nimmo.
The return trip wasn’t exactly to the resort. We camped on a beach nearby, test paddling a new wilderness experience for guests and gathering material for a SUP story that will be published soon in Nimmo’s excellent in-house magazine. But with my paddling (and trundling) partner-in-crime Simon Whitfield serving as our fearless leader, we weren’t exactly roughing it….
Rideau River rapids
In April 2019, as detailed previously on this blog, after three and a half years of looking and pondering and looking some more, with Lisa taking pictures (and standing by to call 911), I finally hit the rushing springtime rapids on the Rideau right outside my office at Ottawa’s Carleton University.
In the ensuring weeks, before the spring freshet subsided, I got back into those waters about a dozen times at lunch and after work. My former colleague and friend Harry Sharma shot this video (with concerns about the need for rescue a distant memory).
SUP yoga and river surfing in Montreal
In late June, we took a family trip to Montreal, with support from the incredibly helpful Martine Venne at Tourisme Montreal, for a slew of paddleboarding activities with local river outfitter KSF (which stands for Kayaks San Frontiers). Our adventures were for a piece in Paddling Magazine. The article is not online unfortunately, and I didn’t get any shots of my daughter Daisy and I river surfing on the St. Lawrence with great guide (and great paddler) Pierre-Philippe Loiselle, but yoga instructor Josiane O’Rourke had her camera for the chill session she led for Lisa, our daughter Maggie and me on Lac des Régates on Île Notre-Dame, a true oasis in the heart of the city. Mercy? Merci!
Surfing at Bate Island on the Ottawa River
This past spring, my second year of attempting to figure out how to get onto and ride the standing waves that rise beside Bate Island in the city’s west end every spring, I finally got it. (Lisa, bless her soul, was there too.)
I wrote about river surfing on this blog a few months ago, and did a journalistic piece on this addictive sport for Mountain Life magazine, but it’s the video evidence that really captures the magical thrill of remaining in the same place (more or less, and for just a little while as you’re still learning) with the force of all that water beneath your board.
In June, for the first time ever in the city where I was born and spent my first two decades, I finally got onto Lake Ontario. The experience was ostensibly to write this story for Mountain Life. But really, with tips from paddling and surfing ambassador Antonio Lennert at Toronto’s Surf the Greats (a wonderful shop/community centre), inspiration from Olympian canoeist turned SUP stroke guru Larry Cain, and companionship and camera work from my good bud Jan Silverthorne, it was about moments like this: