Matt Shipley (he/him) // Columnist
There’s something almost mystical about a perfect sunset—so much so that it’s impossible to explain. It’s more than just an image of raw beauty. It’s the transition between the burning assault of a hot summer day and the cold silence of the night; like the gentle touch of an infant’s hands on your face before you put them to sleep. It’s the sound of the first few crickets brave enough to take to the stage and sing their solitary aria before the chorus files in behind them.
I say this as though the sunset itself is my happy place, but over time, and through experiences and adventures, one comes to the conclusion that not all sunsets are created equal. The same is true for what I call sunset spots—special places that capture the exquisite splendour of those moments better than anywhere else. In my mind, in no small part because of the lovely, joyous, unique experiences I’ve had there, no sunset spot comes even close to Lions Bay: up the Sea to Sky Highway, about halfway to Squamish.
The first time I ran across the bay was in an Internet article the day after I moved to Vancouver. That day, I was scouring the Web, searching for every single possible cliff-jumping spot this side of the Cascades. Lions Bay was, of course, the first result to pop up. A well-known spot, it boasted an illustrious rope swing built by two legends who have since become good friends of mine, as well as a good few forgiving, low-height cliff jumps—all topped off with a picturesque view out into the mouth of Howe Sound. I hurriedly jotted it down onto my increasingly saturated bucket list, and continued with my day.
Fast forward five months, to January—not exactly the height of cliff jumping season—and I had just met someone who, unbeknownst to me, would make a massive difference in my life. I followed her on social media, seeing that she was a Canadian cliff jumper, and we bonded right away. It didn’t take long for us to realize that we only lived about eighty kilometres apart, and that we had a perfect meeting place nearly exactly halfway between our respective abodes—Lions Bay.
Soon it was a crisp, clear February afternoon. I left my spotless little Evo next to a forgettable side road, sticking out like a sore thumb next to a Disneyland-esque lineup of ratty, worn-out 1990s station wagons. I was trekking down a lonely railroad track and over a small, rocky hillock when suddenly, the forest opened up. I was met with open arms by my friend and a plethora of her best mates, who guided me down a secret trail and out onto the rough rocks and jagged cliffs of Lions Bay. The sun was still high, and although it was nearly freezing outside, I couldn’t wait to rip off my jacket, don my wetsuit and leap into the frigid, salty water. I suppose the whole trip was kind of like that; a sort of “screw it, let’s go on an adventure” kind of mentality. It was a feeling that I had never really had before, but have had many times since.
I remember the sun going down that day, as we sat together with our legs dangling over the ocean below, laughing, sharing snacks and taking pictures. I remember capturing the perfect shot, where my friend and I did backflips side-by-side as if we were leaping gracefully over the sun itself. I remember seeing her treading water far below me as I contemplated a trick that I had never done before, and the emphatic, rib-crushing embrace that followed after I hit the water cleanly. I remember laughing, purely and tear-jerkingly, for the first time in forever. And, most of all, I remember sharing that perfect sunset, where the sky forms a glimmering gradient from shimmering gold to deep purple, and the scattered, wispy cumulus clouds glow like salt lamps drifting listlessly above the sun’s nightstand, with someone whom I knew was going to be my best friend in the whole world.
I return to that place sometimes—not always with the same people, but certainly with the same mindset. It’s a place where I can let the modern rat race go. The rocks, the trees; the waves lapping softly against the shore and the quiet creaking of the rope swing blowing in the breeze all serve to rekindle the love inside of me. To share that with friends is, to me, the meaning of paradise.