When most folks think of surfing, they think warm turquoise barrels and tanned bare-chested boys. I didn’t find most of those things in Tofino, B.C., Canada, but I did still find surf and other splendors.
Such as, good beer and some of those barrels. These waves were more slate blue though and, like the beer, cold.
The water never really warms much, no matter what time of year, but heading into winter and through it, it gets its coldest. It also gets its most swell (pun intended), so it’s the best time to surf.
I was there earlier this year, with a group of journos, to dig into what sets the small seaside town (population just shy of 2,000 at last count) on the west coast of Vancouver Island apart.
First, the surf. Well, first the food actually, because that’s how I came to surf. Tofino, while small, is surprisingly full of fabulous places for feasting (see: SOBO, Spotted Bear, Tacofino – all spectacular). One evening we dined at popular local haunt, Shelter. Here’s where you come for an above board pub experience, like fresh off the boat fish to pair with your pint. While there, another writer and I begged the bartender Robbie Ferguson, an Aussie who’s quite adept with a longboard (he won his division in the Rip Curl Stew again this year, no biggie), and the General Manager Mike Jacobsen to take us surfing.
And they did. At the beach the next day, we inelegantly slithered into wetsuits, got a quick lesson on the sand about how to stand up, then headed into the waves. In the span of an hour, the sun shone, the sky rained and then hailed and then snowed on us, and finally the sun came out again. You don’t get that kind of weather variety everywhere. Naturally, we soaked it all up, and managed to stand up on our boards long enough to ride a little bit of the white froth. And gracefully collide on the white froth, which our instructors gratefully caught on camera.
Speaking of froth, the town’s first brewery, Tofino Brewing Co., opened this year. In addition to making tasty beer (I recommend their Tuff Session Ale), they aim to be earth-conscious with their production. The place uses hydroelectric power. The spent grain becomes livestock feed. They offer reusable, refillable growlers. They’re also working on a water recovery system. Swing into their brewery for a tasting, or order a glass when you dine at Shelter where they offer the beers on tap.
While better known as summertime mainstays, the beach and beer are equally, if not more, delightful in the dead of winter.
Where to Stay in Tofino:
The Wickaninnish Inn (situated next to surf spot North Chesterman Beach)
Long Beach Lodge (in Cox Bay, another prime surf spot, right off of which the hotel offers its own private surf lessons)