Sunset Surfing in Tofino

Tofino is like being on the edge of the world. Its remoteness makes you feel cut off from the rest of civilisation, and it seems to keep to its own slow and ancient time.

Tofino, on the western edge of Vancouver Island, is a surfers’ Mecca. It’s a pilgrimage that needs to be made by any surf fan – regardless of ability. So I diligently made my way to this remote paradise.

My friends and I drove from Vancouver, B.C. taking the picturesque ferry ride from Horseshoe bay to Nanaimo, which is known as the bath tub racing capital of the world. Well, someone has to be! It also has a surprising number of strip malls for a small population. From here it’s another three hour drive. To put it in perspective, Vancouver Island is the size of the Netherlands.

As we drive through the island’s interior crossing east to west, we pass farms, wineries and many pick-up trucks. Half-way we pass Cathedral Grove, a protected area of forest that houses a handful of old Douglas firs that have escaped the loggers chainsaws. The oldest tree stands at 250 feet and is over 800 years old.

From there we carry on to the final town before our destination. Port Alberni, is a small quiet port town. We stopped for a spot of brunch and happened upon a great little family run restaurant called Pescadores Bistro. I had their eggs Benedict, which was huge, delicious and set me up for our evening surf.

After stuffing our faces we toddled over to Wal-Mart to buy our shopping for the weekend. This trip was being done on a tight budget – it was hostels and home cooked food all the way. After buying enough food for a week we began the last leg of our journey. For an hour we passed nothing but vast lakes, towering mountains and lot of trees. The only civilisation we saw was a number of camper-vans going in the opposite direction.

Trying to find the hostel became a bit of a farce – in this internet age no one had thought to get the address before hand (six girls all with degrees ) we thought we’d just look it up on our phones – plus the town is tiny how lost can you get. It turns out quite lost. Tofino’s 3G leaves a lot to be desired. We did eventually find it – the old fashioned way by asking a local.

The HI-Tofino, also known as Whalers on the Point Guesthouse, has to be one of the best hostels I have ever stayed in. It has an amazing view of the Clayquot sound, a barbeque and a sauna.

The sun was shining, a rare day in an area that only sees a yearly average of 153 days of sunshine. It was time for a sunset surf. We’d heard that Chesterman Beach, one of the closest surf beaches to the town, had some nice rollers. So, of we went to hire our equipment. There is no shortage of places to hire and almost all do lessons – we hired from Pacific Surf School – mainly because it was the only one open at 5pm. They like to start and finish early in British Columbia.

Then we hit the beach. Chesterman Beach, wild and windswept, with an almost ethereal haze, is the most beautiful beach I have surfed to date. The waves were great and there were only a handful of surfers and paddle boarders out. During a lull in the sets I sat on my battered rental board and took in the untamed view.

That night we decided to go on a pub crawl. With a grand total of one pub and one restaurant stroke bar, it was possible! We decided to start at Jacks, the only pub. When we arrived at 10pm there was a huge line- it was beginning to rain so we decided not to queue, and head to the restaurant stroke bar which was called Shelter. There we drank the local beer and enjoyed a cocktail or three. At 12pm they kicked us out into the drizzle and we walked back along the deserted streets somewhat tipsy to our hostel. This is not a partying town.

The next day the forecast was not looking quite so good. A messy storm swell was coming in – being stubborn we headed out anyway. A local told us to try Long Beach, the area’s most famous surf break. It was not looking good with an off-shore wind and large messy waves. Some surfers in the car park said they were going to check out Cox Bay.

We followed suit – it was better but not by much. We decided to surf anyway – and got battered by the seven foot swell. I will fully admit I do not like big powerful waves – they scare me. I was constantly wiping out. After an hour, exhausted, I called it quits and watched my friend, who is a better surfer than I, shred the waves.

The weather changes in Tofino so quickly. During our time on Cox Beach, it went from gray to heavy rain, to drizzle, to a thick fog; I couldn’t see either side of the beach for a time, to more heavy rain, then sun, followed by more fog. All this happened in about two hours.

After surfing the weather cleared up and we went on a small hike through the gnarled rain forest that lines the many beaches. The elements are harsh in the winter so the trees closest to the sea are stunted and twisted into strange shapes, and moss hangs down from the branches creating an eerie look. It’s beautiful. On our way here we saw a number of camper-vans driving away from Tofino, I have no idea why you would want to leave one of the few unspoilt beach resorts left in the world.

Where to stay: Hi-Tofino sheared rooms from £17-£21 private from £33-£50
Population: 1,876
Best bar: Shelter
Fun Fact: In November 474.9mm of rain falls in Tofino. The UK has an average of 57.5 mm in the same month. (source: Met Office)

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