Richard Branson , world renowned adventurer, extreme sports enthusiast and entrepreneur, was incredibly impressed with his first visit to Squamish BC, The Outdoor Recreation Capital of Canada. “This place is amazing! I’m definitely coming back some time to do more kite surfing!” exclaimed Branson after a 40 minute kite surfing ride in strong winds off the Squamish Spit against the backdrop of snow-capped mountains and the monolithic rock climbing playground of the Stawamus Chief.
Of course, this was not only a chance for Richard Branson to get out and have some fun. It was also a media event, with a helicopter circling above and camera crews on shore,. All this provided great photo opportunities for two Virgin Mobile promotional announcements, including the announcement that Virgin Canada has pledged $100,000 to sponsor a team of extreme female athletes. Virgin Canada Chair Andrew Black said the ‘Women’s Extreme Team’ was a good fit and a good opportunity for Virgin, as extreme sports reflected their brand. Female athletes were chosen because much of the extreme sports sponsorship and attention has previously focused on males.
What led Branson and Virgin to choose Squamish BC as the location for this event? It seems there were a number of factors. First, Western Canada was left out of the Virgin Mobile announcements with Branson when the company launched in March. Second, Branson has recently become a very avid kite surfer. He was eager to promote the sport in Canada, where, according to Branson, the levels of participation are below what they are in other parts of the world, and below what they should be, given it is such a great sport, and one “can get into it for a relatively low cost”. Voila – a visit to Western Canada’s premier kite surfing destination was in order.
Members of the Squamish Windsurfing and Kite Surfing Society rated Branson as “Pretty Good”. Given that it is always hard in a new location until a kite surfer gets the feel of the local wind and the waves, Branson put on a great show on his first trip to Squamish. One member noted that it was impressive that he used a 14 foot rig as opposed to a 12 footer, given the strong winds.
What makes the Squamish Spit such an excellent windsurfing location? The best summary I found was on the http://www.flexfoil.com site, summed up in an article by Cliff Umpleby, a Flexi team rider:
If you’re not familiar with the kite scene in Canada or the infamous Spit at Squamish I’ll fill you in…
With the Stawamus Chief, the second largest granite Monolith on earth as a background, the constant thermal winds of Howe Sound lead to epic conditions with summer seeing usually 6 days a week on the water. The basic rule here is, if it’s sunny, it’s windy. Warm air inland rising sucks the cool sea air up the valley.
The Squamish Spit is located at very end of Howe Sound on a narrow piece of land that divides the Squamish River from the rest of the Squamish Estuary. While usually best left as a destination for intermediate to advanced riders, it’s perfect for learning if the tide is low. The Squamish Windsport Society charges a fee for access, which includes a Jet Ski on hand in case you go down and can’t make it back.
Beyond Kite Surfing, Squamish offers an incredibly wide variety of outdoor recreation opportunities. Over 1000 routes of all varieties on clean granite makes Squamish the premier rock climbing destination in Canada. Add to that an extensive trail network for hiking, running, and mountain biking, and a few class three and four rapids for the kayaks and rafting boats, and one gets a bit of an insight as to why Squamish attracts thousands of adventure sports enthusiasts like Richard Branson all summer. Of course, there are also golf courses, great fishing opportunities and moderate day hikes for the less adventurous.
Richard Branson famously started his entrepreneurial career selling mail order music, and went on to create a business empire which includes an airline, music stores, Virgin mobile of course, and a fairly good cola that is unfortunately not available in Canada.
If you are looking for Squamish hotel accommodation, then The Sea to Sky Hotel, on Highway 99 is probably your best bet.