Last Sunday I was fortunate to be part of a team of standup paddleboarders that crossed the Strait of Georgia from Nanaimo to Vancouver. The crossing, spearheaded by Harry Saini was a fundraiser for Ruben’s Shoes.
Ruben’s Shoes is a non-profit organization that gets much-needed footwear to kids in the Dominican Republic. Ruben is a real boy who lives in the Dominican Republic. He is 12 years old and is the inspiration behind Ruben’s Shoes. Founder, Kelly Strongitharm, has been sponsoring him through World Vision since he was three years old. After seven years of watching him grow up through pictures and letters, Kelly was finally able to meet him in 2012 and her life was forever changed. In many countries, children are forbidden from attending school if they simply lack shoes. Ruben’s Shoes believes education is the most important tool we have to lift these countries above their economic strife, and that’s why its mission is to collect shoes so these kids can attend school and change the world. Ruben’s Shoes also fundraises in an effort to build needed community schools and dorms to ensure education remains a priority.
Setting a Goal
I had talked to Harry about the paddle at the hospital in early June when he came to visit after I had surgery for a ruptured appendix. I wasn’t sure I would be ready in three weeks time but I thought the crossing would be a good goal to shoot for. The crossing was originally scheduled for Saturday June 28th but solid SE winds thwarted any thought of an attempt. With my expedition experience and looking at the forecast for Sunday I was not feeling confident in what the weather was going to give us but the plan was to go anyways. I was just happy to be feeling good enough to join the fellas and try to accomplish a paddle that I have had my eye on for awhile. I am sure most paddle boarders that go from Vancouver to Nanaimo on the ferry think about making that crossing. It’s an hour and a half on the ferry and with good westerly conditions 8-9 hours should be realistic goal……”with good westerlies.”
The eight of us left Nanaimo at 5:15 in the morning and had flat calm seas and no wind for the first 3 hours where we were able to cover distance fairly quickly. Around 8:30 am the wind shifted abruptly and strong to an easterly which was pushing out of Vancouver delivering challenging conditions and seas head on. I was expecting strong south but the easterly surprised me, such is the reality of making big crossings on our coastline. After a couple of hours of paddling against that, the wind then swung southeast and stayed that way until we made our way into English Bay. We had the wind and a rough, front quartering sea on our right hand side the whole way across. We paddled hard on our left side for most of the day. Even a couple of strokes on the right side would move us downwind and on a course for Campbell River. A few guys had some swims in the choppy, turbulent conditions but the air temperature was warm enough to carry on without having to wear a wetsuit. Having the support boat, lead by Captain Lyle Berzen provided the much needed support for our group. In the end it took us 12 hours to cover the 65 Kms of distance. We arrived at Sunset Beach in downtown Vancouver where we were greeted by other paddlers and a crowd that had gathered on the beach to congratulate the guys on our successful crossing. I was really excited to see Jen and Kiel waiting for me as my board touched the beach. Still in recovery mode my body was feeling the challenge of the conditions and the long day. I have always wanted to make that crossing and it was a nice goal to have completed. I had to laugh the following day when I looked at the buoy forecast on Monday, it was westerly all day , 10-15 knots. It would have been an 8-9 hour downwinder…but who wants something that easy right?? Haha.
For me this trip was my longest day of ocean expedition paddling and I have to say one of the most challenging that I have done. My longest day prior to this paddle was the flat calm conditions on my Stand film expedition in Haida Gwaii where I paddled 61km from Burnaby Narrows to the World Heritage Site of Sgang Gwaay.
Equipment and Nutrition
Paddleboard: For the crossing I took my 14′ Boardworks Surf Great Bear board and when the conditions got bad I was really happy to have the stability the Great Bear provided. I felt really solid on the board and as a result my legs were fine afterwards. Compared to the lighter race and touring boards, the Great Bear is heavier due to its solid construction so my upper body was feeling the results of pushing that board across 65 kms of rough ocean. It was a good test for the board, Phillip Rainey and I designed the Great Bear to handle these types of tough ocean conditions and to carry a lot of gear. Mission accomplished.
Paddles: I brought two of them with me. I started with the new Boardworks Slater Trout which I have really grown to like. It has really great flex characteristics which doesn’t take a toll on your joints and at 94 square inches the blade face is efficient but not overpowering. I also had my Kialoa Hulu UL small and as I began to fatigue I used the smaller blade face to take a little pressure off my body and to be able to increase my cadence in the choppy waters. These two paddles were a perfect compliment to each other. Having a back up blade is always a great idea on expeditions and big crossing. Prepare for the worst and hope for the best.
Clothing: I wore a pair of Icebreaker 150 tights with my trusty old, red, Boardworks shorts over. On top I wore a long sleeve Virus performance top with a Virus short sleeve T that was provided thanks to Virus and Harry Saini. I felt that combination was great, never too warm and never too cold and I wore that for the whole 12 hours. I wore a pair of XCEL Split Toe boots for most of the trip but they started to bother me and I took them off with a couple of hours to go which felt like heaven.
Nutrition: My partner Jen Segger always puts my nutrition plan together for races, expeditions and crossings. We all had hydration packs on and after draining a few 1.5 litre bags of water I started supplementing my water with Nuun electrolytes investing the much needed electrolytes for laster in the day. It’s important to get on your nutrition and hydration early in the day and not when your body really starts to need it. I kept eating Luna and Cliff bars every hour and around 1pm we all met at the boat to have a lunch and real food which the support boat gave us the luxury of having. Upon hitting the beach a well deserved burger, chips and cold IPA was all I was looking for in recovery. Thanks to Jen for her training and nutrition expertise and for always keeping me fine tuned in spite of my sweet tooth tendencies. For performance training coaching and nutritional advice contact Jen and Challenge By Choice Coaching.
Our main goal was to raise money for Ruben’s Shoes and that we did. We raised over $6000 dollars and it’s something the guys feel really proud about. Congrats to all the guys, Harry Saini, Ben Wright, Adam Cole, David Jinau, Scott Burton, Jason Bennett, Ken Larsen, who completed the crossing, it was a really fun and great group of guys to spend 12 hours with. Thanks to Harry Saini for pulling all of this together and to all the support from so many people including Kathleen Saini and Sarah Wright. Thanks to Lyle the support boat captain who did a fantastic job. Thanks to James and Eric for providing additional support in their boat. Big thanks to Lech Dolecki for capturing the event with some incredible stills and video and for providing support to all the fellas when anyone needed it on the boat.
Thanks to support from the Boardworks Surf team and for the awesome boards I get to use everyday, #welivewater. Thanks as well to Icebreaker, Kialoa Paddles, Ryders Eyewear, Northern Board and Galileo Coffee.
After that crossing I had not really wanted to do it again but I could not stop thinking about what it would be like with a strong westerly wind and swell at your back. Maybe Kelvin Hummeny would be interested?? I know I don’t even have to ask!