Practicing Stand-Up Paddle (SUP) with whales: it’s pretty much any paddleboard amateur’s dream. While some may travel to British-Columbia in order to live this amazing experience, others may gravitate towards Northern Quebec in hopes of swimming with the largest marine mammal. This is actually the case for two of our ambassadors: Dom and Marie.
A story that makes us extremely jealous!
MAKING OUR CHILDHOOD DREAMS COME TRUE
Last summer, Dom and I built a van that we have affectionately named Vanessa (as you can probably guess, I did not have the final word in terms of the name selection). Once the conversion was finished, we were desperately seeking a place where we could spend our days out on the water and sleep by the shore. Having both visited Tadoussac with our families when we were younger, we dreamt of returning so we could see the whales up close and personal. Through research, we came across a spot, Les Vagues, on the North Coast where the whales are curious, but most importantly, quite abundant. Two weeks later, our decision was made: we hit the road towards Havre-Saint-Pierre.
With our friend, Julie Plante, 16 hours and 1276 km later, we arrived at our destination! We didn’t even have our wetsuits on and we were already freaking out!
SWIMMING WITH WHALES: SAFE OR NOT?
As much as we were beyond excited to live this experience, we did have certain reservations. We could very vividly imagine a large 170-ton blue whale doing summersaults in the air only to come tumbling down on us. That or getting tipped over by a 50-meter fin whale, sending us flying 20 feet in the air, with a simple flick of the tail. To not take any chances, we decided to inform ourselves.
Located 15 minutes from Havre-Saint-Pierre, MICS (Mingan Island Cetacean Study) is a non-profit organization dedicated to the ecological study of marine mammals. There, we met Viridiana who taught us all about whales: diet, behaviour, reproduction, vocalisation…truly, everything! After a few hours, we came to the conclusion that there was no real danger for us. It was safe for us to paddleboard with the whales, so long as we kept our distance, unless of course the whales were to willingly approach us.
SUP SCHOOL LES VAGUES
Because paddleboarding in the Saint Lawrence River differs slightly from a SUP excursion on a lake in Outaouais, we recruited SUP school Les Vagues to accompany us out on the water. HSP native, Jane-Anne Cormier, the owner, knows the regional currents, surroundings and temperature fluctuations like the back of her hand. Just like that, we were instantly reassured. We were therefore fully ready and way too excited to throw ourselves into the water.
After slipping on our wetsuits, gloves and booties, it was show time!
YOU, A BOARD, A RIVER AND TEN WHALES
The feeling of being out on the water in Stand Up Paddle with whales? You can’t describe it. You have to live it! You feel completely de-stabilized while still remaining in full control of yourself. You see the curious whales in the distance, slowly approaching. From time to time, you see them stick out the tip of their nose, look at you, say hello and continue on their way. Out on the water, you come to the realization that, it is not you the strongest of them all, but rather the whale.
Dom and I have always been very respectful (to the best of our abilities) of our environment, but sharing this moment with the largest marine mammal in the world puts certain things into perspective. You develop a certain connection with nature and learn to respect it that much more. You understand that your consumption and climate change have a real impact on these whales. You understand that it is important to talk about it and to share your experience.
Our tip: Go visit Havre-Saint-Pierre. Yes, to live the most incredible paddleboard experience, but also to experience that connection with the whales and the people of HSP, and also to take advantage of our environment before it’s too late.