Odyssey of the 49th Parallel

 

Written by Jason Guindon

Act I

Heeding the call of action, duty and adventure; our would-be heroes set out from across the continent. Their convergence upon the supernatural island of Vancouver was merely the beginning of a greater story.

I left TRAK HQ on the morning of Tuesday, May 16th in a cargo van loaded with no fewer than 9 kayaks, a mountain of paddling gear, a motorcycle and more than enough cautious apprehension for the task that lay ahead. I was being dispatched to a remote region of Vancouver Island for one week, unsure of what I would find and who I would meet. The uncertainty of travel and of making so many new acquaintances was a familiar yet long-since-felt sensation that was cause for as much excitement as it was feelings of consternation. I couldn't help but wonder at the time of my departure whether or not the people I was setting out to meet were experiencing similar feelings of trepidation, as many of them were coming from much farther afield than myself. I could at least count on the familiarity of a few colleagues with whom I had paddled and worked with previously, which was more than could be said for the people who were flying in from out of province and country. I don't believe that anyone knew what the hell to expect.

Andrew, whose motorcycle we were shuttling, and I caught the last ferry to the Island and spent the night in Nanaimo. We awoke in the picturesque port of call and made our own ways out to Wya Point, the campground where we would meet the rest of our team. It was during my solitary drive to the West coast of the island as I passed ancient forests of old growth trees and piloted my way along precarious mountain roads that the sheer vastitude of the environment began to affect me. I had arrived at Wya Point, after a few hours of travel, in awe and astonishment. 

The other team members variously arrived the following day, filtering in with their camping gear and kayaks that they’d brought with them on any number of planes, trains and buses. The first hints that something great was taking place were revealed after tents and campsites had been squared away when the team members met at our shared yurt, the common area for the duration of the camp, to assemble their kayaks. There was a co-operative spirit and a communal approach to the assembly and outfitting of kayaks where different people compared preferences, methods and advice on how to get the most out of their boats that truly set the tone for rest of our time together.

The social chemistry was undeniable and carried through to our first group meal and meeting where we made introductions and charted out the goals that we would be striving to achieve together. The team was honored with a visit from local experts and industry leaders JF Marleau and Justine Curgenven, who shared vital knowledge of the local coastline and conditions, along with enlightening the group with some of Wya Points ancient and sacred history. The team learned that Wya, in the local Ucluelet First Nation language, translates to “a rocky place from which to launch” – an apt and meaningful name that foreshadowed the next two days events.

Act II

Tried, tested, battered but never broken, our cohort of heroes learned a great deal more than how to physically master the ocean; mastery of the self, both physically and mentally, were equally necessary to ensure success on the water.

Friday morning heralded the initiation of paddling activities for the team. Ample time was spent preparing on shore for a day of honing skills; a healthy meal followed by careful attention to kayak assembly, outfitting and optimization lead the group into the water with an unstoppable enthusiasm. A multitude of skills were practiced in the sheltered bay of Wya Point, from material skills like rescues and biomechanics to purely immaterial skills such as coaching and leadership. Many tools for these trials had yet to be tested and many team members were cutting their teeth and pushing the boundaries of the product prototypes that I’d brought for their scrutiny. Their reviews turned out to be an excellent validation of TRAK’s efforts over the last months to create products that will be game changers not just for our boats, but for kayaking in general.

Saturday brought some unexpected challenges to our team. We had set out with the plan to paddle 15km across the 49th parallel with the intention of landing in the surf followed by a surf skills progression class – sounds easy, right? The ocean, however, has the uncanny ability to present you with unexpected challenges that will test you physically and mentally, leaving you to rely on your training, indomitable spirit and self-leadership skills. Things went sideways during the second leg of our route: we had calm seas up to Florencia Bay, but ran into confused seas once we passed the head. These schizophrenic waters, mixed with a few capsizing incidents, contributed to a breakdown in communication which resulted in the splintering of our 16-person group into multiple pods. Our new challenge was to maintain cohesion within our new groupings and reach the destination point at all costs, our only option due to there being no safe landing spots between the point of separation and the intended terminus.

We held a critical debriefing session to discuss what had just transpired once every pod had landed and been accounted for, giving all an opportunity to share their feelings on what had happened and contribute their ideas on what they could have done differently. Valuable takeaways were gleaned and many went back to camp with something to think about. The feeling wasn’t dour for long, and our nightly meal and campfire chat was as jubilant as could be expected from a group of paddlers in a kayaking paradise.

Sunday morning was dominated by the surging energy of improvement and innovation as group members contributed to focused product development stations set up around our common area. The group dissected and worked to advance the fundamental elements of different aspects of the TRAK kayak with the manic enthusiasm of artists in a studio and, more often than not, mad scientists in a lab. An immense amount of ground was won as a result of the co-operation and effort that all in attendance displayed, producing a professional result that money alone could never purchase.

We returned to the beach that, only one day previously, had kicked many of our proverbial asses. Fabio Raimo de Oliveira, our ACA leader, famously mentioned that we had taken the exam before we’d had the lesson – and he was right. The previous days trials had only sharpened the skills and strengthened the bonds of the paddlers who were about to participate in an afternoon of surf progression training. All surfing experience levels were represented amongst the group and nobody walked away feeling unfulfilled, owing to the excellent conditions and compatible partner pairings that had been arranged. I watched from ashore as beginners learned to spread their wings, familiarizing themselves with the rhythm of the sea, while adepts cut loose and totally shredded the gnar, dude.

The 20/20 team had been through a lot together by the time that night fell on the third day; a group of near strangers had become a family, limits were identified and thoroughly pushed by all, and a project that had previously been intangible had come to fruition and yielded great outcomes. The newly forged tribe gathered on the beach at Wya Point and burned a fire to signify the end of our time on the island, sharing stories and impressions of the time spent together. No bonfire is ever fully realized until the voices of a dozen jubilant paddlers are joined in song so, as they are wont to do, the accompanying minstrels lead the team through a few bars of the TRAK Kayak Blues on guitar. The tune, though simple and innocuous, was symbolic of how eager the team was to join to make powerful moments together – even at the risk of appearing vulnerable.

Act III

The Odyssey of the 49th parallel reached its end. They returned to their homes with new skills, allies, and a new outlook. They are now part of a new community within a truly ancient tradition, who forged new paradigms within their craft and new heroes within themselves.

The Pacific Rim Surf Camp was formally closed with a convocation of the 20/20 team next to the little yurt that we had used for communal meals, equipment staging and group discussions for the duration of our excursion to the Wild West Coast. Everyone received official ACA certifications and shirts that bore the word TRAK, which had been printed vertically over the right side of the chest. Nobody wasted any time donning their team colours and assembling for the obligatory group photo, captured beneath a bonafide “tree of life” with limbs reaching out in all directions, immortalizing the time spent together at Wya Point.

I left Tofino in the afternoon of Tuesday, May 23rd in a cargo van loaded with those 9 kayaks, a mountain of paddling gear, and many lasting memories of the journey that lay behind.  I couldn't help but wonder at the time of my departure whether or not the people I was parting ways with were experiencing similar feelings of elation and fulfillment. North Carolina, California and Brazil were only some of the faraway places that people would be returning to, along with their busy lives and schedules, now leaving behind the anomaly of “island time” – that unique feeling where seconds and minutes are largely indistinguishable from each other, and beginning down the path to their next adventure.

 

Epilogue

Dan Numbers, a member of the 20/20 team, capably lead a flotilla pf paddlers around Ross Island sometime after he had returned from the wild point of Wya. Guiding them back to shore, our hero happened across another paddler who had capsized into the water and was struggling to rescue herself. With a flooded boat and bereft of safety gear, the unmounted kayaker was vulnerable and at the whim of the sea. Her companions were helpless to assist her and merely watched as she flailed helplessly, clinging to a barely floating boat. Dan, without hesitation, or consideration for his mettle or the fact the paddler was associated with a rival party, leaped into action to emancipate the swimmer from her most unfortunate peril. He announced his arrival and proceeded to drain the swimmer’s craft, heel hooking her back into her kayak in less than a minute. He left with a cheeky quip and to the adoration of the bystanders, back to his group whom he skillfully piloted to shore. An example of daily heroism and uncommon skill, a man of action and a credit to his tribe.

Learn more about our adventure in Tofino here

Find TRAK 2.0 on Kickstarter!




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