Hey, remember when we made our in-office frothing kook travel across an entire country with a surfboard for only $10? If not, read about the best (and worst) way to get to Arugam Bay on the journal. It’s a laugh. As for Joe, we thought we would make it up to him and have him scout a future surf trip. The Maldives? Naw, too gaudy. Indo? He’s ain’t that good. We figured Joe could use a splash of cold water for that swelling head…
Opposite the earth from our sunny Sri Lankan shores sits the surf capital of Canada: Tofino. Chances are you’re familiar with British Columbia from their alpine sports and national parks but did you know one of surfing’s best hideaways hangs just off its Pacific coast? Uncrowded and year-round swells have morphed this old hippie enclave into one of the world’s premier cold-water surf destinations.
Tofino’s sandy shores and peelers edge every corner of Vancouver Island making it perfect for beginners. Thanks to its high-latitude, you can surf under sunlight till 11 pm in the summer months (a luxury we lose at 6 pm on the equator). The real magic of Tofino awakes in the winter, particularly November through February when winter storms make their way up the coast. We’re talkin’ waves up to 15 feet and higher in some of the most hardcore surfing conditions. For a bloke who gets chilly on his scooter in the tropics, Joe is in for a treat...
Surfing in Tofino: Joe's step-by-step account
“What the f*ck? That’s the first thing that went through my head as the ferry from Vancouver docked onto the island. I can’t remember a snowstorm this heavy and I grew up in Colorado. Through the sunroof, I could see droplets freezing the underbelly of the strapped surfboard. Maybe the breaks in Sri Lanka had spoilt me rotten? More likely, my employers take the piss out of me doing things like this...
The drive to Tofino took much longer than expected thanks to this storm. We watched buses slide backward onto an icy highway, telephone wires collapse into bright green flashes, and a propane truck that caught fire roadside. The drive made the temple in Raiders of the Lost Ark look like a bouncy castle. I think I started to miss the Arugam Bay bus when we suddenly descended into a much sunnier side of the island. In a literal sense, the coast was clear.
My first impression of Tofino was the verbal equivalent of a toddler on their third soda. Tall dense forests met vast and bright beaches with curving roads cutting through. We watched backlit surfers catch late evening waves and discovered that highly-saturated sunsets were a nightly occurrence. Tofino was the pacific northwest at its damn best.
We checked into our Airbnb atop Yew Street (named after the plant but a good omen nonetheless) and prepped for my first day of cold water surfing. December meant going for a dawny and sleeping in were both possible in the same morning - hell yes.
I soon learned about the unglamorous world of cold water surfing. Sun-kissed skin, palm tree backdrops, and warm weather endurance were nowhere to be found. Instead, bulky wetsuits and bright red faces turned us into some subhuman species I hardly recognized. We bobbed with our neoprene brethren in water most wouldn’t dare touch (7°C or 45°F to be precise).
My kook card was reinstated when I mistakenly forget to fasten the velcro patch allowing my wetsuit to unzip during larger sets. I’ll never forget the shock of that cold water rushing through my entire suit and how stupid I felt trying to frantically zip it up before the next wave. This happened countless times that day.
Despite all the extra effort it takes to surf in cold water, I absolutely fell in love with it! Sure, some serious motivation is needed to slip on a frozen wetsuit then tread out into frigid waters, but once I’m out in the surf, I’m all smiles. I found the water more refreshing than most and if it weren’t for my frozen limbs, I’d stay out another hour or so. Tofino taught me that my love of surfing outweighs the image of it.
So, when do things start going south? Well if you’re looking for another Arugam Bay debacle, stay tuned because I’m sure that’s coming up, but you won’t find it here. The only bad thing to happen to us the entirety of our stay in Tofino was that our last day was completely flat, prompting one badass firepit in low tide.”
Sea Monster Noodle Bar: sits pretty on the marina and large portions of heavy noodles make for a perfect post-surf fix.
Shelter Restaurant: take a seat fireside and chow down on locally sourced bistro fare inside this boozy timber house.
Kuma Tofino: the fan favorite of the trip, the winter ramen bowls and Japanese inspired small plates prompted the discussion of permanent relocation to Tofino
Can’t go wrong with Airbnb. Seriously, there’s a ton of beautiful properties all across the peninsula. The gang didn’t stay in a hotel nor did they see any that stood out for a Tofino surf trip.
Pacific Surfing Co.: This place surpassed all surf shop expectations and their employee's genuine interest in the trip . 3 days of board, wetsuit, hood, gloves, and booties put them at just about $100 USD - not bad. but their employee’s genuine interest in the trip was well worth it. They even bought some beanies and stickers.
Chesterman Beach: Nice cruisy beach breaks along a large coastline. Beginner to intermediate and where we surfed the majority of the time.
Long Beach: You got all the info right there in the name. Intermediate waves along quite possibly the most picturesque shore in Tofino.
Cox Bay: Bigger sets and strong rips make this advanced spot a bit intimidating from the shore. Very popular and most likely the waves you are looking for.
Joe was our canary in the Tofino mineshaft and he came out singing. We’re thinking a HABU surf trip is almost imminent here. The town of Tofino has just about 35 km of coastline yet boasts enough breaks, restaurants, and attractions to feel like its California counterparts. You can take a seaplane to secluded hot springs, paddle board between inlet islands, or do what Joe did - eat maple bacon donuts and nap.
All images courtesy of Matt Power Photo.