Sand River Falls
The whole family decided to do the Circle Tour of Lake Superior for our end of summer vacation. We loaded up the van with all our gear, four kayaks, (alas and ironically no room for the mega maverick) and drove up to Wawa. We made a quick stop over at the Sand River Falls. We hiked with Gabriel and Isabella up to the falls. The kids scrambled over the rocks and oohed and aaahed over the falls. Sand River Falls come very close to highway 17 and allow easy access to their beauty to kids who normally aren’t real keen on hoofing it for hours to see a bunch of rocks. We ate a bizarre lunch of crackers, salami and peanut butter.
Day One at Rock Island Lodge
We arrived at Rock Island Lodge to building weather. The wind was beginning to howl, white caps were visible across Michipicoten Bay. We went paddling in the Michipicoten river with the kids. Kids are amazing, funny creatures. One can never tell what they will be interested in or want to do. Gabriel and Isabella immediately paddled across the river to the sand bar and began running up and down the steep bank, collecting driftwood and rocks. Then Gabe got the idea to start jumping in the river from the bank, Isabella quickly followed suit. Laura pulled her kayak over and began rock hunting. No one was going anywhere. So I headed out to play in the waves.
The Michipicoten River mouth is not unlike the areas where tidal races form. The river which is dam controlled pushes water out that stacks up against waves directed across Lake Superior by wind. If the wind is strong, the waves begin to form in deep water. This makes for a fairly fun, safe, and invigorating surfing environment. The waves were becoming steep beyond the crib light in a wide triangle. Doug Van Doren and I headed out to surf the triangle.
2008 Wawa Salmon Derby 2008
This is where the Wawa Salmon Derby comes into play. Fishermen competing in the 2008 Wawa Salmon derby were heading out to catch fish near the river mouth where the surf was becoming interesting. The salmon fisherman were starting to come back through the channel as the surf was really beginning to build. The channel is not entirely straight forward for a motor boat. The sandbar to the south side of the channel makes the surf dump. The north side is a narrow deep water run by the crib light and the rocks where Rock Island Lodge is situated. The motor boats typically pick up speed and try to jet through the deep water section by the rocks. Most of the boats made it except for the boat pictured below. The Ontario Provincial Police boat was seemingly nowhere to be found that was helpful. The OPP boat was really to big to be of any use. The full Wawa news report is available online.
Ray, a guide for Naturally Superior and Jean-Fillipe a participant from Montreal aided the fisherman who failed to navigate the channel by pushing them off the rocks into deeper water. All of this ironically happened while I was getting cleaned up for dinner. A rare event took place where the surf continued to build. I managed to recruit Doug, Ray, Conor, owner David Wells, and a few others to head back out to surf after dinner. We made a few runs out and back trying to avoid the fishermen jetting through the channel at 20 knots.
Doug and I had one of our now infamous near collisions in surf. Doug was surfing the center section of the triangle where it was steepest. Doug dropped into the trough ahead of me, started carving diagonally towards the lodge and then the wave closed out on him. I was perched right at the peak of a fairly good sized wave that had substantial power to it to surf me right over Doug. I back pedalled furiously as Doug was munched by the wave. His boat was held almost in place by the contradicting forces of river current and the waves washing in from the open lake. His first roll attempt failed as another wave broke on him. He valiantly submerged fully and set up carefully to roll up successfully into the incoming face of the second wave. I managed to side slip past him on a down wave run.
As a side note about safety. Doug had right of way on the wave as he caught it, I was responsible for my path as he was down wave. Also I can’t stress the importance of helmets enough in these conditions as boats colliding is way, way more likely than hitting your head on something.
I caught several beautiful slicing diagonal rides from the middle section where my Foster Silhouette carved at what seemed to be about 15 knots towards the rocks. Ray who said he was just getting comfortable with his roll in surf, was on fire! Everytime I looked over to see his white Valley Aquanaut he was blazing a furious down wave path, or rolling up from having had a nasty close-out munch him and drag him onto the sand bar on the south side of the river.
Normally I prefer to surf in a small surf kayak, but the conditions in the river mouth were actually perfect for long kayaks. If timed just right, a very long stable ride could be caught in the center of the channel right by the rocks. It is however a little perilous due to the giant table rock the crib light sits on. The waves tend to break and close out on this spot.
We divided the students up into smaller groups. I took a small group of three students, Wally, Dorothy and Jean-Fillipe. We worked through a progression of forward stroke technique for torso rotation I’ve been using. In this progression the forward stroke is broken down into it’s three parts, reach and catch, rotation, and release. I have the students experiment with differing postures, (slouched and upright), allowing them to discover how much further they can reach with good posture vs slouched. We also experiment with a shallow plant vs a deep plant and see what happens. Then we begin to work through some rotation exercises. These are a particular favorite of mine. I have students experiment with doing rock-em-sockem robot arms, (locked elbows) paddling where you have to figure out how to get the paddle in the water and rotate without using your elbows at all. This usually gets a few chuckles. But pretty quickly paddlers are rotating their torsos to reach the water. Often students have no prior experience with the use of the muscle groups needed to paddle efficiently. There is no direct biometric result for a correct rotation. So by removing the elbows, (the bendy part that primarily allows arm paddling) the student gets a feel for what it feels like to paddle with their torso. The next step is to remove the arms almost entirely. I then have the students do T-rex, (picture the tiny little arms) paddling. With elbows locked in at the side completely the students paddle by rotating their torso to reach the water. These exercises are somewhat silly, but they do give the idea of how to get the body working properly.
After lunch the students headed out and began surfing the waves that managed to make their way into the river. The students did surprisingly well. All of them demonstrated elementary ruddering and bracing while their hulls planed out. It is great fun to see folks who are newer to the sport surf. Their faces light up like christmas trees when they gain speed and start to really carve. When you see someone surf for the first time, you get really stoked and feel like it is your first ride too. You can tell how much people enjoy it because they come back to the beach and are telling tall tales about how fast they were going, how long their ride was, and how many times they wiped out. For my part I encourage them to exaggerate, elaborate and enjoy. The three e’s of kayak surfing.