Special to the Sooke News Mirror
As we approached Race Rocks on the edge of the shipping lane on nothing more than surfboards and kites overhead, I was wondering what in the world we were thinking when we planned this journey.
The fog bank in the distance seemed to be getting closer and I was already too cold with my hands going numb. I was in the lead and was catching hell from the support boat who said I was splitting up the group by going too fast.
The problem was I couldn’t slow down. I was surfing over the standing current waves that were four feet high and trying to handle sustained winds of 35 knots in my kite.
I was definitely over-powered and out of my comfort zone. I should have rigged a five-square metre kite and wore my dry suit with thermal layers, not an eight m with a 5/4 wetsuit. Putting foot straps on the surfboard board would have helped as well.
Gordon’s Beach has been a favourite kitesurfing spot for a decade. A few of us locals are lucky enough to live here, and the rest of the kite surfers and windsurfers drive out from Victoria and from up-Island when the wind is forecasted.
A Victoria kiter named Luke hatched the plan to sail a “Downwinder” from Gordon’s Beach to Cook Street in Victoria. He is a member of the Royal Victoria Yacht Club so he arranged for a support Zodiac rescue boat. He posted a thread on the sailor’s internet forecast forum BigWaveDave.ca and had eight adventurous kiters sign up, three of whom were from Sooke. Martin, John, and myself.
We gathered at Orveas Bay and had a quick safety meeting before the launch. We all chose appropriate boards, kite sails and foul weather gear, thinking of all possible situations we might find ourselves in, including a destroyed kite and floating out in the strait waiting for a rescue.
Once underway we could barely fly our kites out past a low-wind bubble on our way out into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. As we were approaching one kilometre offshore, the wind was building and wind swell rising. The wind was perfect here for the kites we had rigged and we tacked back and forth high-fiving each other as we passed on opposite tacks. We manouvered our kites so they didn’t crash into each other. There were waves to ride in every direction, we just had to keep our pack of riders together for safety.
Usually our sailing sessions were made of mostly tacking upwind to maintain our ground as sailboats do, but this time we were able to play on a 45 km downwind run, and continually surf the large swell way out in the straight.
We passed the Sooke Basin and then East Sooke, where we found the best swell of the journey. Slashing down nearly vertical wave faces at times and gybing through the foam in the trough. This was a peak experience moment for our kite-surfing careers for sure. So knarly dude!
However, the wind speed kept increasing and I found I was pulling my depower sheet line and flying my kite more and more overhead, both techniques we use to dump excess wind. The conditions were starting to get hairy and we were all glancing at each other looking for inspiration to continue, even though we had no choice but to keep going.
The black and white Racerocks Lighthouse approached quickly as the wind kept increasing. We were almost two hours into the journey and feeling fatigued and cold. This felt like a place where people were not welcomed by Mother Nature, similar to a high alpine peak where you quickly summit and then get down.
It was exhilarating but we were slightly freaked out by the high wind, high waves and currents. Only an isolated barren rocky island nearby.
Once we rounded the corner at the green buoy and sailed another kilometer past the peak wind we were on the home stretch toward Victoria.
There were sighs of relief we surfed down some fantastic waves over the underwater bank where it felt like we were riding moguls in a kitesurfing theme park.
At this point we felt very safe and it became a bit of a race and we slashed, jumped and gybed our way to the Cook Street launch.
After landing our kites at the beach and squeezing out of our wet gear, we told our fresh high-seas stories in our exhilarated state. We were off to a celebratory dinner where we inhaled every burger that was put in front of us.
Greg Innes is a kitesurfing instructor and lives at Gordon’s Beach.