Return to Innocence (Canada, eh?)

Long one. Enjoy.

I've been fortunate to do a lot of traveling in my lifetime, but I have never been to a place quite like the Queen Charlotte Islands (also known as Haida Gwaii). A friend aptly described the place as "God's country."

The Queen Charlottes Islands is located on the northwestern side of Canada, right above Vancouver Island. The primary industry is logging, but they also have a small tourist industry revolving around fishing, hunting and camping.

I thought *I* came from a small town on a remote island (Lihue, Kauai). In the town I was staying at, there was only one local bank, one gas station, and no fast food restaurants. The most popular event on the weekend was bingo (er, I mean "housy"). Talk about country!

Those Canucks are really nice people. The aloha spirit seems to exist around the world--it's just called local hospitality. One thing's for sure, the Canadians are intensely proud of their sports teams, especially hockey (BTW, they should've won the World Cup of Hockey). And they really do end their sentences a lot with, "eh (?)".

Before going there, I inquired about the surfing potential of the place on alt.surfing. I got great responses from Steve Drews, Randy Jackson and Greg Myers (mahalo, guys). Steve told me that the islands were originally inhabited by a group of indians known as the Haida, who were supposedly a more hardcore ocean-going people than the Polynesians. "No way," I silently scoffed. But when I found out what kind of conditions prevailed here, my view turned into one of total respect.

The tidal changes are extreme there--as much as twenty five feet! It can cause some ultra-radical ocean conditions. Heard of an eight foot wall of whitewater rolling in the mouth of the inlet on a rising tide. Couple this with frigid waters that would put you in hypothermia in minutes. And although the weather is relatively mild (little snow), conditions can turn quickly, with lots of cold, "horizontal rain."

For me, it wasn't just a climate shock, but a wildlife one as well. Over there, you are more likely to see a bald eagle in a pine tree than "one mynah bird in one papaya tree." Small deer bounded around, as plentiful as "mongeese" back home. And although I didn't see one, it is black bear country (whoah!).

As far as sea life, killer whales (gulp!) have been known to cruise the local waters. Sharks got nothing on orcas--hell, killer whales eat sharks! Do you remember that nature program where the killer whale thundered right up on the beach, snapped up a baby seal, then tossed it around like a rag doll? I do (said with a faraway, glazy-eyed look).

One thing's for sure, there are very few surfers around here (unless Brock Little or Evan Slater flew in). I made a few contacts, though. You gotta be core to do it here year-round.

After a week of no surf, I was jonesing big time to just get in the water. Going salmon fishing helped a lot. But you know what they say: a bad day of surfing is better than a good day of fishing. :)

Because of the narrow WNW swell window, it looked like most of the waves were generated by local north winds. For most of the time I was there, southeasterlies prevailed. However, there was one time when northerlies blew overnight. Had to check it out the next day.

Went to a spot on the north side of the island, right at the Tow Hill rivermouth. Driving through the dense forest, I got a glimpse of whitewater peeling behind the trees. Yes! I started bouncing in my carseat with glee, and had to catch myself before veering into the ditches on the shoulder.

It was a very calm and sunny day--unusual for this time of year. The waves were small, but peeling nicely off the river sandbar. On the horizon, I could see some mountain peaks--found out later that it was Alaska! Kewl! I was out there!

The ocean had a slightly pungent smell to it, somewhat like rotted driftwood. The water had a really weird copperish-yellow hue, probably from local soil runoff. But its temperature was quite bearable in the upper forties/low fifties range. My 3/3 mil Xcel suit worked well, especially since there was no wind to contend with.

The waves had a really long period, maybe fourteen seconds probably created from some faraway storm (so much for my "north wind" theory). There were nice waist-high peelers with the odd chest-high mondo-set. Rides were long and down the line, reminescent of Queens in Waikiki.

I didn't do many tricks or maneuvers on my bodyboard--carves and cutbacks were the order of the day. I really got a good feel for rail-to-rail transitions in the liquid glass conditions. It was *nice*.

After a few rides, I had to let out a triumphant yell to any black bear that cared to listen--primal scream. Stoked!

Most of the rides were indistinguishable: pump several times, pull a cutback, then ride the wave out. But there was one that really stood out.

I took off a bit deep on a chest-high wave, and had a tough time kicking into it. As I came down the face, the wave bowled a bit and threw a rare tube! I ducked underneath with no hope to make it out, and saw my world go dark as cold, liquid copper engulfed me. It was one of the darkest tubes I've ever been in; just like the ones I used to get in the evenings at the Waimea (Kauai) rivermouth. For those few eternal seconds when I was tumbling underwater, I felt so very alone. Then, I broke into the daylight--rebirth!

After two hours in the water, I reluctantly caught one in. I was neither tired nor cold. For some odd reason, I just didn't think it was right to milk it for all it was worth and keep riding. It was hard to leave, but in my years, I've learned that there's a point where you should be satisfied. There will be another time.

Thinking back about the trip, the song "Return to Innocence" by Enigma comes to mind. The sample of the indian chant sounds exactly like the Haida music I heard over there. Moreover, the theme to the song, along with its music video, focuses on heading backwards, growing younger, going to a time when things were simpler and life was good. Hmmm... that's a lot like surfing, isn't it?

Aloha from Haida Gwaii,

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