Go Big or Go Home: Getting Better at the Long Slogs

// by: Emma Graham

One of my SUP specific goals this year was to become more comfortable with paddling longer distances.  I wanted to take part in the Nanaimo to Vancouver crossing again (without spending any time on the support boat for breaks), be better prepared for race season (regularly 10 plus km distances) and take part in the Keep Calm Paddle On (KCPO) charity paddle in Saskatoon. The two paddles for charity proved to be two of the biggest highlights for my paddling career to date.

This year’s Nanaimo to Vancouver (N2V) paddle was to raise money and awareness for the YWCA youth at risk programs in Vancouver. Our group of paddlers grew to 10 and we were all eager to put what we learned the previous year to work for us. First and foremost for me was the training. Knowing what 65+ kms in a day felt like, I took the distance more seriously and made sure I put in way more training kilometers this time around. Cultus Lake was my primary training ground but you can only do so many laps of the lake before focus starts to drop so I took advantage of other opportunities when they arose. Two of the most fun training paddles were a 26km paddle around Echo Island in Harrison Lake and a 37km downwind run from Horseshoe Bay into Squamish. Both had unreal scenery and fun paddling conditions and are must dos for any type of paddler.
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When the day of the crossing came in early June, I definitely felt much more physically and mentally prepared. We set out from Nanaimo at 5am and pushed north, north-east into a headwind for the first three hours before turning to pick our way across the Georgia Straight. One of the highlights for this crossing for me was when stopped as a group about the half-way point for a break: 10 paddlers on 14’ boards, sitting in the middle of the ocean, 35kms from land in either direction. It was a pretty amazing moment. When we finally rolled into Sunset Beach in downtown Vancouver we had been out there for 11.5 hours and covered just shy of 70kms, with every paddler having paddled the entire distance. Bodies were spent but spirits were high as the fundraiser raised over $14,000 and a whole lot of awareness for the YWCA and their Youth at Risk programs. This was a great day.

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The second epic paddle of the summer was also for a very meaningful cause. Keep Calm Paddle On is an organization that raises both funds and awareness for mental health and I was honoured to be invited on this year’s paddle in Saskatoon. My friend Chad, from Soul Flow Paddle Co in Canmore, spearheads this movement. It was amazing to see the impact he has had on so many others and to learn more about mental health myself. This paddle was a 3 day-2 night, self-supported trek down the South Saskatchewan River and, being my first multi-day trip on paddle board, I had some learning to do on the gear front. Because space is at a premium on the boards and you want to limit weight as much as possible, I found I was packing much like I would for backcountry camping: small and light. Mt. Waddington’s helped set me up with everything I would need and their expertise was greatly appreciated. I always like hearing exactly what people pack and how things worked on these kinds of trips, so I have added a list of notable gear items I took with me below.When the dust settled and I was fully packed, I had my 14’x30″ Barracuda Touring board loaded up with a 40L drybag up front and a 30L drybag tied secured to the back.

The first day on the water saw our group of 22 off to a late morning start just down from Lake Diefenbaker, below the dam. There was no easing into the trip as we put on 41kms over 6 hours before finding a beautiful sandy beach to setup camp for the night. The water level was quite low and we learned very quickly to read the river for low points so we could avoid dragging our fins and having to walk our boards to deeper water. The heat made the second day one of the toughest paddling days I’ve had. We got on the water by 8am and put on 60kms over almost 8.5 paddling hours (breaks were extra). Even with sun protection and drinking a ton of water I think I managed to get a mild case of heat exhaustion which apparently led to me missing a crazy storm that rolled through and wreaked havoc in our campsite that night. Waking up feeling a little rough, I was introduced to a KCPO day 3 tradition. We were on the water around 8am again and paddled 15kms to a little restaurant on the river called the Berry Barn where we treated ourselves to a phenomenal breakfast. I had only been eating freeze dried food for a couple of days, but I think that made those pancakes taste 10 time better.

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Once fueled up, we paddle across the river to meet the rest of the group that would be finishing the paddle with us. Seeing how many people showed up to take part in this leg with us really drove home how powerful this movement is. Once on the water, we had 56 boards and 65 paddlers stretching bank to bank to paddle the last 17kms into downtown Saskatoon.

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This SUP community is an amazing group of individuals that come together and accomplish even more amazing things. From N2V and KCPO to Monster and Sea and StandUp4GreatBear, there is always something people can do to make this world a better place and I feel fortunate enough to be around these movements and contribute wherever I can.  For more information on these, check out the following links:

http://www.nanaimo2vancouver.ca/
https://www.facebook.com/keepcalmandpaddleon
http://www.normhann.com/standup4greatbear/
http://monsterandsea.com/

Notable gear taken on the KCPO paddle:

14′ x 30″ x 5.5″ Barracuda Touring board with tie downs front and back – this will be the board I take on any future trips like this. It was perfect for me

1 fixed length carbon fiber paddle and 1 3pc carbon fiber paddle as a spare

40L and 30L SealLine Baja drybags (chose these over the lighter Nimbus for the durability)

MSR Elixir2 Tent – Loved it! great value and the colour coded parts made setup super easy, no matter how tired I was. Footprint was included and had plenty of space for gear in the vestibules

Exped SynMat 7M – Built in hand pump made inflating really quick

Northface mummy sleeping bag – super comfortable and plenty warm

1L Nalgene water bottles – had two so I could always have one drinkable and one with the purification tablets working their magic

VestPac Hydration pack – combined with the Nalgenes for water and I could wear this one while paddling for easy drinking

Velocitek Makai GPS – one of my newest SUP toys. Can’t say enough good things about this. Kept track of our speed and distance daily. Battery was only half spent by the end of the trip

Collapsible bowl and cutlery – takes up very little space

Stove – didn’t take one as there were a lot within the group

Board repair kit and extra fin