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For the eight experienced extreme athletes, it was a last rush of adrenaline to mark the end of their adventure racing season, as fall storms began to lash the West Coast.

Kayak to steep Anvil Island in the middle of Howe Sound. Run to the top of the island's peak and down again. Kayak back to the mainland. Bike along 80 kilometres of back trails to Whistler. Run halfway up the mountain, then down at last to a local bar and grill for a celebratory family dinner.

But late Sunday morning, as the four double kayaks began their return journey from Anvil Island, strong winds came up, the waves rose, and tragedy struck. Two kayakers, then two more, were pitched into the frigid waters of Howe Sound.

Yesterday, friends and family mourned the deaths of two of those who began the day in such high spirits, plucked too late from the ocean to survive their severe hypothermia.

Friends identified the victims as 50-year-old Richard Juryn, a well-known endurance mountain bike rider and sports event organizer from North Vancouver, and Denis Fontaine.

Two kayakers survived their harrowing ordeal, including the expedition's lone woman, who clung to the rear of a kayak that managed to remain upright as it towed her back through the high seas to the shores of Anvil Island.

Bob Faulkner, one of four kayakers to escape being thrown into the water, told CTV News that the group had discussed, then decided, to risk the return voyage from Anvil Island, despite increasingly choppy water.

Within 10 minutes, however, they were hit by 85-kilometre-an-hour winds and two-metre waves.

"We should have turned back," Mr. Faulkner lamented. "But this is our love. We were all experienced paddlers, and we were carried away by our own testosterone."

The trailing kayak containing Mr. Fontaine and his woman partner was the first to flip. "We heard a shout. That's when everything started to go so terribly wrong," Mr. Faulkner said.

In what he described as heroic paddling by its two occupants, one of the kayaks corralled the woman and headed back to Anvil Island with her hanging on for dear life.

But Mr. Fontaine was not so fortunate. Although he managed to cling to the top of his kayak, he was still immersed in the freezing water. After about 20 minutes, he began to complain to the other kayakers who came to his rescue that he was becoming hypothermic.

He scrambled into the middle equipment hatch of the kayak containing Mr. Juryn and his male paddling partner.

The two kayaks, with their extra passenger, headed back across the open, windswept water toward Porteau Cove on the mainland.

Mr. Faulkner's kayak made it to safety. Mr. Juryn's craft, carrying Mr. Fontaine, did not.

By the time Coast Guard vessels arrived on the scene, the three men had been in the water for more than an hour, according to Mr. Faulkner.

All were floating unconscious, after failing to battle the waves and swim to shore.

"They were at least a mile out when their boat sank," Mr. Faulkner recounted, "The winds were so strong, it just pushed them south. We were all wearing tights or shorts. We were exposed. Wet suits would have saved their lives, but you never really think it will be you."

He said Mr. Jaryn gave his life trying to save Mr. Fontaine.

"It was terrible when you saw their bodies coming out of the water," Mr. Faulkner said.

The third paddler in the water also suffered from hypothermia. But he recovered quickly and was soon released from hospital. Yesterday, he said he did not want to talk about the events of Sunday, and asked not to be identified. Mr. Faulkner said he was younger, stronger, and with a bit more body fat than the two victims.

Marc Proulx, maritime co-ordinator of the Victoria Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre, said Sunday's nasty weather caused rescuers to come to the aid of three other kayakers who also got into difficulty.

"The weather conditions were forecasted. They were known. It was a poor choice on their part," he said. "They (the Anvil Island kayakers) wore life vests, but otherwise they were all poorly dressed for the conditions."

A friend who answered the phone at Mr. Juryn's home said his family would be making no comment. "We are just going to leave things alone right now, okay?"

Mr. Faulkner said he had worked out every day with Mr. Juryn for years.

"I will miss him hugely. Guys that share that level of danger and adrenalin in sports form a real close bond, because you rely on each other to save your life if things go wrong. And the truth is, things do go wrong."

He said the two had recently returned from a 17-day mountain bike expedition to Mongolia.

In an e-mail sent to friends about the tragedy, Mr. Faulkner said he told them: "We all knew what we were getting into, Richard included. We should have stopped, but we got carried away with events."