Downwinder 2.0: Spanish Banks to Vanier Park

Monday, November 30, 2020

After a light taste of downwinding two weeks ago I have been watching the winds on incessantly. This is despite having set up alerts. So I was super stoked when I received notice that my “alert” conditions had been met. A Pacific frontal system was coming and bringing wind warnings with it! I had been watching West Vancouver’s coastline so that I could recreate my previous downwinder trip. The winds this time were in the reverse direction with an inflow. A Pacific front brings warmer air over the coastal waters which will eventually push the cooler air that is typical of BC’s winter outflow back inland. The pressure gradient that is created flows from the higher pressure offshore areas to the lower pressure interior/inland areas creating the inflow conditions (here is a good resource for a more detailed description).

And as luck would have it my friend/neighbour, Peter, had the day off work too on Monday. So we made tentative plans to paddle provided the conditions remained. We were still set on paddling the north side of Burrard Inlet when on Monday morning I realized that the conditions were essentially the same on the south side. There was perhaps even a bit more wind, so we decided to save some drive time and stay local.

A screenshot of from my phone showing the forecasted conditions. We were hoping to take advantage of the afternoon northwesterly winds.

With a quick modification of our paddle plan, we were set. We decided to start from the Spanish Banks Off Leash Dog Area and get out at the Vanier Park Public Boat Dock.

Paddle Plan

DATE: Monday Nov. 30, 2020
ROUTE: Burrard Inlet Downwinder: Spanish Banks to Vanier Park (one-way trip)
EST. DEP.: 1220
EST. ARR.: 1405
Tides (Vancouver)

  • 0646 High 4.5 m
  • 1149 Low 3.4 m
  • 1622 High 4.1 m


  • Forecast: see App
  • Northwesterly (WNW) 10-17 kt (17-24 kt wind gusts)


  • 1618

Paddle Distance ~8-10 km
Paddle Time ~1.5-2 hrs
Drive times:

  • Vancouver to Vanier Park Dock: ~10 min
  • Vanier Park Dock to Spanish Banks Off Leash Area: ~15 min

Personal Info

  • TRAVELLERS: 2 (Mon Jef Peeters, Peter)
  • PHONE: [xxx-xxx-xxxx]

Itemized Itinerary

  • 1130 🚗 Departure
  • 1140 🚗 Arrival at Vanier Park Dock
  • 1145 🚗 Departure Vanier Park Dock
  • 1200 🚗 Arrival at Spanish Banks Off Leash Area
  • 1220 🛶 Departure from Spanish Banks Off Leash Area
  • 1350 (1420) 🛶 Arrival at Vanier Park Dock
  • 1410 (1440) 🚗 Departure from Vanier Park Dock 2
  • 1425 (1455) 🚗  Arrival at Spanish Banks Off Leash Area 2
  • 1440 (1510) 🚗 Departure from Spanish Banks Off Leash Area 2
  • 1500 (1530) 🚗 Arrival at Home

Time was going to be a bit tight for me in order to have our single car back home in time for Annie to pick up our son from school. Fortunately, Peter’s wife, Liz, did us a huge solid and let us use both of their vehicles so that we would be able to shuttle back.

When we got down to the Vanier Park Boat Launch the wind was howling. The Canada flag on the point was flapping hard and you could see whitecaps in the bay. The excitement was building, but so was some anxiety. This was windy! I am not sure how Peter was feeling, since this was his first downwinder, but if he had any apprehensions he did not show it. He was cool as a cucumber.

Dropping off our vehicle for our return shuttle at Vanier Park with Peter cool and collect. Photo by Mon Jef Peeters.

We changed into our paddle gear and made the necessary transfers between vehicles to have our dry wears at the end of our paddle. Then we were off to Spanish Banks. As we drove past Kits Beach we could see the whitecaps on the water! If it was not for paddling I would definitely not be down by the water on a windy day like this, so I was surprised by the conditions. They were new to me.

As we prepared our boards at Spanish Banks we saw two other stand up paddleboarders ripping along. This gave me confidence and resolve that we were not crazy to be setting out. But as we carried our boards from the parking lot down to the water in the gale-force winds I began to question our decision making. Peter’s earlier joke that at least if anything went wrong we would be blown into Vancouver rather than out to sea had an eerie feeling of truth to it now. We both had a hard time controlling our boards in the wind. My solution was just to carry the board downwind of me and sail it like a kite as we walked up the shoreline to the dog beach.

Ready to set out from the Spanish Banks Off Leash Dog Beach…I think. Photo by Mon Jef Peeters.

The sea was angry that day my friends…

Standing on the shore the waves looked intense. Peter and I agreed that we would give it a try and see how things went. A dog walker on the beach commented that we were either “crazy” or had ‘nerves of steel’. Another commented that we were going to end up in Downtown Vancouver and I responded that “that was our plan”. I clarified that we were going one-way to Vanier Park as she was genuinely interested.

And then we were off. I took an early bail just out past the shore break as I attempted to stand. Perhaps it would be better to get out on my knees and then stand, I thought to myself. And then as I turned to face west I was swept away by a big wave and this time I bailed from my board from a kneeling position. Things were not looking good. l called out to Peter to see how he was doing and he seemed to be faring similarly. I tried a few more attempts at standing with varying degrees of success. On one attempt I bailed and was fully submerged. As I clambered back onto my board I realized that I had taken water on into my semi-dry suit. I guess they call it semi-dry for a reason.

It is worth a quick note on safety here. Depending on the conditions downwinding has the potential to be dangerous if you are ill-prepared. Be sure to know your paddling ability, the conditions (think of the four W’s: weather, wind, water, waves), and the route (i.e. entry and exit point, as well as potential exit points along the route, should something go wrong). Despite today’s paddle being a case of biting off a bit more than we could chew we were comfortable with the challenge since we were close to shore, in an urban area, and the wind was blowing us inland.

I called out to Peter to ask if we should call it and head in? He was still game to continue or at least that is what I think I heard in the wind and swell. We continued on. At one point off of my board, I touched the bottom so we were in pretty shallow water. I called out to Peter that we should head out to deeper waters. I hoped that the swells would be more manageable there.

Maybe it was the deeper water or just a change in the conditions overall but at some point, I found my legs and a little bit of much needed confidence. As we approached the Jericho Pier I was able to hold my feet and catch a few small waves. Utilizing my paddle for stability was a key concept here which I picked up from the SUPboarder Getting Into Downwinding vlog tutorial series. We passed two paddlers in outrigger kayaks and they cheered me as I caught a wave and struggled to stay upright for their entertainment.

The section between the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club and the Kitsilano Yacht Club had more reasonable conditions. I felt like I got into a bit of a groove standing, though still mainly in parallel stance with a few moments in surf stance. But, any big gusts of wind or errant waves were enough to put me back in the water.

As we passed the dock at the Kitsilano Yacht Club the waves got bigger again. There were kiteboarders ripping across the bay and I stopped paddling and knelt on my board to take it in. Unfortunately, this brought me further into shore than I wanted so it was a battle to paddle back out to get around Kits Point.

And it was just after getting out at Kits Point that I turned back in towards False Creek and caught an epic wave. I felt like a champ and it was great to end on a high note after such a tumultuous start.

I have to give some serious credit to Peter for being such a good sport and holding his own out there. In hindsight, those conditions were super gnarly for a first-time downwinder and definitely were in contrast to the SUPboarder tutorial guidelines. I hope he will still be as keen as me for the next time the conditions are right!

Back at the Spanish Banks Off Leash Dog Area picking up the car. The conditions look much more mild from the shoreline. Photo by Mon Jef Peeters.

Our Route

Google Fit activity tracker screenshot.

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