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  • Rob

Rattlesnake Island Swim 2016

This is not a typical post, but it was such an amazing experience I had this morning, I wanted to share it with everyone.

A few months ago, a client of mine, Jen, was asking me if I knew anybody that had a kayak or paddleboard. I asked her why and she stated that she wanted to do the Rattlesnake Island Swim. She needed a support paddler for her to enter into the swim. I said that I had a paddleboard and would be willing to help her out. There you have it, the plan was set, I would use my paddleboard and she would swim.

The swim is about 7 km, from Peachland to and around Rattlesnake Island and back.

I have not done a lot of paddleboarding in my time but I typically get out 5-10 times/ year. One of the things, which had made me nervous about paddleboarding is to cross the lake. I think it is the vastness of being this little speck on the water, in the narrowest part of the lake, having at least 1 km of water between you and either side of the lake. However, to help Jen out, I would have to conquer that fear.

A few weeks ago, I set out one morning, early before the motorboats were out on the lake to cross the lake and back via paddleboard. I got up early and was on the Okanagan Lake at 6 am. I used my Garmin 620 to keep track of the distance I was going to be traveling and set off from Strathcona Park and trying to go straight across the lake to the marina on the Westside. I concentrated on a building on the far side of the lake and I made it across Okanagan Lake in about 25 minutes! I was super stoked and surprised, when I concentrated on the far object, just how easy it was to beat my fear. It was just over 4 km, round trip.

Jen and I discussed having a practice 'trial'. We did the same route as my initial lake crossing, met one morning really, really early. Jen swam the entire way with only a couple of stops! 4 km... swimming... She had a nice easy front crawl. She said it was easy, she just followed me and I sighted the house on the far side, then turning around, I sighted the hospital and kept us on a pretty good route, I thought. Nice and straight. No problems were had.

We did some brainstorming and met at one of our favorite stores, Mountain Equipment Co-op, the following weekend. We purchased some water bottle holders for the paddleboard so she could take in some nutrition and calories during her swim.

Fast forward to today... It looked to be a beautiful day for the swim driving out to Peachland, really early this morning. I have always had difficulty spotting Rattlesnake Island from Peachland. I find that it nearly perfectly blends into the background of the mountain behind it. There is only a small strip of water between the mountain and the island, probably 50 feet or so.

For some reason driving into Peachland today, my internal GPS was on! I saw Rattlesnake Island on the way into Peachland and I knew exactly where it was throughout the swim/paddle. I met Jen, just before the swim and she sprayed me down with sunscreen. That was a frickin' brilliant idea! I think it probably saved my hide. We had the support paddlers meeting and we got on our way.

I find it really funny, that the far side of the lake did not look that far away but I guess it was 3 - 3.5 km away. Anyways, I had to be on the water when the swim started. I just got outside the floating logs, breakwaters, and a boat was going to the other side of the big dock and cut me off. He was not going fast at all, he just kept going. I had to jump off the paddleboard into the water and that, unfortunately set the tone for the rest of the day.

Once the gun went off, the swimmers were going, it only took a few minutes for Jen and I to find each other. Jen stopped swimming, popped her head out of the water and yelled my name. Easy to find her. It was a slower pace today. The first km was about 30 minutes but I think that was because of finding each other and trying to get into a rhythm. About a mile into the swim, the lake became choppy and I fell in. I do not regularly fall off my paddleboard but twice in one go, rattled me. Jen actually swam over to me and got my hat that fell off my head when I bailed.

From that point on, I was on my knees or sitting on my paddleboard like a kayak. My sighting was right on and we went in a straight line to Rattlesnake Island. I was surprised that some people went way out and off track, even with their support paddlers. We made it to Rattlesnake Island and in the channel between the island and the mainland there was a really strong current! I was able to stand up there again, however, if I stopped paddling, the current was strong enough to start to push my paddleboard backwards. Poor Jen had to swim in that, just like running into a strong headwind. I did stop and she had a drink of water. That was 2 hours into the swim.

The trip back was much more interesting. I could see the finish area from Rattlesnake Island, so I knew where I was heading. There was only a slight wind blowing but the cross current was a little bit crazy. The waves were getting bigger and bigger. It was enough that I could not even kneel on my paddleboard! I sat on it like a kayak for the second crossing and was just about knocked off a couple of times. I wanted to take some pictures, but I was afraid that if I let go of my paddle with one hand I would lose it in the water. There were times when the entire paddleboard was under water. Jen was a trooper, she swam really well. This was turning into a crazy open water swim with whitecaps and we were in the middle of Okanagan Lake. I could tell that the shoreline was getting closer but not very fast. Jen swam about 2.7 km in some choppy waters and it took her about 70 minutes to do that. I was impressed but at about 3:10 into the swim, we decided to call it quits. I flagged a boat over. Jen got in, they brought my paddleboard on, and I climbed in as well.

It was a pretty awesome experience, even though we did not finish the swim/race. We survived! Maybe next year, will be better, please no whitecaps! We might even do a little bit more training for the swim/ paddler combination.

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