What draws us to the ocean? In the words of Gordon Brown, “The oceans are the most hostile and dynamic environment on earth. By journeying and playing on the surface of the ocean we are placing ourselves at its mercy and have to do so on its terms.” So why are we still drawn to these waters? Is it the thought of taming something that is untamable? The free saline rinse? Or could it be that we are children of the tides and we have been hypnotized by the ever-changing dynamic of these waters?
Recently, Peter and I had the chance to team up with a group of like-minded paddlers from all over Canada and the US of A. It all started as simply liking each other’s pics via Instagram. It grew from there to a legit connection with all of us making the realization that we were all a bunch of numpties and cementheads. We enjoyed the carnage of each other’s battles in the surf. The bigger the smash the greater the connection we made as we could all relate with the level of suffering endured. I mean, who looks forward to hurricanes tracking up the east coast and gets giddy when they see anything bigger than 6-foot waves? We were not a group of elitists by any means, but we all wanted the same thing: we were all in #searchofplay.
Our first gathering was led by one of this very group, Jarrod Gunn McQuillan of Cloud 9 Adventures on one of the neatest tidal features Nova Scotia has to offer, the Shubenacadie River aka the Shubie. What, pray tell, is the Shubie? It is a chocolatey river of surfing goodness fed by the Bay of Fundy, home to the highest tides in the world. The river experiences a tidal bore twice a day, where it fills with one massive flood, creating a super surfer’s paradise, where you surf forwards until it’s time to surf backwards.
We started in Maitland, Nova Scotia at the mouth of the Shubie. We lugged our kayaks down through the thick muddy shoreline. If you could have seen my awkward, junior high dance moves sliding down through the mud, you would have sworn you had seen a half-dressed sasquatch running away with your boat. I filled the inside of my dry suit (that was tied up around my waist). As I slid down the hill trying to save the boats, I slowly filled my drawers with the Shubie; it left the contents of what one of our friends would call a “Triple Flusher”! It’s the mud that just keeps giving. What was even funnier was trying to get the mud rinsed off in the mud infested river.
After all our boats were happily awaiting the flood, we transitioned to our tailgate talk with Jarrod. We went over what the tidal run would look like, and we talked about our personal goals for the trip. My goal was to laugh a lot. Let’s just say I am an overachiever in this department. We were paired up with our river buddies for the day, and divided into two groups of 5. That way we would be able to space out evenly on the features and know that we were watching each other’s backs. It was a system that worked really well, ensuring that no matter where you wound up on the river you could all die together on the most glorious of waves. I joke! Jarrod really had this down to a science, and it was a system that worked incredibly well. All of us surfing at the same time was the chaos, and Jarrod was the organized one trying to keep us together; thus creating organized chaos! I liken it to the art of herding cats.
I can’t lie; I had that nervous energy welling up inside (the kind where you got volunteered to be the guy shot out of a cannon–happily volunteered, of course, but volunteered nonetheless). So, we all hit the water and awaited the first wave. We did a warm up, all the while doing the surfer look back every so often, the anticipation mounting. Then, out of the ocean, the wave began to appear. It was a really cool feeling, all of us spread out, about to grab the same wave. Then–boom–you’re on it. There is no going back at this point. You are committed to going with the flow and where it takes you. The cannon’s been fired, and the circus has begun (unless you’re scared of circus clowns, then just forget that reference).
Now when your guide says, “stay river right,” or “river left,” HE MEANS IT! I happened to be too far left on the wave at the start and found out just how powerless you can feel paddling against the Bay of Fundy, as the water converged on a giant sand bar. The left was a bit of a meat grinder and it was the side I was getting pulled towards. The right was the safe haven to await the waves of the first feature. I found myself feeling a bit helpless as I powered against the current, trying to get back to river right. With a lot of brute force and sand slinging, I finally made it back over and collected my thoughts and breath. Let’s just say it went something like, “I CAN’T BREATHE, I CAN’T BREATHE, I CAN’T BREATHE.” LOL! Lesson learned!
As the sandbar covered over, we awaited the backfill of the river creating a reverse of current over the main flow. Then the wave train began, small at first then increasing in size, until it eventually would fizzle out showing that it was time to hit the next feature. So you say to yourself, “That wasn’t so bad.” Then you hear Jarrod say, “Alright, guys, let's hit Killer K.” The thrill of the kilometer-long set of 6-8 foot waves hitting you one after the other was an incredible experience–one we will not soon forget.
Grabbing one of these waves isn’t like grabbing a shorebreak wave. Timing was key. As you are coming down the backside of the wave, you dig in hard and hang on for dear life. For what is about to happen is a ride that you don’t even realize how awesome it is until your face hurts from smiling too hard. Now you’re moving against the flow of the river, your brain trying to compute what’s happening while you feel like you’re dancing backwards on a treadmill. You’re going against the flow of the river on an 8-foot wave! How is this even happening? Wave train after wave train and set after set, you work hard for a reward that just keeps giving and giving.
Now you realize that everyone who has told you about the awesomeness of the Shubie wasn’t lying! Ride after ride and smash after smash, you realize you’re in tidal heaven, riding chocolatey waves that really don’t taste like chocolate (but it’s best not to think about how I came to that conclusion!). Every feature offers different lessons to us as paddlers; you learn where to plant your paddle, and what works and doesn’t as you reverse edge to stay on that ride as long as humanly possible. The waves are smooth and glassy in some parts and steep and angry in others, but, oh, so much fun. Even when you are missing rides, you are loving every minute of it!
Another neat part for me was watching the zodiacs full of tourists get smashed around, the tourists cringing as they watched us getting tossed around like a bunch of brightly-colored, Mexican jumping boats, all the while trying not to fall out of their own boats. There was a great sense of accomplishment that went along with this: that we were dependent on our own abilities to survive this adventure we were on. That’s not to say we didn’t have fail safes in place, but we were at the mercy of the river and surviving each feature ahead of us.
As we came to the end of our journey, we reached Anthony’s Nose–a large and stiff-snouted eddy line. It showed you who the boss was if you didn’t edge in properly. It had the odd whirlpool, hole, and rollercoaster ride thrown into the mix as well. We spent some time working on boat control on this line, throwing in some rescues in chunky current. Fun was had by all, right side up and upside down. Let’s just say upside down felt like “Who turned out the lights?” “What just touched me?” “What was that?” and every other scary movie scene where people are yelling at their TV, “Don’t go in there!” It was a complete darkening of your senses–very disorienting–as you weren’t sure where right side up was.
We played here till the river filled in at Green’s Creek, which was our take out spot. As we paddled up the creek, it was hard to believe that this peaceful little inlet was only a few minutes from the awesome chaos we had just paddled in. We made our way through the serene canal till we got to a small bridge that screamed with the possibility of a little more fun! There may have been a flipping contest and couple of group jumps. Then came the most important part: the ceremony of fist bumps and awkward hugs, and more importantly, the discussion of supper. Let’s just say Donair Poutine and Burritos were on the menu and no car was a safe place on the drive home. The moral of the story is this: if you ever have a chance to paddle the Shubie, clear your calendar and just do it! The Shubie was awesome! I would highly recommend booking a spot with Jarrod next season. He was a great host for this adventure and Peter and I will be going again!
Thanks to the Cast of this Adventure. For without this great group of paddlers to hang out with on the Shubie, it would have only been super awesome instead of epic :)
Paddlers who braved the Shubie are as follows: Kayak Hipster, Lee Richardson, Jarrod Gunn McQuillan, Chris and Shannon King, Jason Richard, Ben Fontenot, Will Poole, Peter Lavigne and Myself.