Jacques Cousteau once called the waters of British Columbia, Canada ‘the best temperate water diving in the world and second only to the Red Sea.’ Dive operators in the region claim that BC waters host one of the healthiest marine ecosystems in the world.The proof is in the plankton. Plunging through emerald green water reveals a Pacific Ocean that keeps its treasures well hidden. A keen eye and good light reveals the exotica of dahlia anemones, gorgonian corals, orange peel nudibranchs, trumpet sponges, basket sea stars, and spider crabs–an undersea garden that is also home to the giant pacific octopus, six-gill sharks, harbour seals, California sea lions, Pacific dolphins, and killer whales.
The protected waters near Vancouver have also spawned one of the more prominent freediving communities in North America. The Canadian Association of Freediving and Apnea (CAFA) was founded in Vancouver and the first apnea club, Freedive Vancouver, followed as the number of avid freedivers grew from a handful to nearly thirty strong.
On a typical day, local freedivers drive north along the elevated Sea-to-Sky highway, skirting the shores of Howe Sound, weaving around the base of the Coastal Mountains where they meet the sea. Freediving in Howe Sound is characterised by beautiful shores with overhanging pine and fir trees, circling bald-eagles, and a view of snow-capped mountains.
There are three primary freediving sites in Howe Sound, but any rocky point or pebbled beach along the coast is a potential dive site. Ansell Point, site of Eric Fattah’s successful world record dive to -82m, is the spot for competitions and training, with 90 metres of depth only a short surface swim from shore. Whytecliff Park and Porteau Cove are popular with the scuba-divers and offer interesting underwater features like anemone-encrusted steel girders, wrecks, underwater rock formations–all in 10-20 metres of water.
Further up the coast is mainly undiscovered country for local freedivers. Looking at a map of coastal British Columbia reveals numerous channels, islands, bays, river estuaries and communities accessible only by ferry. The Sechelt Penninsula and Powell River region offer better visibility than the river-fed waters around Vancouver and a greater variety of marine life, along with the feeling of exploring new territory.
The best part of living in a city like Vancouver is how quickly you can escape to excellent freediving, alpine & cross-country skiing, hiking, sailing and climbing. I appreciate the city for its multicultural population, moderate climate, and the stunning scenery of ocean and mountains that keeps the sky-scrapers at bay. But the best thing about Vancouver is how quickly you can put it in your rear-view mirror and spend a day underwater in the company of the ocean.