The word “Skookumchuck” means Strong Water. When you visit the Skookumchuck Narrows on the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia, this meaning becomes quite literal. Having paddled waves all over the world—from Africa to Quebec—I can honestly say that Skook is one of the best waves in the world for freestyle kayaking. During smaller tides, the wave is smooth and friendly, perfect for intermediate freestylers learning their first tricks. At bigger tides, the wave is big, fast, and bouncy, allowing elite freestylers to throw every trick in the book.
But it isn’t just the paddling that keeps me coming back. The entire experience is magic. The eddy behind the wave is filled with barnacles, mussels and purple starfish. Seals poke their heads out of the whirlpools, watching as kayakers work hard to make it back to the eddy in an attempt to avoid “The Tour”—a mess of crashing waves, boils, and whirlpools awaiting anyone unlucky enough to miss the eddy. The forest surrounding the wave can only be illustrated by watching a scene in Jurassic Park. And if you’re lucky enough to be there at the right time, you might see Orcas breaching in the marina just before the tide turns.
Planning a Trip to Skook
Time of Year
Skookumchuck is a tidal wave, meaning the wave is formed when the tide flows over a large ledge in the Sechelt Inlet. This happens twice daily, but it is only certain times of the month when the tide is at the right speed to form a worthwhile surf wave. You can paddle Skook any time of year, but the weather is most pleasant in July and August.
Additionally, the timing of peak tide happens in the afternoons in July and August, whereas in December, you will likely be paddling at six or seven in the morning. So, when looking at the tide charts, you’re looking for Max Flood tides that occur during daylight hours. Make sure to arrive at the wave two hours prior to peak speed. This will ensure two hours of paddling before peak, a quick break at peak when the wave greens out, then another two hours as the wave slows down after peak.
The closest town to the wave is Egmont, BC. You can actually plug this straight into Google Maps (or whatever GPS you use) and it will direct you there. But if you want a more detailed description of how to get there, I always drive to the Horseshoe Bay ferry in Vancouver, BC. Take the ferry to Langdale on the Sunshine Coast. Once you’re on the Sunshine Coast, drive the last two hours to Egmont.
Once in Egmont, you can get to the wave by putting in at the marina and paddling down the inlet toward the rapids, or you can hike the tourist trail through a magical rainforest. I recommend paddling in your first day, leaving your boat and gear at the wave on the boat rack (yes, there is a boat rack at Skook) and hiking in for the rest of your trip. Then paddle your boat out after surfing on your last day.
Ideal Tidal Speeds for Ultimate Stoke
A solid whitewater roll is 100% necessary to paddle at Skook at every tide. When planning a Skookumchuck trip, I use this tide chart.
11-12.9 knots: Best first-time level. Easy surfing with a manageable eddy catch. You can still do all the tricks, while both the wave and the “tour” are smaller and easier to navigate if you have a solid whitewater roll.
13-14.9 knots: Best for big freestyle tricks. At 13 knots, the wave tends to have a big foamy pile, making it quite retentive. At 14 knots, the tide is moving so fast that the wave will go completely green at peak tide. This is when the biggest tricks can be thrown, but also when “the tour” is at it’s scariest.
15-16 knots: Best for a surf kayak. Freestyle kayaks can still surf during these tides as the tide comes up, and then again as it is going back down, but at peak tide of a 15-16 knot day, the wave will be completely green for about an hour. At this point, the smaller modern freestyle kayaks can no longer surf it, and it is time to bring out the surf boats or longer squirty boats.
Pro Tip: The tour is LARGE at this speed. Be prepared to paddle your bum off to make the eddy, and to deal with some unpredictable boils and whirlpools downstream if you miss it!
Where to Lay Your Head
If you’ve outgrown true dirtbag status, or you’ve been saving up for your Skook trip, reserve a room at the Bathgate Resort & Marina a hotel and general store right on the marina that overlooks the Inlet. There are only four rooms, but throw in with a couple of buddies for the Deluxe Suite and you can have a few beds, full kitchen and ocean-front views. Bathgate also has one RV spot with full hook-ups and one tent spot.
Another splurge is the Back Eddy Resort & Marina, a one-stop shop for Skookumchuck comfort. Offering basic rooms, waterfront cabins and geodesic domes, there’s an option to fit most budgets. Back Eddy also boasts a pub, restaurant and beautiful views of the marina.
If camping is more your style, Egmont has a selection. Strongwater Camping & Cabins has more than ten tent sites, RV hook-ups and cabins as well as bathrooms with running water and hot showers. Prepare to share the grounds with geese, pigs, ducks, chickens and dogs—plus all the blackberries you can eat. In the summer, the Skookum Bus serves up hot dogs, veggie dogs, hamburgers, and ice cream. Klein Lake Campground has 23 sites for tents or small RVs (no hook-ups), picnic tables and pit toilets. Klein Lake is first come, first serve and only accepts cash. Your last and most cost-effective option is the Egmont Post Office “Campground” No lie, just show up and park in the Post Office parking lot! Payment is on the honor system. $10/day/vehicle. Public bathrooms are 100 meters away at the marina.
Re-Upping the Calorie Deficit
For the most part, you’re going to want to pack in your own food and make sure to stock your cooler before arriving to Egmont, otherwise, your camp meals will be both bland and pricey! The Bathgate General Store has some of the essentials, but definitely not everything you will want for a few days of camp meals.
Depending on how long you plan to post-up at Skook, at some point the thought of firing up the JetBoil and cleaning up the dishes may be too much to handle. Egmont offers a couple of solid options for treating your belly to added calories without the work.
Located right on the trail to Skookumchuck Narrows Provincial Park (i.e. the wave), the Skookumchuck Bakery sells baked goods (obviously), espresso, breakfast and lunch sandwiches, salads, a daily soup, smoothies, and more. Back Eddy Pub (mentioned above in lodging options) has really good burgers and margaritas! Also, poutine. And then, The Inlets Restaurant at West Coast Wilderness Lodge serves fresh seasonal cuisine. Offering breakfast, lunch and dinner, this one comes with a price tag—definitely the spendiest place in Egmont—but it’s the most delicious.
Whether you spend a weekend or week(s), or just make Skookumchuck a pit-stop on a longer road trip, surfing and throwing big tricks on this world-class tidal wave should be on every whitewater kayaker’s bucket list.