— by Paige Olson
ALL PHOTOS © DAX JUSTIN & TRAK KAYAKS
After a long journey which required traversing by plane, train, bus, ferry, and automobile, I arrived at Wya Point, our base camp for the trip. Arriving around lunch-time, I was met with briny air and some of the most striking scenery I have personally witnessed. Our yurt accommodations sat nested within a coastal old growth spruce forest, steps from a beach teeming with tide pools and a wild and rustic coastline. Shortly after arriving, and meeting the participants, instructors, and facilitators, I felt immediately at home.
We were a diverse group, varying in age, gender, and culture, and yet we all meshed quickly with our building excitement for the week. After brief introductions we all suited up in our cold-weather paddling gear and hit the beach for wet-exit practice. As a TRAK Pilot, not only was I excited to experience and paddle in a new place with my TRAK 2.0, but also to assist participants to build their skills and maximize their TRAK Kayaks.
We lined up on the beach and myself and the instructors, Eder, Keith, Zack, and Cole swam into the water with each participant and supported them while they flipped upside down, and released themselves from their kayaks within the breaking shore waves. I learned pretty quickly that throwing ourselves right into surging waves with complete strangers would make for some fast friendships…and this was only day one. After a stellar dinner, made by our incredible chef Buffy (an accomplished paddler in her own right), we debriefed the day and turned in for a night of sleep before our first full day on the water.
Our second day brought excitement and anticipation for what our daily agenda would hold. We certainly started the day with excitement, discussing the current weather that would bring 11 foot swells and Northwest winds at 35-45 knots. With these conditions, even our sheltered bay at Wya Point was rocking and rolling. We started our day with dry-land stations, learning the ins and outs of effective paddle strokes, braces, and basic foundational skills. The next step was to get everyone into their kayaks and practice bracing in what was call the “soup-zone,” the area where surf breaks right along the beach. I was fortunate enough to have a front row seat, sitting as a safety kayak just beyond the surf zone. I watched my new friends transition from stiff-bodied nervousness to all smiles practicing skills as waves crashed over their bows. I was struck by the fearlessness and resolve each person, particularly when each of them ventured beyond the break and into the swell. In conditions that Hans, our fearless facilitator described as “Big with a capital B,” there was visible frustration by many in attempts to master the skills and the conditions.
The second half of the day involved the instructors and myself paddling a short crossing to a more protected area to work on rescue skills with the group. While the three instructors towed multiple kayaks behind them, I accompanied three paddlers from the group who felt confident to make the crossing. About a quarter of the way into the crossing, we had a swimmer. What ensued was a fantastic display of teamwork and risk assessment. While I performed a rescue and got our friend back in his boat, Eder, our primary instructor, passed off the boats he was towing to Cole, and accompanied the paddler back into shore while the remainder of the group held position. I looked around at Victor and Francine, our two other participants, and was immediately impressed by the composure they held on the water as huge swells and sideways waves worked to knock our balance. We were able to press on and complete the crossing with hoots and hollers, feeling proud of the paddlers that fearlessly jumped at the chance to paddle the dynamic coast.
The rest of the afternoon involved shuttling the other paddlers to the protected area via car, and working through rescue skills progressions. As we completed the day, de-briefing with dinner, I couldn’t believe the display of honesty and vulnerability that each person expressed. There was no pride, only a desire to become better paddlers and better people.
Duncan, who went on to be honored with the annual Ryc Williamson Spirit Award, told us “It was an emotional day for me, so thank you for all of the support.” This comment epitomized our entire day. The day was filled with a variety of emotions, from excitement and joy, to frustration and fear, I couldn’t help but be immensely impressed by the resilience each and every person displayed in what was likely an environment that pushed the limits of each person, myself included.
On day three we traveled back to the protected beach from the prior day and split off into groups to work on some advanced skills progressions. I was fortunate enough to spend the morning working with Steve, who had struggled the previous day to feel comfortable and connected to his kayak. After a few adjustments and instruction, Steve became a whole new paddler and as he put it “I got a new boat today!” Seeing his confident smile, a drastic shift from the day before, filled my soul. His display of resilience and commitment to give it another shot payed off in full as he paddled confidently around the bay. We then moved on to practicing surf launching and landing. Although Steve was a bit hesitant, I encouraged him to try a few landings. I sat beyond the break and watched as Steve seamlessly paddled into the shore break, turned around, and headed back out to sea. I couldn’t help but let out a loud whoop, feeling immensely proud that he had built his confidence and give it a go. What happened next was what I call “building the stoke.” I overheard Eder on the radio speaking to TRAK Pilot Keith that everyone should try to surf a few waves. Instead of trying to land the kayaks, everyone was encouraged to try to catch a wave as they paddled towards shore. There was a visible shift from focused learning, to pure elation. Every single person caught a wave, and I’m pretty sure every person was beaming, huge smiles, laughs, and encouragement all around.
May 26th brought our final full day of kayaking, and a big day was in store. The conditions had visibly calmed down from our first day on the water, looking much more serene in our bay on Wya Point. The plan for the day entailed a large group of us making a 5k passage north along the open rugged coastline, towards Long Beach, a renowned surf beach. A smaller group stayed within the bay area to hone in their foundational skills. The larger group packed up, had a safety briefing on the beach, and set off on what would be a beautiful paddle north. As we rounded Wya Point and broke out into the open ocean, I felt small in comparison to the vast sea to my left.
We paddled north to a small island where we were met by five barking sea lions. Keeping a respectful distance, we watched as they sunned themselves, then dove deep into the depths, unsure if they would surface right next to us or keep a safe distance. I couldn’t help but think that the TRAK kayak I was sitting in was the only reason I was able to experience the Pacific wildlife up close and personal. We continued on beyond the protection of the island, into large rolling swell that would accompany us until we reached long beach. Soon enough, long beach was in sight. It was vast and deep, like nothing I had ever seen before. We could just make out the tiny heads of surfers enjoying the break. Before we could land, we enjoyed a bit if type 2 fun. To reach the beach, our group needed to paddle between two large rock features, in the middle of which was a churning and wavy disarray. Our pod of paddlers that had worked to stay in a tight formation during our excursion began to get more distanced between the large swells. Despite the rise in conditions, we made it safely and happily to the beach, just in time to enjoy our packed lunches and soak up the beautiful 65 degree day.
Our other friends who had worked on foundational skills in the morning met us at the beach as well, having shuttled their kayaks over to come enjoy long beach. With our whole group back together, it was time to do what we had spent the last few days progressing towards…getting our surf on. The beach provided a perfect break for both beginner paddlers and experienced paddlers to catch some waves. We were nervous with excitement, yet empowered by the three previous days of both skill building and growing from a group of complete strangers to a tight-knit team. The hours that followed were filled with complete joy. I watched as each person fearlessly adapted to the wind and the waves, throwing themselves into the surf and catching waves. I experienced my own stoke catching my first Pacific Ocean waves and feeling the power of the ocean behind me. This would be the reason my cheeks hurt until I got home back to Minnesota, all the smiles.
After having a full afternoon of surfs and smiles, we headed into town to let our hair down and enjoy dinner at a local food truck. I looked around at the new friends I had made. We all chatted incessantly about our day, future trips we want to take, and what had been accomplished over the week. Now, as I sit at home reflecting on my time at the TRAK Pacific Rim Surf Camp, I still can’t believe the growth I saw in each and every person within the group. Whether it was becoming a better kayaker, or becoming a better person, we were all better for the week we spent together. I was constantly shocked and impressed by the resilience and adaptability of the group, working through new, sometimes frustrating experiences, the team we became had us ending the week feeling empowered and invested in dreams for the next paddling trips we would take together with our TRAKs. Despite the group being spread across the world, we didn’t say true “goodbyes” in the hopes that we would be on the water again soon.