Surfing the 49<sup>th</sup> Parallel – Tofino, British Columbia …
The NorthWest Pacific Coast is a rugged coastline, with mountains and rainforests in close proximity. The area stretches from South Oregon, in the USA, to British Columbia in Canada. Major cities include Portland, Seattle and Vancouver. Aside from the coast there are world class ski resorts such as Whistler; and plenty more that are easier on the budget, Stevens Pass and Snoqualmie to name a few.
For this trip I focused on the west coast of Vancouver Island, basing myself in Tofino, a recognised surf area.
On Campbell Street, the main road, head south out of Tofino. After approximately two miles, look for the surf shop Live to Surf on your left hand side. A little further on you will see Lynn Road/Wickannish Inn on the right hand side. Take this turning and after about 500 yards pull up in the car park, walk through the woods and check the break. This is a typical beach break set up. One difference is that it is crescent shaped and the waves at either end bend in to the middle of the bay. Waves break at all stages of the tide; however, high tide definitely produced larger, well shaped waves. Off shore is W-NE.
North and South Chestermans are divided by a small island that is only marginally broken from the mainland. To get to South Chestermans, carry on along Campbell road until you reach a right hand turn in to Chesterman Beach Road. Pull into the car park and again make your way through the woods. Similar set-up to North Chestermans, the major difference is that the off-shore is NW to NE.
Next to South Chestermans, divided by a large headland. A quick yet cheeky way to check this spot is to drive down the road signed for Pacific Sands Resort, pull up, run across the grass, watch out for security, and if caught plead ignorance, I’m sure the accent will work!! Cox Bay does not pick up a large amount of swell though when working is worth a visit.
This is a famous surf spot, very evident from the amount of cars with boards on their roofs in the car park. This beach is located within the Pacific Rim National Park, car park fees are $3CDN per hr. Long Beach, as the name implies is long, and thus you can choose your peak. For the experienced surfer there is a reef set-up off the north headland, a road runs up to the headland. This beach definitely works best on high tide and up to two hours either side.
The surf will increase by at least 2ft and the walls really hold. On one of the days I surfed there it was about 3-5ft, peeling about 200-300 yards, certainly some of the best waves I have surfed! On the same day some of the bigger sets were peeling all the way from the headland – think how long those rides would be! There are several large rocks in front of the car park, great for keeping position whilst in the water and nice for sunbathing on and checking the surf.
All of the beaches described are beach breaks with few hazards to mention, though all have slight rips so just be aware of your position in the water. A word of note, if you do explore some of the more remote options remember you are in Bear country! Heed local advice, be noisy, and scare the bears shitless!!
I was told about the bears whilst walking back through the woods in the evening dusk, with the fish I had caught earlier, swinging around in my plastic bag. Never in the history of mankind have so many local wildlife been so scared by my singing!
Localism and Secret Spots
None of the first and plenty of the others to explore. The water temperature and remoteness keeps the crowds down. I was happily welcomed to travel with a local surfer in his car. We explored and surfed bays by ourselves, caught fish and enjoyed camp fires and cold beers.
Whalers on the Point YHA: my choice – a very well equipped and modern YHA. There is a large living room with bay windows giving views over the inlet and mountains. Facilities include a games room, TV room, internet, sauna, board storage and good music. For $20CDN p.p.p.n, what else do you want? Alternatively there are plenty of B&B’s and campsites in the area. As this is a tourist area, prices will increase dramatically in season (apart from the YHA).
Theres a Co-op market, bank, Post office, restaurants, chemists and coach stop. On top of this you can go whale watching, sea kayaking, fishing etc.
Gray Line Buses – regular departures from Victoria – $53CDN one way.
Nainamo: $29CDN o/w – one bus departure at 8:30am each day. I only mention one way fares as you can return via different routes and see more of the beautiful mountains and rivers.
From Mainland Vancouver
By coach: two days via Horseshoe bay and Nainamo. The ferry from Horseshoe Bay is worth the trip! No official policy on carrying boards on the coach.
By car: you can still catch the ferry from Horseshoe Bay though miss out the overnight stay in Nainamo.
I definitely want to return, with a car and map next time. The scenery was stunning, water temperature similar to my regular break of Tynemouth and the North East coast and the unspoilt waves well worth the trip.
If you want more information about this area you can email the author or check out our North America Insiders page.