Cross-strait paddleboarder aims to raise awareness of marine conservation

Sometimes a well-designed aluminum-foil helmet is an essential piece of equipment — especially if you’re paddleboarding through the busy shipping lanes of the Strait of Georgia.

For Bruce Kirkby, a writer and adventurer who arrived in Victoria’s Inner Harbour Monday morning after paddleboarding from Vancouver, the foil beanie gave him confidence he would be picked up on radar by marine traffic.

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“I had tinfoil around my toque and the ferries said they could catch us on their radar,” said Kirkby, who effortlessly skimmed around the watery lumps and bumps in the Coho’s wake.

The trip, supported by Mountain Equipment Co-op, is raising awareness and funds for the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society’s campaign for a national marine conservation area to protect the busy southern Strait of Georgia.

Kirkby, known for his international exploits, had never been on a stand-up paddleboard until six weeks before this expedition.

“I was totally new to paddleboarding, but it’s like cross-country skiing — you learn the stroke in the first half hour and then take 20 years to perfect it,” Kirkby said.

During training prior to the journey, Kirkby, who lives in Kimberley, did a 100-kilometre paddle in one day.

So he felt he was ready for the Vancouver-Victoria voyage. However, it did have its challenges, admitted Kirkby, whose recent adventures range from mountain biking in the Italian Dolomites to rafting the Blue Nile Gorge.

“I fell off once. The water was very lumpy and I got really tired and went to change hands,” he said.

Luckily, it’s no big deal falling off an inflatable paddleboard, since you can climb back on, Kirkby said.

“If you are in a kayak and it fills with water, you have a problem, but with this, if the surf gets big, you can get down on your knees.”

Kirkby set off last Thursday, followed by a two-person film crew in a kayak, and camped along the way.

One of the kayakers was 18-year-old Kalum Ko, who had never before been in an ocean kayak.

“I really enjoyed it, but there were a couple of spots when I did wonder about it,” Ko said.

The most difficult part was leaving Steveston with the wind blowing up to 20 knots. Kirkby was forced to wait for a brief window and then managed to reach Galiano just as the sun was setting.

Along the way, there were eagles, sea lions and other wildlife, plus the experience of standing on a paddleboard and being able to look straight down into the ocean, Kirkby said.

“As Canadians, we are really blessed with all this opportunity for adventure.”

Jessie Corey, spokeswoman for the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, said so far the trip has raised $300 online and Kirkby and Mountain Equipment Co-op are each donating $1,500. “More than just raising money, though, Bruce undertaking this trip has been a good way to raise awareness about the southern Strait of Georgia,” Corey said.

Sabine Jessen, oceans program manager for the society, said the aim is to ensure the federal and provincial governments continue moving towards protection — something that has been discussed since the 1970s. “My understanding is that [governments] are waiting for the socio-economic study and they have to write up the results of the First Nations and local government consultations,” she said.

Designation is likely to be a couple of years away, but elements such as no-fishing areas are urgently needed, Jessen said.

“It all looks great from the surface, but we don’t have the rich ecosystem that we used to have. There is so much pressure and so much use of that area.”

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