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Powell River beaches provide ideal launching points for wind-sport enthusiasts

Group explores passion for windsurfing and kiteboarding

When Jacob Hanson moved back to his hometown three and a half years ago, he brought his passion for wind sports.

After university, Hanson spent his summers as a forest firefighter and his winters travelling and exploring. He spent three years kiteboarding, surfing and paddle boarding in the summers and skiing and snowboarding in the winters. He even taught kiteboarding on the east coast of Mexico for two years.

Initially working his way toward becoming an outdoor education instructor, Hanson’s career path changed and he is now a Powell River city firefighter.

When he returned to Powell River, he thought it would be windy enough to continue kiteboarding/windsurfing and he started trying to find fellow enthusiasts.

“When I was a kid there were people who windsurfed in Powell River and Powell Lake was a regular spot; there were a couple other places but it wasn’t anything I ever really saw tons of,” said Hanson. “When I moved back I was on the hunt for anyone else who did wind sports. I’d only ever heard of this older guy up north of town, a Lund or Savary guy who was a bit of a hazard at times. I tried to find him and figure out where and what and didn’t have a ton of luck.

“Then I ran into another longtime Powell River local and he and I connected.”

They both had a passion for the sport and together began to hunt for different spots. With their spouses involved, word spread and there are now around 20 people. Of that group, six to eight get out on a regular basis.

Recent winds allowed the group to get out seven weekends in a row. Keeping an eye on the weather forecast, the wind-chasers communicate through group messages to organize outings.

“The two ways winds work for Powell River is that there is a northwesterly wind, which is your nice, sunny bluebird day, and then there’s the southeasterly wind, which is the winter storms and the rain,” said Hanson. “Any southeasterly is good from Grief Point all the way south to Palm Beach, and then anything northwesterly is good from Gibsons Beach or the tip of Harwood Island down to Grief Point. You can kind of cover both ends depending on the wind direction.”

When it comes to predicting the wind, the group uses a compilation of models.

“I use the 24-hour airport reading to give me an understanding and I mind that with the Lang Bay weather forecast,” added Hanson.

Popular launch locations

Brew Bay, Donkersley Beach and Airplane Park are the regular spots the group launches from. Hanson said it is a supportive group and it’s rare that someone will go out alone.

There are hazards of the sport, such as getting pushed out into Malaspina Strait, so there are always people looking out for each other. If a windsurfer goes down and hasn’t gotten up in awhile, someone will go over to check on things.

“It’s a super supportive group of people who are so excited; you see the excitement when they show up at the beach, you can see the stoke in their eyes, they’re just fired up and so excited to get out there and everyone has the same passion and desire to learn,” said Hanson. “A lot of the group is a community, it’s one of the most fun things of the sport. I enjoy going out there and doing things on my own, but I’m a social guy and it’s super awesome because everyone is so supportive. There are some who are just learning to windsurf and other proficient windsurfers.”

The group includes people in their 20s up to their 60s, and even some younger who are giving it a go.

“The kiteboarding sport as a whole used to be an older age category because of the financial aspect; it used to be quite an investment,” said Hanson. “It used to be a lot more expensive, it was a lot more older people who had a bit of money at that point of time in their life. Now it’s opened up and you get people as young as seven years old out there learning and kiteboarding.

“I always tell people, as long as somebody can make a decision of right or wrong, or good choice or bad choice, they’re at an age where they can kiteboard.”

Wind sports in Powell River can be year-round, however, winter water sports aren’t for the faint of heart. In the winter months, Hanson is fully outfitted in a wetsuit, booties, gloves and hood, and limits the amount of time he spends out on the water.

With travel restrictions in place, Hanson said he hasn’t seen a dramatic increase in people who would normally be in Mexico kiteboarding over the winter here.

Winging it

Regular participants include windsurfers with a traditional mast and sail, kiteboarders with a wakeboard or surfboard, and a newer sport that emerged in the last three years called winging. The latter uses a larger volume board with a wing that is held onto to pull someone through the water. A couple people in town are trying it out, according to Hanson.

“The newest kind of add to kiteboarding and windsurfing that’s really made a difference for Powell River is called a foil board; it’s a mast that pokes down into the water and then has a wing underneath the water,” said Hanson. “On a light day when there’s a light breeze you use the foil board. Once you get up on foil above the water there is no resistance or minimal resistance. You can cruise a lot more, you can get out on lighter winds and you can cover more distances. It opens up a whole new scope and so a lot of people are on the foil boards these days.”

A common misconception about kiteboarding is it requires extreme upper body strength. A harness hooks around the waist area and the pull comes from the centre of gravity. Hanson said someone can basically steer a kite with only two fingers.

“Two weeks ago I did 48.5 kilometres in two hours; the most fatigued was my legs from standing or board-sport-style standing, where one leg gets tired because it takes a little more weight,” he added. “I started at Grief Point and then kited all the way out and around Harwood; maybe that’s my claim to fame: I’ve kited from Harwood to Palm Beach. I’ve covered the whole coast.”

Hanson said he enjoys the view and serenity of being out on the ocean when there is no one around.

“I’m just cruising with the wind and it’s quiet and beautiful with the waves,” he added. “It’s surreal. That’s one of my favourite experiences so far and I keep egging people to come and join me.”