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Whitewater Paddling on Vancouver Island

Whitewater Paddling on Vancouver Island

Get involved with the whitewater paddling community on Vancouver Island and learn about some great spots to check out

Cowichan River

Cowichan River

Whitewater paddling around Victoria and Vancouver Island is primarily a winter sport. While the rest of the country is prepping for snow sports, here on the island we are grabbing our paddles and hitting the rivers and ocean surf. There are few large lake fed rivers on the island, so the best paddling begins with the start of the winter rains, usually in late October and the season is generally finished my March or April. The same is true for the best ocean surfing, as the winter storms create the largest swell for surf kayaking.

Warning:  Whitewater paddling and rafting is a high risk activity, requiring proper knowledge, skills and equipment. Whitewater should not be attempted without some prior training which should begin on flatwater and with a certified instructor.

Whitewater Kayaking

The Kosilah River

Vancouver Island Rivers

Most of the rivers and streams on Vancouver Island are what we call flash rivers, and are only suitable for paddling when the water volume is high after heavy rains.  Near to Victoria, these include rivers like the Gordon, Koksilah and Chemainus.  The Cowichan and Nanaimo are lake fed and maintain relatively consistent flows throughout the winter.  For a complete listing of rivers and their classifications on Vancouver Island and the rest of BC, check this website: BC Whitewater

Vancouver Island Ocean Surfing

There is year-round surfing on Vancouver Island, ranging from beginner friendly sandy beach breaks to more remote reef breaks sought after by experts. The best summer surfing will be found by venturing up the West Coast to Tofino, but the overall best surfing conditions are found during the winter months from October through April when winter storms can bring large swells to coast.

Surfing Jordan River

Surfing at Jordan River

Favorite Surf Spots

Jordan River, only a 90 minutes drive from Victoria, is the local favorite surf spot on southern Vancouver Island. It’s point break is favored by board surfers, but the waves breaking in the river mouth offer the best opportunity for whitewater paddlers, sea kayakers and standup paddle boarders looking for long surf rides and a great spot to hone their rough water skills. If it is too crowded, head west another 20 minutes to Sombrio Beach, which is found a little further down the road towards Port Renfrew. There is a bit more of a hike to get to the water, however.
Tofino is Vancouver Island’s most popular surfing destination and was voted “Best Surf Town in North America” in 2010 by Outside Magazine. Tofino has also received accolades from Surfer Magazine and SBC Surf, and has hosted the O’Neill Cold Water Classic professional surfing competition.

Tidal Rapids

There are many sites around Vancouver Island, some just off the tip of Vancouver Island, where the inflow and outflow of the ocean currents create some incredible rapids. There are also some world famous sites within easy reach of the island, including Skookumchuk Rapids and Surge Narrows.

Baynes Channel off Ten Mile Point in Victoria

Paddling Instruction

Ocean River Sports
While Ocean River Sports no longer offers specific whitewater paddling instruction you can definitely get started with one of our Basic Paddling Skills courses.  We also offer intermediate and advanced courses, which will work on your balancing and bracing skills as well as a course on Learning to Roll.  These are skills you will definitely need if you want to whitewater paddle. You can also begin learning about paddling in moving water in our Intermediate and Advanced courses. 

Ocean River Adventures employs Paddle Canada/Sea Kayak Guide Alliance of British Columbia trained instructors in order to give you the safest and highest quality instruction possible.

Playing in tidal rapids

UVIC Whitewater Club
The University of Victoria White Water Kayaking Club is open to all students of the University of Victoria and community members of any level of ability. (They welcome community members but just remember this is a university club full of university students).

The UVic Kayak Club is one of the biggest outdoor sports club at UVic. More than 100 new beginners sign up each year and learn basic and more advanced kayaking skills.

They meet every Friday throughout the term. Club membership includes instruction, pool sessions and access to Club gear. This includes boats, paddles, PFDs, decks, wetsuits, jackets etc. Membership is $60 for the year or $35 per term. They go on river and surf trips on weekends as much as possible. Trips are dependent on water levels, availability of guides and vehicles but there is some sort of trip each weekend. Over reading break they plan a trip to Tofino.

No experience is required; just bring your bathing suit and membership fee.

Facebook Page:  UVIC Whitewater Club

Happy Paddling!

Bruce Holland – You can also catch me at or


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