One of the first things I do before visiting a new country or city is reach out to my friends around the world and see if they’ve traveled there and have any tips and recommendations for places to stay, eat, see and drink. Luckily, my friends have not been a) annoyed at my incessant pestering or b) shy about sharing their travel knowledge. A few months ago, I published a post by my friend Anna T. on her tried-and-true local picks in Frankfurt for food & drink, and recently, I wrote about learning to surf in Sri Lanka. One of my lovely surfette friends from surf camp in Sri Lanka happens to be a regular on the shores of Tofino, Canada, and I successfully pestered her into contributing a post to Yoga, Wine & Travel on how to get the most out of a Tofino surf trip from a true Canuck! Read on for Joegina P.’s take on surf town Canada!
The first time I tried surfing, I was on the island of Ilha Grande in Brazil with a couple of newly anointed Aussie friends who decided to rent a board off the beach and catch some waves. Having grown up in landlocked Ontario, Canada my knowledge of surfing thus far was limited to scenes of Dylan MacKay catching waves on the original 90210. But it looked like fun! I wanted to try! And try I did only to realize my cool new Brazilian bikini top was not surf appropriate and oh yeah, surfing is not as easy as it looks!
But I was in lust. So I came back to landlocked Ontario and promptly booked a surf camp in Nicaragua for the spring. This was followed by two more surf camps over the next couple of years, in Brazil and Sri Lanka (where I met the beautiful and lovely Flo). Soon lust developed into full fledged love and I was a world travelling “surfer” (I use the term loosely) by the time I came across an old (2010) Outside magazine article proclaiming Tofino, B.C., Canada as North America’s best surf town.
A world ranked surf town in my own figurative backyard? I had to try it! I cashed out travel points and booked my flight, reserved a rental car and found an adorable guesthouse to call my local home. And that is the story of how three years after that fateful afternoon I lost my bikini top trying to surf in Ilha Grande I was off to check out the raw beauty and adventure of Tofino.
Amid the towering rainforest and the rugged North Pacific coastline you’ll find Tofino, a quaint town of two thousand where the population swells to 20,000 in the summer months as travellers from around the world come to check out the town’s world class beaches, award winning food and outdoor adventure. Once in town, I notice Tofino has no shortage of surf shops teaming with rental gear including boards, leashes, roof racks and booties, gloves and wetsuits (the water here is freezing). So on Day 2 of my PNW adventure I find myself geared up to the max, board in hand, wadding out into the cold, choppy waves of North Chesterman Beach.
Notwithstanding the shock of the first wave to hit me (like a sheet of ice on my face), I am surprised at how quickly my wetsuit warms up. It’s raining here, a fairly common occurrence (this is the Pacific Northwest after all) which turns out to be a great thing for me because the normally soft, beginner waves at North Chesterman Beach are a little bit bigger and little bit choppier this morning. So I catch some waves, miss others and make small chat with other surfers all the while noting a) how friendly everyone is here and b) how much fun I’m having! It turns out I actually love cold water, it’s refreshing, less crowded and I don’t have to worry about sun damage.
My surf, food and outdoor adventures continue for the next week, beginning most days with me unceremoniously squeezing into a still damp wetsuit and ending with the most amazing seafood tacos/chowders/platters at local eateries. During the days I try my luck at South Chesterman Beach before heading out to catch some bigger waves at Cox Bay where I am once again amazed by the friendliness of locals in the water. And in the evenings I treat myself to fresh oysters at The Fish Store & Oyster House and wild pacific salmon and creme brûlées at the award winning Wolf in the Fog (rated #1 restaurant by EnRoute Magazine in 2014).
I also manage to take some time away from surfing to check out some the local wanders including local hikes, whale watching and the all natural hot springs at Hot Springs Cove where the water is geothermically heated to 109C but cools down to 50C with rising ocean tides. I check out the local hiking trails almost all of which end with sweeping vistas of beautiful rocky beaches. I find a new favourite trail, this one leading to local craft beer company Tofino Brew House where I enjoy a sampler and wonder if I can somehow slip a growler of beer through airport security to share with my friends back in Toronto. Best of all, I end almost every evening with the most amazing, fiery sunsets I have ever seen.
My last morning, I resist the urge to sleep in on vacation and instead wake up early enough to be the first person at Long Beach Surf Shop to secure my favourite 8 foot fun-board. I have 4 hours before I need to leave town and I can’t think of a better way to spend it than catching some waves at my local fave North Chesterman Beach. So gear in tow, I make my way down to the beach on final time, breathing in the cold salty air and profoundly grateful I had the opportunity to discover this gem of a city.
Where to stay: If you’ve got the budget for something more upscale I recommend The Wickanninish Inn.
How to get there: Fly into Victoria or Vancouver Airports and drive. Buses also run from both Victoria and Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. More details here.
Have you been to Tofino? Share your experience and any travel tips in the comments section below!