Open water swimming in British Columbia is a July goal with a trio of lake swims. In May, we prepare the transition from indoor pool to Kitsilano Outdoor Pool to lake, so that by the end of June, lake temperatures creep up as the snowmelt slows to a trickle. We don wetsuits to aid our speed and buoyancy.
Our ‘local’ lake is Sasamat where the Canada Day Challenge takes place. We pack towel, goggles, cap, lunch, beach chairs, umbrella and books, and make the 40-minute drive between rush hours to Port Moody. White Pine Beach, Belcarra Park is our open water swimming destination, and one of British Columbia’s wonderful boat-free lakes.
A blue-green galaxy awaits. The relaxation of sun on sand, chair and towel is eventually shaken off for a refreshing rocket launch.
Every time is different: tones of blue and green, the wave action, the sky, the light.
Today’s clouds are spectacular. Hair-like strands of cirrus beckon hilltop cumuli who peek out like shy mushrooms then thunder enthusiastically over the rim.
We, too, are on a rim; tipping from within the glass. A light breeze puckers ovoid shapes that dart and dance over dark green water in wands of white. It’s fleeting and flitting, fluting and flirting. We are water running, breast stroking, kick drilling, free-styling, and in between, gazing at a 360-degree view: breathtaking beauty.
Race day arrives…it’s the Canada Day Challenge. We arrive early to pick up our packages, our timing anklets and caps, and bellow ‘O Canada’.
Just before our start for the 2km Canada Day Challenge. Go Canada Go!
Felt pen markers engrave our hands. We’re signed, sealed and now we must deliver as the starter says, ‘One minute until start…ten seconds, nine, eight, seven, six, five….GO!’
It’s a familiar green-blue, but this time it’s about pushing our own limits. Physical challenges pare down to basic messages: ‘stretch long; accelerate the pull; kick hard’. Within our own mantras and our own surreal watercolour landscape, we push boundaries and emerge, primordially— stagger upright. There’s camaraderie in a Canada Day challenge achieved.
There’s food, refreshment and camaraderie afterwards.
Next up is the celebration in Kelowna: the 65th anniversary of Canada’s largest and longest continuously running open water swimming event, the Across the Lake Swim (ATLS). The tradition goes back to 1949 on Lake Okanagan. We pick up our packages Friday afternoon including power bars, fruit leather and candies, juice, coupons from local sponsors, 65th anniversary towel, lime green tote bag and flip-flops. Swag central!
Unlike Sasamat’s triangular six-buoy course, the Across the Lake Swim is linear from the Old Ferry Dock in West Kelowna to Hot Sands Beach in City Park: 2.1 kilometers in six waves of over a hundred swimmers per wave across Lake Okanagan. Sighting (stealing glances at one’s target) plays an important part in open water swimming: the hillside contour, the tree grove and the gigantic finish line archway. Twenty-two-degree water with no wind allows exertion without overheating; one can keep a cool head, especially with an optional escort boat.
A flotilla of small craft accompany swimmers at the Across the Lake Swim.
Big buoys provide sighting cues across Lake Okanagan.
The Across The Lake Swim Society configured a new start-line procedure which flows smoothly from bus and ferry dropoffs to carpeted pathways, both to and from the swimmers’ warm up area to corral B and corral A, the designated waiting areas.
In addition to bananas, oranges, cookies, and drinks, there’s a Lion’s Club pancake breakfast ($5 fee) right next to the massage tables. Prizes galore top out with two wetsuits and an Air Canada trip for two.
The Across The Lake Swim website shows a depth of organization with food, graphics, marketing, media, merchandising, venue, volunteer, ferry, bus, and safety coordinators. The First Nation’s prayer over Lake Okanagan, and Ogopogo succeeded!
One week later, we take our bicycles to Victoria via the Saanich Peninsula’s Lochside Trail, stopping for lunch at Mattick’s Farm. We go a day early and settle in at Royal Roads University accommodation, on the Galloping Goose Trail, a twenty-minute warm-up ride to Thetis Lake Provincial Park where the annual HtO fundraiser swim for Multiple Sclerosis (MS) occurs.
A warm-up ride to Thetis along the Galloping Goose Trail.
This year, for the first time, the Masters Swimming Association of British Columbia (MSABC) holds its provincial open water swimming championships, so there are a total of six swim events unfolding in Lower Thetis Lake.
We take an extra day to enjoy Victoria’s Robert Bateman Centre as well as exhibits at the Royal British Columbia Museum. A carbo-loading dinner at the Rebar vegetarian restaurant is an energizing highlight.
‘Do you think we can shave off a coupla seconds next year?’
‘Maybe if we sight a little better.’
This trio of lake swims: Sasamat, Okanagan, and Thetis shine a special light on open water swimming lakes in British Columbia. From the temperate coastal rainforest of Belcarra Park to the Okanagan’s hot sandy beaches to Vancouver Island with its Arbutus trees, rocky bluffs and Garry Oak preserves, we sip the waters like wine aficionados.
Sasamat Lake Lake Okanagan Thetis Lake
Canada Day Challenge Across the Lake Swim Swim for MS
- Port Moody, BC Kelowna,BC Victoria, BC
- White Pine Beach Old Ferry Docks, West Kelowna Thetis Lake Hot Sands Beach, City Park Regional Park
- 1km, 2km or 4km 2.1km 800M, 1.5km, 3km, 5km or BC Masters’ 1.5km or 3km
- Early reg: $45 and $61.74 and fills fast Early reg, $30 Early July, $35 Last min., $40
- 6-buoy circular route Linear A to B course Buoyed,circular Transport by bus or ferry to start
- Men and women separated Six-wave seeded start Mass start
- 300 swimmer total 650 swimmer limit 100 swimmers
- Swim cap, lifeguarding, draw prizes,automatic timing: all three events
- Food at finish Water at start; food later Food at finish
- Sing ‘O Canada’ before event Grand prize: 2 wetsuits MS Fundraiser
- Joke-telling contest for prizes Air Canada trip for two Fundraiser prizes Swag! ie beach towel, power bar, juice, candies, coupons, tote bag, 65th anniversary flip-flops
- For an extra fee, t-shirts can be purchased on-site at Sasamat and Thetis. At Kelowna’s registration, other merchandise is also available such as ‘Swim Buddies’. MS t-shirt supports MS.
- A Vancouver Open Water Medals for top three: Top three winners
- Swim Association (VOWSA) Team, overall. Ribbons for top three in 10-year age groupings
‘Next year I’ll make a bee-line for this buoy.’
‘Haven’t we had this conversation?’