Friday, February 07, 2014

Slave River

The slave river has been in the back of my mind since I started kayaking. The article with Steve Fisher crushing big lines and surfing these huge waves was just awe inspiring. Until last season I really thought the Slave river was out of reach to me. It lies in such a remote part of Canada that one would need to work in a northern diamond mine, work as a river guide or just not work at all to make the time to get up to this infamous playground. I fall into the latter at the best of times so it was about time that I attempted to make the journey up into Northern Canada/s North West territories.

It was not with "into the wild" style tactics that I took on the little mission. I had a lot of help from Aquabatics, a store down in Calgary and from a local by the name of John Blyth, who runs the slave paddle fest each year. (you can click on all those links and they'll open in the background). Without the hospitality and generous beta from these guys it would have been a tough go.

It has to be said this place is not close to anything by any means. Bring your food with you, bring bug repellant and if you drive a diesel car bring a funnel as they only have industrial diesel pump. Its a solid 18 hour drive from Edmonton and thats on a good day with no serious Bison interference

Once you arrive in Fort Smith there are a few choices for sleeping, there are a few motels and an abundance of crown land on which you can pitch a tent. I am not sure what the camping rules are there so don't quote me check out the town website.

Unlike most rivers we are used to the Slaves rapids do not total a lot of length making access to the various ledges, of which there are 3, relatively easy. It is the shear width and copious array of channels that make this river so breath taking. The force in some of these rapids really makes you feel  how fragile you are. Some of these rapids take up to twenty minutes to cross.

Despite its volume this river offers something for intermediate paddlers all the way to the pro's. The waves here are spectacular, fast and powerful. Airtime is plentiful and so is sunlight so your days can be as long as you want them to be. there were waves as big as bus-eater on the Ottawa River and some small enough to learn how to spin or cart wheel.

If the drive is daunting there is always flight options in and out of Fort Smith from a number of southern airfields, although I can not see these prices being competitive. This was my first time up here and it is the closes thing we have to the Zambezi river in Canada. I can safely say that this will become and annual pilgrimage for me. 

Leave any questions in the comments

Photo credits: Leif and Natalie Anderson, John Blyth and Rob Murphy

Monday, January 06, 2014


Revelstoke is a Mecca for a ton of outdoor sports, skiing, boarding, climbing, biking and of course kayaking. Each year I pass through Revi to catch up with friends and sample the goods, however timing can be difficult with rain sometimes causing a big rise in water levels.

This year I happened to find a few other foreigners that had some spare time and wanted to take a rip on the Jordan river, Revelstokes finest. The Jordan was just dropping in and I didn't have too much time to wait for it to come down to the appropriate level, so with just one car we got on and went for a rip

Despite being a bit on the high side the Jordan provided the sought after treats and we had a couple of epic laps. This river is most definitely one of my favourites. After running (literally) shuttle a few times, and after we were satisfied with the few laps we got, we headed north to 
Clearwater for their annual festival and partied, what awesome few days on the river shouldn't finish with a festival?

Thursday, November 21, 2013

St Leon

This past year has been a whirlwind. I said goodbye to the oilfield almost as soon as I received my Canadian residency papers, and moved to Edmonton, which is even further away front the epic white water that Canada has to offer. However it was for a good cause. A life filled with the time and resources needed to kayak and snowboard for the rest of my life.

Some have said I am crazy however when you get a chance to step back and look at your surroundings it can be both humbling and eye opening. At first a guys interpretation of the dream is to become a professional athlete. Travel the world on a shoe string making the most of what you have. This is by no means wrong, I just think it is an ill fit for myself and a choice had to be made. A choice to live the best of both. A healthy career that in turn provides a healthy life style.

Saying goodbye to a transient shoe string life style can be difficult, and in my case gut wrenchingly difficult. Driving away from that group of friends you have travelled with for what seemed like an eternity to start a fresh new adventure can be difficult. Self doubt, financial instability and the potential for failure all weigh heavily on ones mind. But you have to take a step, sure if you never leapt you might never have figured out with the other side has to offer.


It has been two and a half years since I moved away from the mountains, the ottawa river and my good friends, and what do I have to show for it? Success, somehow I have managed to achieve that balance. Unfortunately there has to be sacrafice, distance meant that friends loose touch and you each live your lives going in different directions. A necessary evil I guess.

But like anything enough effort can make anything work, and with a work hard play hard attitude I have had a season that has involved more kayaking than ever before. It has been awesome. Lots of new rivers, new people and new experiences.

The first trip of the season was to St Leon creek, which is located south of Revelstoke, BC. And what a river, it is gnarly, step and incredibly accessible. This is by no means a new river in terms of exploration but it is a must for anyone travelling in that direction. If you into driving, the road south is an incredible plethora of winding turns that opens up into a man made lake located in a breath taking valley.

Asides form the kayaking you have the St Leon hot pools to soak in after a few laps and an abundance of camping around the area. This is one of my favourite areas in Canada both for summer and winter trips. With great friends, unreal weather and a great few days under the belt down south and a shut down on the Upper Pingston it was time to head back to Revi and sample some of the local goods....

Photo Credit: Tommy Harding and Sean McTeirnan

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Harvey's Passage


You would think living in the Albertan metropolis of Calgary it would mean, pollution, traffic, hypsters and drought, well you would be right about most of it, however they have recently invested millions into creating a white water playground for the large kayaking population residing in the most populous place between Vancouver and Toronto.

Although my season was vastly occupied by creeking and river running I managed to get down to this white water creation, Harvey’s Passage, to kayak with some friends while they taught a freestyle clinic on the weir. We managed to get this place while it was receding from high flood which meant we got to surf a wave, yes a wave in the middle of Calgary.

Although some of these features have been created to form some aggressive features it leaves a lot of room to practice everything from spins and front surfing to tricky-whu’s and airscrews. Be ready for the fire department to stop by as this whitewater parc. Is located directly to the west of a main highway, and a majority of commuters think we are drowning.

Check out Alberta Freestyle on facebook and for any info you need to paddle in this area.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Barrier Dry Suit

Who doesn’t like a dry suit right, you can roll out of bed don whatever base layer set up you have going on, with woolly socks, slap on a pair of boardies and your good to go for the whole weekend.
I was pretty keen this year and tried to get out kayaking as early as I could, and even managed to persuade some locals to go paddling when there was still a foot of snow on the ground.
With the barrier you got a good thick material that can take hiking through the busy, pockets to store stuff and material socks that don’t freeze when your hiking in the snow!!!! It comes in a wide array of sizes so you can go Ottawa gangster sylez, or snug, running around the banks style.
I have been rocking a barrier for the last few years and have had no complaints, it's super dry, the colours are bright so your hand signals are easy to see, even in dark canyons and if someone does swim the bright colours show up pretty quick and despite what some people might say you can get in and out of this dry suit on your own, as long as you wax the back zip regularly.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Van Island

BC got absolutely rocked by rain storms in late June and early July this year which meant land slides, floods and too much water to safely kayak anywhere in BC, so we took off to Vancouver Island to check out the so called goods out there.


About 100kms and a ferry ride landed us in Comox and ready to go. Pavel Bendel brought us to one of the most beautiful camp spots I have ever been luck to experience, located on a natural jette leading to the centre of a local fishing hotspot. We set up camp here and blasted off as many rivers as we could.

Due to the small population and lack of kayakers in the area there is not too much beta on the area and we took our time to really enjoy every bit of water we could.

Van island seems to be an outdoor enthusiasts dream come true, surfing, climbing, hiking, kayaking,  riding and chilling all on one small little island. Oh and it runs pretty much all year. 

Elk River

Leap of faith is one of the nicest waterfalls Alberta has to offer and due to the awesome experience of working for the oilfield I managed to get screwed with levels or trip timing all season. Finally towards the end of the season Mikkel gave me a shout and we all headed south of Calgary and into the Crowsnest pass area to finally get a trip down to this awesome river. The Elk is situated in the bush with some of the most awe-inspiring scenery. Our campsite had us perched a top a 100+ ft cliff looking south over the southern landscape and down into the US.

Driving around this area really wakes you up to the effects of logging in the area. Although the industry boasts of reclamation and tree management, it still shocks you to see the vast areas that do get cleared in the name of logging. Although we caught the Elk incredibly low, we still ran laps on it for the weekend and got some cool shots. This area is beautiful, and a must to check out if your around the area.

Season Write Up

This year has possibly been one of the greatest years to date for myself. I moved to Canada four years ago with the dream of being able to kayak and snowboard for the rest of my life, a pretty unrealistic dream for most, but especially for an Irish man.  A recent you tube video has been showing up on my face book, recently, a recording of Alan Watts, a philosopher, and he talks of what you would like to do when you grow up. I hadn’t a clue. Most of us want to be happy and have a sweet job that lets us lead a sweet life which ultimately, is hard to achieve.

Rather than speculate as to some far fetched idea that I could become a self sustaining athlete or have a job that let me kayak or snowboard all year round I decided I would like to be in a job where I am happy or excited to got to work every day. In order to do this in a modern society a lot of us have to migrate towards the urban environment and work for some sort of industry, which is inevitably adding towards the destruction of the environment, which in turn leads to the ruin of our playground. It is a reality, a harsh but true one.

Two years ago I had to make a decision as to how I was to achieve my goal, immigration were on me to get a job that wasn’t season and so I chose fire fighting, which ultimately allows you to do what you love while fulfilling the modern need to earn in order to play. This year that dream came through and although it isn’t a playboy philanthropist bankroll that has resulted from this decision, it sure is a step in the right direction.

Where previously I have been fully immersed in the non urban constituency of kayakers and snowboard/ski enthusiasts I had to step away in order to get this new life rolling, as they say one must sometimes take a step backwards in order to move forward. This break from the bubble that is that transient, sport based lifestyle has opened my eyes to the level of commitment; the larger sports communities invest in making sure they live their life. They work to live, not live to work, although living for the weekend was something I once feared, these weekend warriors have truly shown me what it is to love your sport.

This season I have paddled with a large number of different kayakers, whether at competitions, amongst oversized groups racing down awesome class 4 or as part of the closely nit group of friends I have met here in Canada. Each and everyone of my newly met acquaintances have shown me what it is to WANT to kayak. Not that I didn’t want to kayak before. I just never saw the level of commitment these guys had to making it happen. It made working the jobs I had to, in order to achieve permanent residency, and ultimately my new life, bearable.

 We kayaked rivers in Alberta and BC, we camped in some of the most beautiful spots I have ever been, set foot on rocks only travelled across by a number of people before us. We lost a good friend, and made many new ones. Although I didn’t make it to the Grand Prix, or to surf bus eater for hours on end like seasons gone by, I attained a new level of ability and awareness both on the river and off. 

Alberta is not the oil refining, environment destroying land mass that I had been led to believe. It has given me the opportunity to paddle with so many people and see so many beautiful rivers and ultimately fulfil the goal of kayaking and snowboarding for the rest of my life. This season without a doubt has been my best, thank you to everyone that made it as good as it was, you know who you are and we will continue to paddle together for seasons upon seasons to come.