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Maniflowba and the Dream Wave

The tip-off came from a friend who had recently flown over a river with enormous rapids in Manitoba. Joel had originally planned this trip for the fall of 2015, however a severe weather system forced the team to delay their mission until the following year.

In August 2016, an eleven strong team of some of the best big wave surfers in the world met up at the Wilderness Tours base camp in Ottawa and made the forty hour drive north to Manitoba with high hopes of discovering new treasures. It is fair to say that this was going to be an unusual trip. As we would be navigating a lot of flat water and would be on the water for ten days we opted to use two motorised rafts which were kindly loaned to us by Wilderness Tours. We also had two shotguns as we would be a long way out in the wilderness and wildlife such as bears and moose were definitely a realistic cause for concern amongst many of our group. Personally, I was worried about neither set of furry animals, as I grew up in Warrington and there are far scarier things to be found in the streets of that town than a glorified deer and a real life Winnie the Pooh.


We arrived in Cross Lake, Manitoba and immediately began unloading the van and setting up the rafts. Cross Lake is a quiet, little, northern town full of wonderfully kind people and we attracted quite a scene as we frantically manoeuvred around eleven people’s equipment. Despite being curious and friendly, the inhabitants of Cross Lake were also keen to warn us of the dangers of this river and regale us in sobering stories of friends and family members drowning. Undeterred, we finished packing, enjoyed a fantastic lunch with the locals and headed out into the wilderness of Manitoba in search of big waves.


Joel had taken a float plane ride over the river to scout out the major rapids and check our route, he had seen five major rapids and lots of ‘small, insignificant rapids’. The first rapid we arrived at was one of the ‘small ones’. Upon dropping into the meat of the rapid, we promptly realised that Joel may have been a tad mistaken on his judgement from 100 feet up in the air. The wave train in that rapid was enormous but thankfully clear of any big holes. Ecstatically happy to the degree that only running a rapid blind and getting away with it can provide, the feelings of doubt and worry as to whether we would even find anything on this trip were replaced with an altogether more pleasing realisation; ‘If this is a “small” rapid, what on earth must the major ones look like?’.

We continued down the river pushing to make it to the first major rapid of our trip, White Mud Falls. This rapid is the biggest and scariest piece of whitewater I have ever seen. A brief scout led us to believe that we could possibly run it, upon further inspection from both sides of the river we quickly reconsidered. The entry into this monstrosity is a tiny curling, surging tongue through two of the biggest holes I have ever seen. The unpredictability of this entry, the likelihood of being ripped from our kayaks by one of these holes and having to battle the whirlpools downstream had us running away with our tails firmly between our legs.

We made camp and continued down the river the following day. We found a small, diagonal wave on one of the next rapids despite not being the size of wave we were looking for everyone was keen to surf something and we made camp at this wave and surfed well into the evening.


The next day we knew we would get close to the ‘Powerline Rapid’. From the air this rapid looked by far the most promising in terms of big wave potential. As we ventured closer and closer to the horizon line, we realised we had found something special. We tied up the rafts and the whole team sprinted down the river bank to see just what we had found. A more intelligent person may well have used a word such as ‘eureka’ to summarise a discovery of this magnitude, all we could manage was a series of cheers, war cries and several words that should probably never be written down.

We had found our dream wave, hidden amongst the wilderness of Manitoba. One of the biggest waves we have ever surfed, an anomaly of whitewater, with a smooth face and huge bowl. I’ll be honest, it was intimidating dropping into this wave for the first time but several surfs later I was slowly relinquishing the death grip on my paddle and had stopped holding my breath while surfing. As we grew more confident and comfortable on the wave the tricks started to flow. We stayed at this wave for the following seven days. Throwing huge tricks, crashing hard and loving life on the island next to the wave.


With food supplies dwindling and everyone’s bodies sore and broke after a week of surfing really hard we packed up one final time and finished our descent of the Nelson river. Arriving back in town we were met by the locals with surprise and relief written all over their faces. Despite our assurances they were almost certain they would never see us again, hence the banquet / last meal they provided before we left.


We had one last celebratory meal with the Cross Lake towns folk before commencing the long drive back to the Ottawa. Each of us, tired but elated and already dreaming of our return trip.
With thanks to Wilderness Tours for sponsoring the trip, the Cross Lake community for all of their hospitality and Joel Kowalski for putting this mission together and inviting me.

See you on the water,

(Photos by Kalob Grady and Tom Patterson)