The outrigger experience: Adventures on Harrison Lake

Choppy waters, and currents are par for the course, for those daring enough to give outrigger paddling a shot

Greg Kohlruss inspects canoes inside the The Outrigger club location before a regular training session on a Saturday.

Choppy waters, dangerous currents, and dark waters are par for Harrison Lake, so when I had the opportunity to hop on an Out Rigger boat for the first time with the Fraser Valley Dragon Boating Club — I jumped at the opportunity.

As I was paddling with the team, as an out of shape adult who has mastered the art of sitting at a desk, I was shocked to discover the joy of a challenge. It was then I began to reflect on my youth and my love of competitive sports.

As a competitive swimmer growing up, the hardest thing for me, was getting out of the water. As far back as I can remember I was attracted to it.

It didn’t matter how cold it was, or where it was located; I just wanted to get in, look at it, or float on it (it didn’t matter in which order).

Many times on family vacations, and we would often go to Montana US, because my family loves the mountains — my parents would have to drag me from the pool.

I am the youngest of three.

I would often spend hours with my brother, who would agree to get in with me, despite his less than perfect swimming technique.

I was the swimmer, (age 10) in the family (my sister the dancer/gymnast, also four and half years my senior (and busy with teen life at the time) and my brother, sort of like a twin in closeness of age, (the hockey player/sports nut) braved family vacations together.

My brother was predominantly by my side at that time, as we traversed mountain lakes, swimming pools, and enjoyed many days of frog and butterfly catching.

Back Home..

We lived near a provincial park, so we always had access to the woods, swimming holes, ices caves and eerie houses from a restored historical site in Fish Creek Provincial Park in Calgary Alberta; where friends and I would gaze into murky windows, searching for evidence of haunted legends and finally turn away, as we spooked ourselves just enough to get the heck out of there.

It was always the water I was attracted to.

Brother or not, I would dare to venture into Fish Creek alone, and swim by myself.

I was game.

Cautionary or not, and there were times when my Father flat out refused for me to go swimming after dusk, I was still determined to get myself in a pool of water at the next convenient opportunity.

Growing up, I went through a period where I struggled with my weight.

I was probably considered the chubby girl on the swim team.

As self-conscious as I was I put my darn swimsuit on anyway, and braved a little friendly teasing, and not so friendly teasing from teammates, while getting into the water.

I was never a fast swimmer.

My best stroke was butterfly, which is traditionally, one of the hardest strokes to master. I won some awards for best butterfly technique with The Cascade Swim Club, and my speed was passable, but not record breaking; however, as time wore on my shoulders began to give out, and I realized that I was never going to be the fastest on the team.

After six long years of 5 a.m. practices, swim meets, and billeting with strangers, I painfully decided to give up the sport.

So, when I had the opportunity to get on what some might consider a “dangerous lake” with a skilled group of paddlers, after a chance encounter with Eric Fryer on the dock (I happened to be driving by in my Crimson SUV, and decided to stop on ‘his dock.’) (I also posted a video of this chance encounter on our Agassiz-Harrison Facebook page) I took it.  As I got out of my vehicle that fateful rainy day, I realized A: either I was trespassing on his property, or B: it was public property.

I was hoping he would be good natured as I was on the hunt for some feature weather photos. Sure enough he agreed to go on camera and be interviewed. We talked of many things including Harrison’s ecosystem, climate change, and sport fishing with the ancient Sturgeon that call Harrison home. But the first thing we talked about was the intense sport of Out Rigger paddling, as he conspiratorially invited me to paddle with his team the following Saturday.

He pointed out the club, and the dock near Killer’s Cove, and I thought what the heck, this is what I’ve been waiting for.

“Sure.”

I was up for it! I was greeted by an enthusiastic bunch of Maverick sport enthusiasts, and fantastic instructors including team leader and instructor Greg Kohlruss, and found myself paddling over 10 km my first day out.

I loved every minute of it. As hard as it was, as exhausting as it could be, my body remembered certain things while discovering an awkwardness that only comes with the learning of a new sport, a new challenge, and attempting to mesh with an advanced group of paddlers, who probably carried a lot of my weight for that first visit.

I left, soaked, freezing and tired, (I seriously thought about jumping in the lake a few times and was advised that hypothermia is a factor in Harrison.) Being an original Albertan and now a B.C. resident — I think I’m a polar bear sometimes.

That being said, I was hooked, renewed, and I’m waiting for the next opportunity to get in that boat, because for a water ‘baby’ like myself, it’s the next best thing to swimming with the Sturgeon.

For more information on the Out Rigger team check out www.fvdbc.com