It seems the Bruhwiler family has something special in their blood. Sepp Bruhwiler grew up on Chesterman’s Beach in Tofino, B.C. At the tender age of six, he pulled on a wetsuit and started on the road to becoming one of the top surfers in Canada.
The younger brother of Raph, Sepp has one of the most powerful backhand hacks in the business, one of the most contagious laughs you’ll ever hear and a passion for surfing that he communicates with every word that comes out of his mouth. In part five of our interview series, “The Northern Collective,” we got on the horn with Sepp to talk about making it in a small town, Buckwheat Surfboards, and his brush with Hollywood. Photos: Kiel Harvey.
So Sepp, how long have you been surfing for?
Oh shoot. I’m 31 and I think I started when I was about 6. What is that? 25 years?
Something like that. That’s a long time. I saw a picture of you from ages ago, and it looked like an ad for something called Buckwheat Surfboards. What’s that?
That’s pretty funny. That’s Chris Buckles, one of the local guys. He barely even surfs anymore. He started shaping boards when we were really young. The first board he made me was called “Short Stuff,” so that was pretty funny.
Was that your first sponsor-ish thing?
No, we paid for those. I didn’t really get sponsored until I was 14 or something.
Who was the first one?
It would’ve been Ocean Surf, which is now Storm.
I guess growing up in Tofino, you’ve probably seen it change quite a bit since you were young. What was it like growing up there?
It’s changed drastically. You know, there used to be 200 people in town and nobody in the water. Every time you checked the waves, there was no one out. It was just a small logging and fishing town back then.
How did you get into surfing in a town like that?
Well, I was into skateboarding first. But we were right on the beach, so it made it pretty easy to go in the water. There were a few older guys, Jack Bauer and Jack Gillie, who were making surfboards. Raph got a board from them, and then next thing you know, I’m following him, and same with my sister. My parents weren’t really into it—my dad’s a logger, and my mom was taking care of us.
What do they think of it now?
Oh, they think it’s cool. They always supported us.
Is it ever weird with your brother, both of you owning surf shops in the same town?
We’re buddies, but there’s some weird stuff. Some days, I’ll be super busy and his shop is dead, and the next day it’s the opposite. You’re like “what’s going on?!” There’s a little bit of that stuff, but nothing negative or anything.
What about that old Hummer commercial you were in? How did that happen?
I have a really good agent in Vancouver. He got that one for me. The audition I went to was crazy. They made me put my wetsuit on in downtown Vancouver and walk into this huge room in front of 40 people. They were all just sitting there silent, and there was one guy interviewing me.
Do you do that kind of thing a lot?
I’ve done a few things. I was a stunt guy in a Toyota commercial, and I did a couple stunt things for a couple movies. I was in a Gob video surfing back in 2002, as well.
What about travelling?
Not really anymore. I’ve got two kids now, and I’m trying to really focus on my surf school. Back in ’08, I was gone for the whole winter. The last trip I did, I drove down to California with my truck and my ski. I just hung out there for three months or something. Then I left all my gear in Huntington and flew down to Mexico for two months. I’ve been doing trips around here, too, and we go over to Washington sometimes.
What about favourite spots around here?
There’s a spot up north about an hour and a half boat ride from Tofino. I’m pretty into backhand surfing, because where we grew up at Chesterman’s there’s a lefthand wedge and Rosie Bay is a left as well. I surfed mostly backside growing up.
What you think about the Canadian surfers blowing up, like Pete’s Innersection part?
I’m so stoked for him. I’ve been saving footage for the next one, and just need a couple more things, and then I’m done. I got some sick turns and good airs—I just need a couple good barrels, and then I’ve got a part. It’s at 80% right now. I might wait until round two to submit, but we’ll see.
That would be sick. Have you got one guy that you always shoot with, or are there a few?
I’ve got my own personal filmer that shoots me all the time. He’s a guy that worked at one of the shops, and he got right into it. It’s cool. When we’re right into it, we’ll be out every day.
What about inspirations growing up?
Well, my brother, Raph. And Tom Curren. Some of the older guys in town here had videos. The first video I watched was Wave Warriors. I still remember the day I saw it. I was probably four years old.
Anything planned for the future?
A couple of local trips, but I’m going to put my head down and work on my shop. This is the least I’ve surfed in my life, but it’s like going to camp. I’ll be done camp in September, then I can do some big trips.
Thanks to Malcolm Johnson at SBC Surf for his cooperation in reproducing these stories.