Tofino is a small town nestled on the west coast of Vancouver Island. Its wild landscapes and pristine beaches attract surfers, bird watchers, whale watchers, fishermen and nature enthusiasts from around the world.
The surrounding area has been home to the Nuu-Cha-Nulth First Nations for thousands of years, and beyond the lush green forests and tranquil inlets, mysteries are still yet to be uncovered.
One of the most iconic landmarks in Canadian surfing is Long Beach, located nearby in the Pacific Rim National Park. Its sandy shores and neighboring beaches stretch for over 16 kilometers, and its wide open shape and rocky islands make it a magnet for swells.
Tofino is a year round tourist hub that is on the fast track to becoming one of Canada’s most popular tourism destinations
In the 1960s, a few of Tofino’s surf pioneers began to take the plunge in the frigid Canadian waves on imported or hand shaped longboards. In the following years, a growing subculture of beach dwelling nature lovers, surfers and travelers flourished on Long Beach. These early pioneers were some of the biggest influences to the Canadian surf culture we have today on the west coast.
These days Tofino is a year round tourist hub that is on the fast track to becoming one of Canada’s most popular tourism destinations. The beautiful summer sun and endless sandy beaches can make it a bustling place in the summer months.
The beaches and breaks are crammed with surfers and vacationers in these months and those juicy ground swells are few and far between. The beauty of Tofino and surrounding area is the fact that there is a wave to be enjoyed almost every single day of the year.
Continuous weather systems roll through bringing brisk temperatures and large waves
Our main surfing beach is Cox Bay, which has the wildest range of possible conditions and takes so many different directions of swell. All that’s needed is the right board and mindset to find a wave almost any day on this beach, whether it’s a mellow summer day, or an arm burning winter session on the outside break.
Winter is the time of year where Tofino really stands out. The days are short and dark, and when it rains, it usually pours. Restaurants and hotels close down, and the crowds disappear. Continuous weather systems roll through bringing brisk temperatures, large waves, a humid climate and offshore winds.
Particularly in the last few winters, there are a growing number of people coming out from the mainland and across the island to chase down the big winter swells, both for surfing and storm watching.
The extra boost to our wintertime population is shifting the balance of our small town creating more jobs and year round employment opportunities. On the other side of the coin, the same lineups which sat nearly empty for generations are now frequented by dedicated surfers and beach trekkers, searching for waves all year round in all weather conditions.
This year we were blessed with some relatively different systems than usual courtesy of El Nino. The eastern Pacific Ocean was a breeding ground for consistent, powerful storm fronts and ground swells passing by Hawaii, en route to hit Alaska and California and the remaining swells trickled in to our coast from all directions.
There were many days where North Chesterman was our only local beach that could handle the size and sometimes messiness of these El Nino swells. The crowds grew thick this year at times because it was too big to ride any of the other local beach breaks.
On the occasional long period ground swell we experienced some picture perfect days of hollow, head high waves and consistent offshore winds at Cox Bay and at breaks up and down the coast.
There are a handful of local riders and photographers around Tofino who have really pushed the envelope as far as defining moments in modern Canadian surfing.
It’s hard to search for images of Canadian surf without seeing photos of riders like Pete Devries, Sepp and Raph Bruhwiler shredding cold, hefty slabs perched below misty backdrops of rainforest and snow capped mountains.
Their images, films, and stoke have fuelled a new technology-savvy generation of surfers, photographers and filmmakers on the west coast. It is pretty exciting to be here in this moment on the forefront of the rugged Canadian surf scene, where boundaries are constantly being pushed and new technology and exploration is leading to discoveries and hidden gems around every corner.
Words and images Keenan Bush Tofino Surf Photography