Jen and I just got back from an amazing five days in Haida Gwaii where we spent the Easter weekend with friends Dave and Vanessa Wahl. We had five days of incredible weather as the coast was entrenched in a strong high pressure system bringing clear skies and warm temperatures. It was really good to back in Haida Gwaii. I was here in June for our Standfilm expedition where I paddle from Old Masset to the world heritage site at Sgang Gwaay on the south tip of South Moresby in Gwaii Hanaas National Park. I stayed with Dave and Vanessa on night two of my expedition in Tlell before heading south to Skidegate. Dave and Vanessa, school teachers in Skidegate, have a beautiful property overlooking Hecate Strait, a mesmerizing view that I never get tired of.
Day 1: We enjoyed our 2 hour flight from Vancouver to Masset. Few flights in the world are more amazing than a flight up our coastline in clear blue skies. Usually I just look out the window searching for waves and looking at places I have explored over the years. After landing, we connected with Mike McQuade, owner of the North Beach Surf Shop. Mike supported our Standfilm expedition and provided amazing local knowledge and transportation along the route for the first day shuttling Anthony and Nic around so they could film on the North Beach section. Mike was there to see me off on Day 1, met me for lunch at Rose Spit and then pointed me in the right direction to the Cape Fife cabin later that evening. We dropped into the coffee shop where we met George Yeltatzie, a local Haida carver who just happened to be showing off a beautiful copper Raven bracelet to his friend. This caught my attention, we struck up a friendly conversation and then I ended up buying it off him right there. We commissioned him to make one for Jen that we would pick up later in the week. He ended up carving a mother and baby otter. I was hoping to get in for a surf that afternoon but we ran out of time before Dave and Vanessa picked us up for our trip back to Tlell. That night a full, orange moon arose over the coast mountains to the east. Stunning.
Day 2: Jen and I awoke to a beautiful morning and Dave and Vanessa lent us their truck and sup’s so we could tour the island. We headed first to Jag’s in Skidegate for the best coffee and breakfast in Haida Gwaii. It was great to see Jag and his wife again, Jag was there when I paddled in to Skidegate during Standfilm and when he invited me in for coffee and lunch. Jag is an amazing host and is in the process of building a hostel where people can stay while they are on the island. Jag’s is a must stop. Fueled up we headed to the Haida Cultural Center where we met Gwaii and Tyler. Along with Gwaii’s brother, they are in the process of carving a pole that will be raised in Windy Bay to commemorate the anniversary of the formation of Gwaii Haanas National Park. It was Gwaii’s father, Guujaaw, leader of the Haida Nation who made the historical stand in 1985 to stop logging on South Moresby. This will be the first totem pole raised on South Moresby in 130 years. The pole will be raised in Windy Bay on August 17th. From Skidegate we traveled north to Masset and headed to North Beach to see if the surf conditions were shaping up. Their was a strong NW wind blowing with little swell so Jen and I climbed to the top of Tow Hill where we took in the sweeping views of Dixon Entrance, one of the best views on the island. Jen then went for a hike on North Beach and I got into the water to surf some crummy wind swell. North Beach, when it’s on, produces some of the most incredible, heavy, barreling tubes found anywhere in Canada. Dave and Vanessa have proof on their wall at the house. We then headed back to Tlell to watch some March Madness with Dave and Vanessa. Dave, an old basketball buddy, is the coach of the Skidegate Saints who are back to back senior men’s champions at the All Native Tournament. One of Dave’s best players, Tyler, is the talented young carver we had met earlier that day who is working on the memorial pole.
Day 3: Dave, Vanessa, Jen and I again woke up to a beautiful morning and headed out for a 2.5 hour hike through temperate rainforest along the Tlell River and out to it’s terminus in Hectate Strait. A short beach walk took us to the wreck of the Pesuta, a testament to the nastiness of the Hecate waters. Later that afternoon we paddled the Tlell River on an ebbing high tide right out to the ocean and headed south back to Tlell. I was happy to see that Dave had bought Vanessa a brand new 12’6″ Boardworks Raven from Kevin at Kalavida Surf Shop in Vernon. Both Dave and Vanessa love this board and it’s going to be a great one for all of their future coastal explorations. It was a beautiful paddle and an end to another great day in Haida Gwaii. I thought often of my expedition in June and how incredible the paddling was and how remote and desolate these shorelines are.
Day 4: After a morning coffee and enjoying the sunrise over Hecate Strait we headed out for another 10km hike along Tlell River and through some massive stands of Sitka Spruce. There is nothing like walking through ancient temperate rainforest, it’s quite humbling and spiritual. After a great lunch at the Crow’s Nest, Jen I had another nice paddle back to the house. I noticed there was a little bit of swell in the Hecate so Dave and I suited up for a paddle surf at their local East Side break. We enjoyed some really fun little glassy waves and I kept thinking how good this spot would be after a big south east gale. I don’t know if I have ever been more excited for a 1 foot swell. There are so many untouched, unexplored waves along the east side of Graham Island. Most are super remote and very difficult to get to but I did see a lot of potential during my expedition in June. Surfing in Haida Gwaii is so unique and I know for sure that Dave and I were the only ones in the water on SUP’s that evening. Duke Kahanamoku said “the best surfers are the one’s having the most fun.” Well at that moment Dave and I were the best! We shared the break with a lone seal. I smiled numerous times.
Day 5: Happy Easter! I went out for the morning surf check but the mini swell that was there was now gone. We checked the Dixon Entrance buoy report and saw some promise so we headed north. Upon arrival we were greeted with fog, cool conditions and onshore blown out surf. So we decided to do the next best thing and went to Bud’s for brunch. Well fed and happy Dave and Vanessa dropped us off at the airport for our flight back home.
We had such an great time up there and I want to thank Dave and Vanessa so much for hosting us, guiding us, and sharing their vehicle and paddleboards with us. We hope we can return the favor in Squamish. My goal is to get back up there again in November for Mike’s North Beach Surf Shop Expression Session.