Fraser River Run

Sunday, October 24, 12021 HE

It has been a while since I have been on the Fraser River. And, for this adventure, there is a bit of a complicated narrative behind its culmination. The simple story is my brother’s neighbour had a new iSUP she was going to let me try out.

The more convoluted narrative is as follows. On Saturday, my brother, Vital, got in touch asking me to speak to his neighbour about her new paddleboard and a potential opportunity as a “distributor” for the company. Naturally, I was intrigued. After getting in touch with Gina, my brother’s neighbour, the story came to light. She had ordered a board from Sea Lion Boards, a UK-based company. After a delay, the company contacted her. They told her that an error occurred on her order, among others. My understanding was that the North American product manager had failed to place the orders. As a result, Gina had the option of a full refund. Or, she could keep her current order, albeit delayed and receive an upgraded, more premium, two-piece paddle for her inconvenience. She decided to go with the latter option. However, another unforeseen delay occurred due to the Ever Given Suez Canal obstruction. At this point, Sea Lion agreed to give Gina an additional three-piece paddle for the added inconvenience. Which she arranged to pick up at a later date from the owner of the company while on a pending trip to Europe. Despite ordering her board in the spring, she had missed the entire summer to use it. But, she was impressed by the customer service provided to help to remedy the situation.

During her communications with the company, a potential role as a North American distributor/agent was discussed. Gina was not interested in the role, but that is where my name came up. That brings us to the present. Gina had queried Vital if I would be interested. And when I showed interest, she suggested that I try her board, the 11′ Rapoka (3.35 metres), to see my thoughts. So, Vital and I set a paddle date that would allow me to test Gina’s board afterward. Vital’s place is waterfront on the Fraser River so, it is a convenient place to paddle from.

I was slightly trepidatious to paddle with Vital, as the last two times that we’ve paddled together, someone has broken a paddle. First himthen me. I am not superstitious but, I think it is fun to consider superstitions. And they say bad things happen in threes so, you do the math.

The other apprehension was the weather. There is a ‘bomb’ cyclone happening off the coast of British Columbia, or more technically explosive cyclogenesis. And along with the radical drop in barometric pressure comes strong winds.

The winds were forecasted to be easterly for Sunday morning. I wasn’t sure if we would be able to go up the Fraser River against the winds and the current combined. And I definitely didn’t want to go down the river because we’d never make it back. Thankfully a morning paddle would coincide with a rising tide so that the current would be ebbed. We decided to give it a shot and test the waters.

We aimed to be on the water around 07:00, just before the civil twilight which was at 07:15. Our timing worked well as there was a strong rainfall on my way to Vital’s place. But it was dying down by the time that I arrived. We kitted up before reaching out to Gina. We decided we would paddle upriver first on our boards and then come back and take her Sea Lion 11′ Rapoka out for a quick test run. Before departing, Gina gave us a sneak peek. It is a sexy-looking iSUP with a faux woodgrain design. And my brief review of their website the night before revealed that they take an eco-friendly approach to their product. The website states that they use Yulex, a natural and renewable resource for their handles. And Bloom foam for their deck pads, which is made from algae biomass.

Once we were kitted out, equipped with lights to meet the Transport Canada guidelines for paddling before sunrise, we set out. The image below is a still shot from the video recording that I took during our paddle.

Setting out on the Fraser during twilight.

The sky to the east looked much more promising than what was overhead. The wind was relatively mild, considering the bomb going off offshore. We hugged the northern riverbank as we made our way east upriver.

Clearer skies off to the east.

We paddled between the log booms and the riverbank, and the water was calm. There wasn’t really any traffic on the water, except for the occasional tugboat. But there was a bit more wind and current to the middle of the river. We just needed to keep our wits about the pilings and cables. I learned about hazards in the Fraser River the hard way when I took a dip on a trip to Westham Island. That paddle was with Vital, who still, to this day, has not fallen into the Fraser.

Between the booms.

I always find it fascinating to travel along the Fraser River. I find myself wondering what it must have looked like over time. Before human intervention to the early human settlement by indigenous peoples, to the colonial era, and then into the industrial revolution. The variety of pilings and dolphins that adorn the waterway attest to human progress. I am slightly facetious here in that I recognize that the modern marvels of our material world benefit me in countless ways. But, at the same time, I am a believer that nothing comes for free. The challenge with the environment and resources from the perspective of cultural ideology is that the payment cycles are on geological time scales. In my ordinary opinion, it is hard for present-day people to fathom the future implications of our current consumptions. Was that alliteration a bit forced? Maybe.

SUPing our way up along the riverbank.

I liked the image below for the light rays from Vital’s safety light. That and it is also a good promo-plug for safety awareness on the water. A light is required by Transport Canada when paddling before sunrise or after sunset.

SUPing with safety lights.

Here again, is the view to the east. I found the line between the weather fronts fascinating.

A little more texture on the water away from the riverbank.

The rising sun made for a magnificent mirroring of the morning view.

Morning mirror.

Eventually, our inside passage came to an end. We were blocked by a log running from the riverbank to the log boom. We considered going over the log but decided against it. We still had Vital’s fall-free Fraser River reputation to maintain. We backtracked a bit before spotting a passageway that looked like it might take us out.

Searching for seam to get through.

There was a narrow passage between two adjacent booms. There was a chain connecting the two booms at the end but, we managed to make it over by getting onto the nose of our boards to raise the fins over. This way saved us a much longer backtrack.

A window of opportunity.

From there, we made our way toward the rising sun. There was a moment where it was over the horizon but under the cloud cover, and we could see its rays unmediated.

A starlit morning.

Vital was curious to check out the waterway near the Fraser Foreshore Trail. The creek goes underneath the bridge in the image below. Perhaps on a future adventure, we may look into going further into the channel. Though we both suspected that we’d bottom out quickly.

The Fraser Foreshore Trail.

We made it as far upriver to where Byrne Creek enters. From there, we turned around to sail back. We were expecting an easy and quick return, but it turned out that we timed too strong of an ebbing tide. The current was slow, and it was more the easterly wind that was moving us downstream than the current.

En route back.

There was a tugboat gaining on us from behind. I hoped it was a big one with a wake to surf. But as it approached, it turned out to be small to medium. As it passed, it stayed far to the other side of the river and reduced its speed. It was a courtesy many would have enjoyed, but I was waiting welcomingly for the wave wake.

The tug wake still gave some small waves to ride. And after the tugboat had passed, I could see another in the distance. This one was hauling a barge. My hopes raised, but past experiences told me the barge wake would be minimal as the vessel speed is too slow.

Again, the wake was weak but still welcomed. The image below is the tugboat with the Seaspan barge behind it after it had passed.

The back end of the barge.

We arrived back at Vital’s place later than anticipated. Instead of taking half of the time to return, as predicted, it was essentially equal.

We arrived back to see Gina on the riverbank. Unfortunately, we had missed the ideal morning light. She had her DSLR camera on hand, equipped with a skookum zoom lens. The picture below was the light at sunrise that she had hoped to catch us in. It’s a gorgeous photo! That’s the advantage of having a dedicated photography instrument.

Twilight on the Fraser River. Photo by Gina.

We did a quick board exchange, and I took the Sea Lion 11′ Rapoka out for a quick test paddle. My board is 3.50 metres (11’6″) long and 0.86 metres (34″) wide. So dropping down to the shorter and sleeker Rapoka, 3.35 metres long by 0.81 metres (32″) wide, you could feel the change in speed. It was much lighter than my board and easier to accelerate. It also has a much different shape which is narrower at the nose. That probably contributed to the quickness, but it did make it feel less stable when rocking side to side. When stepping back into a pivot turn, that feeling of less stability was gone. I was unsure if that was due to the tail shape or the “slipstream” system giving the tail a squarer rail shape.

In any case, it was a fun board to ride around on. And it was a magical morning. It was something right out of the wizard’s sleeve or magician’s hat.

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