While Dan and Nick are busy looking for vans, I (Erik) decided to investigate the famous surf at the quaint Pacific Rim town of Tofino on Vancouver Island. I'm happy to report back that the surf lives up to expectations. And then some.
My friend Hunter and I hit the road early in our rental car and drove it to Horseshoe Bay ferry terminal, 30min North of Vancouver. At 5am Vancouver is quiet. We enjoyed the rare chance to cross the Lion's Gate Bridge alone despite a single taxi. Having just missed the 7am ferry we were first in line for the 8am sailing. Park, get coffee. The Good Karma Cafe perched above the ferry line served a wonderful brew. I tested my karma and asked the barista if they offered free coffee refills. She just said with a pretty smile, "No."
We sailed on the BC Ferries roll-on-roll-off ferry "Victoria." From the sun deck everything looked grey. We rolled off in Departure Bay, Nanaimo and followed signs for Highway 4: Pacific Rim Highway. It was a just a couple hours to Tofino.
We arrived on that Saturday (with a couple of hitchhikers in the back seat - Québécois students, almost charming enough to make up for their reek of woods and old socks) and we found the dusty road that lead to our campsite. Right next to the beach, you could here the swell breaking. Perfect. We decided to head straight for the rental shop we passed on the way called Live to Surf. After getting nowhere with one youthful employee whose brain seemed to have been compromised by a cloud of weed smoke, we were assisted by a fantastic Australian man who hooked us up with all the right gear. Told us, "swell's from the West, tide's coming in, go to Cox Bay." Boards strapped to roof, wetsuits thrown in trunk. We navigated with our paper tourist map to Cox Bay Beach.
On that first day at Cox Bay we could hardly believe our eyes. Flanked on both sides by mystical old growth forest was a beach with surf crashing up and down the shore. East to West, Tofino is pretty much as far as it gets from St. John's. Hunter and I high-fived and headed out for the northern end of the beach where the surf looked great. We both got six or seven waves. Long swell, slow break, like the waves were in no rush to end their journey from across the Pacific. Euphoric, we carried our boards back to the parking lot, greeting every wetsuit-clad passerby with a beaming grin along the way.
Back at the campsite we hung up our wetsuits to dry, fried up some onion with chili and beans and made a feast of burritos. We met the neighbors. A more beautiful couple you've never seen - they'd just gotten married not one hour before. They said they were from Victoria. A little drunk, the man told me, "Erik, if you ever get married, get eloped, fuck everyone." From the back of his old Toyota Tacoma he pulled out a box of champagne flutes. The bride added, "Join us at the beach later. We're having a party."
That night called for something a little classier than the cans of warm PBR in the trunk. So we headed to Tofino Brewing Company's warehouse bar just down the street and picked up beer and a refillable growler. That night we sat on the beach and drank that beer while the sun set over the water. The beer was cold and delicious. We sang songs and watched the campfire and watched in amazement as one hundred other campfires made the beach glow. The fire went out, two friendly police officers told us no glass bottles on the beach, the air got cold and damp. We went to our tent and fell asleep.
Sunday morning we made breakfast, packed lunch, and headed straight for the surf shop. "Everyone's at Long Beach today," said the friendly surfer girl from Quebec. Excellent. Feeling confident from yesterday's waves we exchanged our beefy 9' soft-top rental boards for shorter ones, length 8'4."
We arrived at Long Beach and scanned the water for waves. Good break off the big rock island towards the North end of the beach. The tourist map said it was called "Incinerator Rock." Couple of surfers hanging out there waiting for swell. Perfect. We stashed our bag of snacks behind a large piece of driftwood and paddled out to the North side of the rock where swell was breaking. I got some good cues from the locals - paddle out, sit on your board, watch the swell, wait. Be patient. See that swell? See it rise? Go! Go! Go! Paddle, paddle, hands on your board, pop up to your feet. Feel that rush? There's nothing quite like it in this world.
After a couple hours we rode a wave all the way to shore and sat on a log and ate our lunch of PB'n'Js and a beer. In no rush, we headed back out for more. A surfer paddled out by me and lowered her wetsuit hood to reveal long curly hair. She smiled and said to me, "Not so many waves today, want to climb that rock?" She pointed to the rocky faces of Incinerator Rock. Before I could respond to her crazy request she had turned and caught a good 6 ft wave. All I could see was her hair as she carved the wave, turned sharply, caught the wave again, turned and continued like that until she gracefully jumped off her board.
Exhausted and a little sunburnt, we headed back to the parking lot, peeled off the wetsuits, and returned to campsite. We prepared a second round of burritos. This time I got my spices just right - Hunter proclaimed this "the best goddamn burrito you've ever made." It's true. They were fantastic.
After supper we decided to head to Tofino Brewing Company again. Hunter wanted to check out an indoor bowl the owners had built for the employees to skate. We finished our beers at the bar (I had the kelp stout - smooth and absolutely delicious) and we were amazed when the bartender shook his head at our credit cards and said the round was on the house. He pointed to Hunter's "Tofino Surf Co." Hat he had purchased the previous day. "Thanks for reppin' the brewery, man." Hunter got his skateboard from the car and we headed to the side of the warehouse where the bowl had been constructed. Hunter ripped around that bowl for a good hour while I took photos.
On Monday we woke up to rain. No worry, the surf would still be there. We made breakfast and packed up our campsite - this day would unfortunately be our last at Tofino. Following a tip from Live to Surf's employees, we headed to Cox Bay where a decent 3 ft swell was rolling onto the North end of the beach. We had again exchanged our rentals for shorter boards, this time opting for 7'6" length.
Those waves were the best of the trip. They came in intervals of about 20 minutes, and came four to six in a row with a timing of about 8 seconds in between swells. I won't soon forget sitting on my board out there in the gentle waves past the break, watching the horizon, seeing whales spout and seabirds flying around, waiting for the next big swells to come in. Together with thirty, forty other surfers, bobbing around like that, paddling. And when that swell did come it was GO! GO! GO! By this time Hunter was waiting for me on the shore. We had a ferry to catch that would take us back to Vancouver. One more, one more, one more... Like a man possessed I kept heading out for more waves. I caught four more fantastic waves before riding to the shore on my belly. I almost keeled over on the beach. Exhausted. Hunter informed me we had missed the ferry. But luckily there was a night sailing scheduled that we could catch.
And so we returned our rentals and got ready to return in Vancouver. First, though, we had to get a burrito from the Tacofino food truck. Somewhere along the trip we were told we'd simply HAVE to get a Tacofino burrito before we left. "Jeez, I lived in Texas for two years, how good could a burrito be way up here?" I got it to go and ate in the car. I tell you, that was the single best burrito I've ever eaten. We spilled burrito juices all over the rental car. We caught the 9:30pm ferry and drove to Vancouver.
We are Daniel, David, Nick & Erik.
Keep up to date with our adventures! Subscribe below to get an email for each new blog post.