Access to Canada's premier kiteboarding destination under threat

March 2, 2020 | Kiteboarding
Kite Clash: The Spit plays home to Canada's national kiteboarding freestyle championship | Photo: Kite Clash

Canada is on the brink of losing a world-class recreational amenity, which serves as a training ground for Olympians while attracting athletes and tourists from around the globe.

Two years ago, West Vancouver - Sunshine Coast - Sea to Sky Country MP Pamela Goldsmith-Jones stood on the southern tip of Squamish's training dike for a big announcement.

She handed over a $1.5 million cheque to the Squamish River Watershed Society (SRWS).

The money was the first portion of a five-million-dollar, multi-phased plan, which included a proposal to remove a kilometer of a dike that sits between the Squamish River and estuary.

The concept is noble.

In theory, eliminating the chunk of the road may aid salmon fry in reaching the safe haven of the estuary before being shot out into the ocean, which would up their survival rate.

At the big announcement that spring day were representatives from Squamish Terminals, Squamish Nation, and the District of Squamish.

Missing were representatives from wind sports, water sports, and other recreational users of the area.

The Spit: Canada's best kiteboarding spot | Photo: Kite Clash

A Lost Opportunity

This was the first sign of lost opportunity.

The first sign of the lack of understanding elected officials have in regard to the importance of this unique location, which guarantees thermal winds on most summer days - a rare natural commodity that, if in existence, is capitalized by other communities such as Oregon's Hood River.

The spot on which officials stood to unveil their plan, locally known as the Squamish Spit, hosted approximately 7,000 wind sports users last summer - a figure that doesn't include the countless numbers of visitors.

Word of Squamish's ideal wind sport conditions has spread globally as the majority of its users visit from outside of Squamish.

The Spit also plays home to Canada's national kiteboarding freestyle championship - Kite Clash.

The event attracts some of the world's best athletes, including five-time world kiteboarding champion Aaron Hadlow.

Beyond that, the destination encourages tourists passing through Squamish to stop a while and check out the colorful kites on the water - a sight that is used repeatedly in marketing by the District of Squamish, Tourism Squamish, the provincial and federal governments and local businesses.

The passion that fuels water sports could have been harnessed to help create a world-class facility that checks all the boxes - environmental, recreational, and educational.

Working together, a wide range of ideas could have been explored that would have saved water access and accommodated the fry's seaward migration - a pier, a pedestrian bridge, or perhaps a new recreational area at the end of a shortened dike.

But the project's rushed funding timelines evaporated a holistic approach.

Instead of recognizing the areas many tributes, from sightseeing to bird watching or kayaking to sailing, Squamish's opportunity to craft an outdoor facility for all users was lost.

Unsafe Alternatives

Some politicians assume water and wind sports enthusiasts' requirements will be met by the proposed sports beach at Newport.

This is not the case.

The plan barely accommodates the kiteboarders and windsurfers currently accessing the water in that area.

If the current wind sports users from the Spit were to move to Newport, the approximately 80-meter-wide park would also have to support a minimum of 200 extra athletes.

Now add to that the increased boat traffic to the Mamquam Blind Channel, the possibility of future floatplanes and industrial activities at the adjacent log sort, and one has all ingredients for a safety hazard.

A sediment study is underway to determine whether the removal of a kilometer of the dike will impact Squamish infrastructure or Squamish Terminal operations.

If it concludes that there is no negative effect, the training dike from the yellow north gate to the roundabout will disappear in 2021.

As it stands, wind sports users have little to bargain for and a mountain of uphill hurdles, which include the physical components of the proposed plans and the giant amount of financial backing required to maintain water access.

There is the possibility of the roundabout being left as an island, which would require massive fundraising to fortify and ongoing income for a water taxi.

The idea is financially unsustainable for the community's overseeing body, the Squamish Windsport Society.

There is also the more attractive chance the dike could be realigned into a berm between 3rd Avenue and the existing roundabout.

However, this still leaves wind sports users with the cumbersome and expensive process of reaching a deal to allow foot-traffic across CN Rail's active train tracks and creating a safe pathway for pedestrians.

In either case, a world-class recreational amenity is being removed with no real acknowledgment from the government or funding in place to come up with a workable solution.

The Spit: a unique location that guarantees thermal winds on most summer days | Photo: Kite Clash

Wind Sports Users Sidelined

West Vancouver-Sea to Sky MLA Jordan Sturdy podiumed the importance of recreation in the Sea to Sky corridor, including kiteboarding, in his re-election bid.

In front of provincial representatives in British Columbia's parliament buildings, Sturdy attested to the sport's value to the area.

User groups need more than words. All options moving forward require money and government backing in order to maintain water access.

The lack of an inclusive process and project's hurried funding timeline has left wind sports users sidelined, unknowing of what they can fundraise for or ask of officials.

They sit as an underutilized resource, silenced.

Squamish claims to be the "Outdoor Capital of Canada," yet we are set to lose a recreational amenity that pays tribute to its very name - Mother of Wind.

A petition has been launched to support The Spit's kiteboarding community.


Words by Rebecca Aldous | Writer, Photographer and Outdoor Enthusiast

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