Dan Lewis has been sea kayaking for over 40 years, and was a member of the SKABC until he moved to Tofino in 1991. He runs a non-profit called Clayoquot Action.
In 1978 there was a fellow named Jim Berta teaching ocean kayaking courses through the Canadian Hostel Association. By the end of the summer Jim had taught quite a few people and proposed starting a club so we could continue paddling.
We held several pool sessions in North Vancouver, and had regular meetings at the Jericho Hostel. Basically we’d bring our charts and talk about doing trips. The very first club outing was a trip to Tofino at Thanksgiving to play around in house-sized waves. All of this was announced in a newsletter, which was mailed around.
By the spring of 1979 we began organizing weekend outings, both day-trips and overnights. Jim led the first trip, around Bowen Island on the May long weekend. After that he announced that people would need to get their own kayaks as he couldn’t continue providing them.
I had already bought a used kayak from Jim. It was originally a plywood boat, with multiple chines. No rudder, skeg, bulkheads or hatches. At some point someone had encased it in fibreglass. It weighed about 80 pounds, and I would stagger from my apartment in the West End about a block to launch on the sea wall. I would go paddling in winter, rolling every 20th stroke first on one side then the other, staggering back home to struggle with the house key, then climbing right into the shower with everything on until I was thawed out enough to deal with zippers—ah to be 20 again… Eventually a film company bought that boat to film a scene involving a kayak sinking. I got my hundred bucks back!
No-one wanted to lead trips due to concerns around liability. I was only 20 and was penniless, so had no clue as to why anyone would care about such things—I just wanted to go paddling! Not having a car, I soon realized that if I offered to lead the trips, someone would have to give me a ride. Trip leaders had to do a reconnaissance trip; so I got to do a lot of the trips twice!
On the first club trip I led, to Saltspring Island, half the group peeled off and went in the opposite direction; meeting us on the return ferry and thanking me for a wonderful weekend!
By the end of summer 1980 I had fallen in love with a Swiss girl on a guided trip, and determined to move to Switzerland. After a few months it was apparent it would never work out, so I headed to Paris to learn to be a clown.
After nine months they told me to give it up, telling me that I would be better suited to teaching outdoor activities than living in Paris. ‘That’s what I used to do’ I exclaimed. They told me to go home and get on with my life, which I promptly did.
By then Heather had stepped up and the old club was long gone. Long live the Sea Kayak Association of BC!