Surfing Vancouver Island  

Tuesday February 3rd  

surfing photos and stories from Vancouver Island and coastal British Columbia, Canada
Lucas Atter
January ... forget what day

big swell and very high tides fill the water with wood. Everything from bark chips to saw logs.
a meat grinder

surfing photos and stories from Vancouver Island and coastal British Columbia, Canada

Tuesday February 3

A intermittent rain falls today, mists wander about the highlands and low cloud obscures the mountains. The sounds of the saw mills mix with the drone of the road and seem to roar in the stillness. I hit the water and start stroking out onto the bay. Some water foul whirr into the air ahead of me. I watch them rise a few feet off the water and fade into the mists, and with them, the world disappears into the splash of my hands and the rhythm of my breathing.

Thought returns as burn in my shoulders, so I raise up to my knees to paddle some more. I am in horrible shape. The daily paddling regime has suffered as of late. My afflicted back, a few cold snaps, and the holiday season have conspired against me. They send me quiet, convincing messages, "put another log on the fire. Slip 'Tripping the Planet' into the VCR. There Cam, your work is done. Quickly now, to the couch." Well a guy can only watch so many surf vids before his body pulls him to his feet and out the door.

I'll go surfing tomorrow.

Wednesday February 4

I really like my hooded 5/4/3 winter suit. For years I have made due with thinner rubber and hooded vests. These have been adequate in most conditions but the neck flushes a lot while getting worked, and the cumulative effects of cold tended to cut sessions short and often limited me to one session a day in the winter. This winter is so much warmer than normal. Today I surfed Spot N. Two of the Ucluelet crew snapped boards here this week. It was head high, steep, fast, and clean as a whistle. Didn't put the hood up once, but I was on a 9'6" and wasn't punching through, but rather paddling around and over. It was a pretty easy day which was good. I surfed for two and a half or three hours till exhaustion began to take its toll. My stomach took on a hollow ache and my head began to swim. I rode into about chest deep water and then caught a pretty little one foot rebuilt to the beach. The whole way I marvelled at the power of this little pealer. Sepp appeared on the beach and laughed to see me walking the board on this oversized ripple. I turned and paddled out with him so we could shoot the breeze. He told me he had a pile of photos for the page and we arranged to hook up later.

Thursday February 5

As I walk the forest trail , the boom of crashing surf enters my ears and rushes through me, exploding within, and sends a gentle wave of adrenaline through me. The adrenaline does not rush me, urgency does not abide in me this morning. I am well sated and my body tells the tale of yesterday's session. Not the pain of injury, but the satisfied ache of a body well used. There is order in my universe and the world is bliss and perfection. Cat tail moss hangs from the branches that roof the trail. An understory of ferns, salal, and horsetail line the path. It is the primordial feel to this place, where ancient forest meets ocean, that captures me, heart and soul. Song bursts from me and I look over my shoulder to check there are no human witnesses to my abandonment of pretence and image. As I break out into the dunegrass, eight or nine bald eagles lift from the foreshore. A mass of frenzied crows remain. They squabble over the carcass of a fur seal.

The swell wraps around the rocks from the south. A nice head high A-frame wells up between where, the two regular peaks should be. It's chunky and empty, and I stand and watch, long after the decision to look further. This is my home break, a spot on earth that lends me comfort and pacifies my soul. I drink this place in like a tonic, and I am left with as much worry as a three year old at play. Mother is home.

I drive up the coast checking spots. The swell is getting into them but so is the wind. The highway runs just out of site of the ocean through second growth fir and cedar. A twelve foot native rhododendron blends in to the wall of the forest. When it blooms it stops traffic. The canopy is at about sixty feet and the tops of the tallest trees are stripped bare or bent at right angles by the onshore winds. The parking lot at spot C is half full. Rubbermaid totes sit under most of the vehicles. I jog down the path. The bay is clean. Overhead sets come regularly. I talk to some guy I met in this exact spot, a few months ago. He has just come in to try and revive the circulation in his feet. He complains that he must break down and buy boots and gloves, and rubs his purple feet with his purple hands. He lives on Gabriola Island off the east side of Vancouver Island and says he has been paddling on the flat water over there since talking to me last. The first time I walked down to the flatwater to paddle my surfboard was an act of will. I felt out of place and the epitome of kookiness. This feeling eased as I began to paddle and my growing adeptness, paddling in surf, has vanquished all self consciousness. It has become part of the daily * routine. I watch the Gabriola surfer paddle out. He uses a channel and punches out in minutes. I seem to remember him having more trouble in less surf when we last met. A few more friends come in and tell me it's getting mushy. The surf is dropping with the tide and I drive into town and visit Sepp.

Mid afternoon finds me headed back down the shoreline. Nothing looks surfable till I get back to my home break. I arrive at the same time as my friends, just released from work. We walk the path and look over the break. Suddenly I am joined by my life long companion, fear. It arrives like a mother-in-law with her suitcases. I have not invited her but must let her in and listen to her. She tells me that the head high I surfed yesterday ran me into the ground. My paddling has been intermittent since before Christmas and I am out of shape. She points out that this swell moving up from the south past the rocks is creating a fierce rip back down the beach. I rotate my right arm in a paddling motion. When it reaches the top, my arm numbs a little and I feel the pinched nerve between my shoulder blades. I think that I will stare her in the face and go out, and then a cleanup set wells up outside and thrashes one of the guys out there. The swell is pushing double overhead, and double overhead is pushing it for me these days. Dale takes off on a rocket right and my heart sinks. This cleanup set is too big and I resign myself to the shore. I am a little embarrassed in front of my friends, even though I have a decade or two on them. They are all stoked, totally animated and they turn abruptly and joke about getting their work clothes on and getting to it. It looks so sweet out there. When I tell them I'm headed back across the Island and won't be joining them there is no argument. Just "when are you coming back". "a week or two". We talk and laugh as they gear up, and as they disappear down the trail, an urgent desire to suit up overwhelms me. I take a few fast steps toward the van and regain control. I curse at middle age and the extra twenty pounds I carry with me. Tomorrow I will hit the chiropractor's, and then begin to hike and paddle myself back into shape, once again.


* daily is an intention, and not always a reality

surfing photos and stories from Vancouver Island and coastal British Columbia, Canada
the flatwater bay

surfing photos and stories from Vancouver Island and coastal British Columbia, Canada









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