Photos and words by David Jackson

Muddy roads and a dull gray landscape are scant reminders of winter’s vice in northern Canada. Roads are choked with mud, the woods hide what snow remains, and industry takes a break to wait for the spring thaw to harden wet land. There’s no wind through the trees, there’s no bustling woodsmen; just a silence spliced by a crackling fire beside the roar of a river. Tended by damp kayakers, the fire maintains gleaming grins and steaming drysuits beside a frothing, frigid river. Falling from its frozen source, northern rivers begin their springtime journey by creaking and cracking, winding and wrapping, until speed and gradient overwhelm, eventually providing a dense river raging past its banks and crawling into the forest. Where swollen volumes meet perfect gradient, the wave is born and Stakeout begins. Born of a tribe in the early 2000s, Stakeout is more than a northern pilgrimage, it’s the lifeblood of freestyle kayakers. When rivers spike to flood stage, gauges aren’t accurate. And never mind cell coverage; the only way to know what a river is doing is actually going to stare down its icy gauntlet. When a wave is in and the levels are just right, the safety check begins: Is there too much ice coming downstream? Is that eddy, which is a pulsating mass of logs and ice, a hazard? What if gear fails and you swim, how long can you survive in frigid water?  It’s not for the faint of heart. Approach it how you will. But just remember, bring your wide eyes and your drysuit to Stakeout.

Bren Orton, Patrick Camblin, Ben Marr watch from the truck.

Ben Marr riding Black Mass. Photo: Patrick Camblin

Bren Orton
Bren Orton, Ben Marr, and Louis Phillip Rivest 
Bren Orton
Campfires and moonlight. Bren Orton and Ben Marr 
Ben Marr

Paul Palmer, left, and LP Rivest, right, walk away from an un-runnable rapid that serves as a tourist attraction and camping park during the summer months. Stakeout is a searching process and no rapid goes unobserved. 

Logging roads provide access to many of the remote sections of rivers which the kayakers hang around. For obvious reasons, the logging industry in closed at this time of the year. 

With such high volumes and enormous features, sometimes the best way to safely scout a rapid in from aerial photos observed on iPhones. Here, Patrick Camblin flies above an upper rapid of the Mistassini in hopes of finding a wave. This mission was unsuccessful. 

The most important part of stakeout is fun, and there isn’t always waves. Rather than waiting, the boys run laps on laps to stay fit and sharp for when the pieces all fall together. More importantly, as Patrick Camblin described, “It’s about paddling with friends down one of the most fun sections of river in the world”. With over a decade of peak spring-flow experiences on the Mistassibi, he has led many new faces through its enormous rapids. 

Lighter moments are what make stakeout so memorable for the tribe. It’s as if everyone has the attitude of ‘this is much too important to be taken seriously’ and the result is bottles of wine in between surfs, only because beer has too many calories. Benny and Bren are no strangers to the ‘first on, last off’ mentality, which makes the quieter moments all the more meaningful. 

Camping is a must for a myriad of reasons, the most obvious being access to the river and steep costs of low-grade hotels. No one seems to ever complain when nights like these are the reward. 

Patrick Camblin floats a blunt off the top of ‘Youcattabekittenme Wave’. This wave was found early in the stakeout of 2015 on a river lap when the levels were not favorable for known features. The wave’s name is a work in progress… 

Ben Marr holds onto a big bounce on the steep, green face of ‘Youcattabekittenme Wave’. Benny really makes this wave seem like ecstasy, but be don’t be fooled by his experience; it’s big, steep, and fast. 

Bren Orton drops in for one more surf on ‘Youcattabekittenme Wave’.

Marr launches off the curling shoulder of Hawaii Hole, Mistassibi River, Quebec. 

Base camp hygiene is always a game of finding water to brush your teeth, a mirror to shave your face, and far away hole to take care of other business. 

There’s a lot about stakeout that goes unnoticed. Take the acceptance and the mitigation of risk, for instance: The North’s spring ice breakup results in frigid waters and volume to vast to swim. Eddies are collection points for debris and sheets of ice. Safety stays in the forefront of every mind. Here, LP Rivest sets safety in a Mistassibi mid-rapid eddy while the others drop into a wave. 

 Full moon over DREAM WAVE 

Tom Patterson, Arthur Paulas, and Sam Ward rest and brew coffee under the bridge above Detonator wave, Petit-Des-Charges River, Alma, Quebec. 

Wifi, coffee, eggs, and hot showers. Though a morning of amenities seems peaceful, this isn’t an ideal element for the tribe. The farther from waves, the less time around rivers, and the more time spent connected only raises the anxiety, subsequently heightening a growing agitation amongst the team. Plain and simple, stakeout is about waves, not luxury

Bren Orton on the Bridge Rapid, Mistassini River. Photo: Patrick Camblin