Nestled on the west coast next to the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, Tofino is home to a small community with a rich cultural heritage, grounded in their amazingly beautiful surroundings.
It’s refreshing to visit towns like this – it seems that everyone you meet is into the outdoors, and fishing, surfing, hiking and yoga play a big part in most people’s lives here. And because their leisure time is so dependent on their natural surroundings, locals look after more than just their own backyards. The town has even introduced bylaws that minimise the colonisation of the town by global brands, so hopefully this means the likes of Starbucks and McDonalds will be kept firmly at arm’s length for years to come.
The road into town is long and winding; we meandered through snow-capped peaks and passed bright blue lakes before reaching the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve – 511 square kilometres of rugged coastline and dense forest. Tofino nestles at the northern end of Long Beach, the most accessible of the Reserve’s three sites. The surf here is predominantly beach break waves; recognisable spots include Chestermans (which hit the global surf scene when local pro Pete Devries took the top spot here at the recent WQS O’Neill Cold Water Classic), Cox Bay and sections of Long Beach itself, depending on the swell and winds.
The isolation, minimal transport routes and relatively long drive from serious civilisation make Tofino a weekend destination at best for the city crowds of Victoria and the surrounding suburbs. Saying that, surfing’s pretty massive in Canada, and as I paddled out on my first morning at Chestermans, I was greeted by a relatively large crowd already in the water.
If you’ve got a boat and some local knowledge, there’s no doubt that a bit of seabound exploration would turn up some secret spots, and with literally miles of beach and shifting peaks, it’s always possible to find a quiet place to surf. It’s the kind of area where you have to keep checking the banks along the bay – similar to the south of France, where certain spots are susceptible to tidal changes and alterations in sand banks – so a taking a little time to explore really pays off. Tofino is exposed to huge, relentless swells, and as a result there is usually somewhere to find a wave. Water temperatures drop to around 9-10C during the winter, and remain relatively low year-round, which tends to deter the less hardy surfer, but I never found it that traumatic. A good winter suit’s all you really need.
I hit on a nice little left, breaking off a finger of rock, that wedged up in the corner and peeled its way onto the beach. I had the peak all to myself, or so I thought. It was only my girlfriend waving frantically from the beach that alerted me to the grey whale calming navigating around the rocks next to me.
Despite the rugged beauty of this area and the potential for quality waves, development in Tofino has remained relatively controlled, and a little solitude still exists on this portion of the wild west coast. Cold water might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but perhaps that’s a good thing.