Dream Wave: Pro Kayakers Surf Northern Manitoba | Rapid Magazine | Rapid Media
Ben Marr on Manitoba's Nelson River Photo: David Jackson

A group of elite kayakers head on an expedition to northern Manitoba in search of the perfect wave

This is photographer David Jackson’s account of a team of kayakers’ search for amazing freestyle waves on the Nelson River in Manitoba, a body of water running 644 kilometers from Lake Winnipeg to Hudson Bay.

All writing and photos by David Jackson.

Uncharted rivers are few and far between in the year 2016. There’s a tribe who seek their fruits for various reasons, often leading them to the most remote stretches of wilderness on earth. The Nelson River, tucked in the wilds of northern Manitoba, is no exception.

Uncovered by Joel Kowalski nearly four years ago, the Nelson offered what he, an elite freestyle kayaker, had always been searching for. Kowalski, who was raised on the banks of the mighty Ottawa River, could only assume that the fourth largest river by volume in Canada would provide sections of whitewater large enough to make the biggest river waves ever surfed. After years of drooling over Google Earth screen shots of its major rapids, Kowalski knew he had to go. “The Nelson isn’t like a river draining a big basin, it’s more like a river draining an inland ocean,” Kowalski notes with high spirits prior his team's departure.

David Jackson's photographic account of an expedition to Manitoba

Departing on a 40-hour drive north from the Ottawa River, Kowalski compiled a team of elite competition, freestyle and racing kayakers to seek out the Nelson River. A van loaded down with 10 eager grins towing a trailer full of raft support expedition gear and freestyle kayaks made the continuous drive, arriving under northern lights to Cross Lake at 3am.

David Jackson's photo of northern lights in Cross Lake

After a few hours rest, Kowalski and Ben Marr, a seasoned expedition kayaker, took a flight over the anticipated section of river. “These flights can do a few things. It will either answer our questions or give us a lot more,” noted Marr before the flight.

Joel Kowalski looks out the window at the Nelson River

The flyover provided elation when Kowalski and Marr laid eyes on “Bladder Falls.” Spotting a shoulder on the edge of an enormous hole, Marr shifted and straightened to get a better look. Could it be? The two met with wide eyes before peering once again out the bubble window of a small Beaver float plane. The two had spotted what their wildest dreams hoped for. They had found the wave.

An aerial view of the Nelson River

After heavy scepticism during the raft loading, the locals of the Pimichikamak Cree Nation insisted that a moose, bannock, and walleye feast be prepared and enjoyed by the team before departure. Leaving the sandy, quiet banks under cloudy skies, with safe passage offered and local flags waving in hand, the team departed.

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Four days into the trip, the team arrived at Bladder Falls, uncovering the aptly named “Dream Wave.” For the next six nights, time disappeared in the wilds of northern Manitoba and the greatest river wave ever surfed was in session.

A freestyle kayaker on the banks of northern Manitoba's Nelson River

See more of David Jackson's work here. 

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