Sunday, February 19, 2012

My Tofino

Waves off Chesterman Beach (Tofino, Canada)
The Northern Lights were out a few nights ago – just about a week after I fled the Yukon Territory for Vancouver Island.  They looked glorious in the photos that Carson posted to the Inn on the Lake's Facebook page and I could almost hear them crackling through the sounds of the surf crashing outside my window at the Wickaninnish Inn (the Wick) on Vancouver Island.   Nature is like that – elusive and unpredictable – it certainly doesn’t dance to the tune of a regularly scheduled vacation. 

Tofino Waves (Canada)
The Wick was the last “big” stop on a 17-day journey through Canada.  For me, it was the perfect complement to the time up on Marsh Lake and in Victoria.  I’ve chronicled my fascination with waves  and beach living elsewhere in this blog and I’d come to the Wick (with the intrepid Nancy B – aka the B) for three nights of what I had hoped to be some glorious storm watching with big waves rolling in.  How disappointed was I when the forecast for the next day was for sun and balmy temperatures.  The big waves – like the lights – were going to prove to be elusive.   I should define big –there is nothing between Tofino and Japan and I was on the hunt for the elusive 20-foot swell – a wave that would tower over me.

It’s a bit of a trip to get to the Wick from Victoria – particularly during the winter months when flights can often be canceled due to the storms and the mountain pass that separates the East Coast from the West Coast can be treacherous.  Being a New Yorker, I don’t drive enough to tackle a mountain pass in snow (or rain for that matter) and the B, a San Diegan, doesn’t get much practice on snow – particularly on a road that is posted for chains during storm season.  Enter the driving wizards at Pacific Rim Navigators.  

Flyaway (Tofino, Canada)
We were lucky to have Catherine as our driver.  A native of Tofino, she filled us in on the town surfing culture.  If you are there in the summer, you can catch her (she, unlike me, has surfed some really big waves around the world) at Tofino Paddle Surf – her newly launched business where she teaches paddle boarding to one and all.  If you’re up for a surf lesson, she can steer you to her brothers – they with she were the surfers who put Canadian surfing on the map. Want to go fishing – check in with Catherine as her husband can take you out for a go at catching your dinner.  In her spare time (not sure when that is between kids and jobs), Catherine is coaching the Canadian Junior Surf team.  The team is  – in the midst of raising money to go to the Junior World Championships in Panama.  Follow the team blog at -- they are also hard at work on a Facebook page.  I am hoping the Wick will kick in big time.

It was a foggy, rainy day on our drive to the Wick – and so the overlooks were a bit overcast and the Goats on the Roof Restaurant was closed for the season (yes, there really are live goats on the roof).  We had a stop at Cathedral Grove for a walk in amongst the giant cedars and also a quick stop for a crawl down into a ravine to see a small waterfall.  It was all a bit soggy but great fun none-the-less. 

Rollng In (Tofino, Canada)
I had read about the Wick in a New York Times travel article in 2007.  I couldn’t remember the name but I remembered the description of the waves slapping up against the windows of the restaurant and have carried that image with me for the past five years.  How delighted was I when I finally put two and two together and realized I had booked into the very same magical place that I had hoped to visit someday.  Although there were no waves slapping on the window when we dined in the bar of the Pointe Restaurant on our first night, there was a fine scotch, a crackling fire, and an amazing squash/apple soup, and pork ribs just melting off the bones for me with the B opting for a shrimp po’boy and a glass of wine.  If you are a scotch lover, this is the perfect spot for you – the Wick has a seemingly endless list.  A short walk back to our room in the beach building equipped with a fireplace, two big comfy chairs for wave watching, a HUGE tub (also suitable for wave watching) – not to mention binoculars, birding books, and an ever attentive staff ready to assist in any way.   Basically, it had all the comforts of home with room service!

Me at the Beach (Tofino, Canada (picture by the B))
The next day brought the aforementioned sunshine and perfect weather for a walk on the beach.  We left the Wick rain slickers and pants in the closet but happily donned our yellow rain boots that laced up in the back and set off for a ramble down Chesterman Beach.  At low tide, it is a wide expanse of sand and the waves break pretty far off shore.  The surfers, walkers, shutterbugs, and dogs were out in full force enjoying a rare sunny February day in Tofino.  We walked to Frank Island and back – lots of opportunities for this wave lover/shutterbug to practice catching waves and the assorted driftwood that they had left behind.

Bobbing up and down in the waves just beyond the surf break, I can see the little yellow boots of the Wick guests trotting down the beach.  The Inn is quite famous for storm watching in the winter months and people flock from all over the world to catch a glimpse of the waves in a big storm.  I have lived here all my life and grew up surfing Long Beach, Cox Bay, and Chesterman Beach.  At this time of year, unlike the Wick guests, I look forward to the rare sunny day that I can grab my board and head out for the surf without a care in the world.

Surf's Up! (Tofino, Canada)
It’s crowded out here today – for Tofino that is -- but it’s the kind of town where we don’t fight over the waves – there are plenty to go around and a lot of folks come here to learn how to surf.  I’m suited up in my heavy wet suit with a thin layer of water insulating me from the cold winter ocean.  I must admit those yellow boots look toasty after an hour in the water but only for a moment as I spot my next wave – it’s my turn to ride like the wind.

As the swell hits, I begin to paddle and then in one smooth motion I’ve made the drop.  I cut across the face -- on this ride, I’m going aerial.  No doubt, this will please the photographers who’ve been hanging all morning with their tripods and cameras at the ready.  In my mind, I can see the run along the lip, a twist, some air, and then I’ll drop back down on the face of the wave.    I can feel the pulsing of the water through my feet and then I’m up and airborne and life is good.  

Wish this Was Me (Tofino, Canada)
The next surfer up is my best friend – he has his eye on a smallish wave that is coming fast – like a steam train. He hits the drop perfectly.   Unlike me, he’s content to ride the face – it’s a longer ride he notes and although he likes the adrenaline rush of air, it’s more about keeping ahead of the crest and being sure to pop up out of the wave and not wipe out.  He hates tumbling around in the waves and having to paddle back through them to get to the line up.  He’s not really keen on surfing any place other than Tofino – he thinks our surf is perfection.

Me, I want to surf the waves of the world -- Hawaii, Panama, Australia, Costa Rica, South Africa to name but a few. I can see myself bobbing gently in a boat off of the north shore of Maui the next time Jaws rolls watching as Laird Hamilton tows in.  There are legends out there that I need to see.  I don’t think those places or people could replace Tofino in my heart but they call to me in my dreams.

Waves Rolling In II (Tofino, Canada)
There is a tactile experience of surfing that movies like Step into Liquid and Riding Giants can only go so far in capturing.   Even the best of directors can not recreate the smell of the salt air or the feel of the sand crunching under my feet as I jog to the surf break.  They can film but not truly capture the first cold splash of the water on my face, the swell of the ocean under my perfectly waxed board, and me bobbing up and down in the line up with my buddies chattering about nothing and everything.  The movie goer can’t feel the adrenaline coursing through my veins as I paddle in or the weightlessness of hitting the drop.  They can see the power of the waves but they can’t feel the water running under and over my board as I skim across the face of a wave with the sun on my face.

It’s getting later in the day and there are more yellow boots skittering across Chesterman Beach towards Frank Island, Cox Bay, and beyond.  I know that those who come here at this time of year are drawn by the power of the ocean.  They may be anchored to the beach but in their hearts and minds they are soaring with me across the waves of our Tofino, of my Tofino.


  1. Wonderful blog highlighting one of Tofino's most beautiful accommodations! Have a safe journey :)

  2. What a lovely article, and beautiful pictures. Thank you so much for your support, we will pass along your kind comments to the staff here at the Inn. We hope you are back on the coast in the not too distant future!

    Kind regards,

    Wickaninnish Inn Marketing Manager

  3. Wonderfully written article and so fantastic you chose to cap off your 17 day Canada tour with a visit to Tofino and the Wickaninnish Inn. You really did capture the essence of the Vancouver Island west coast experience sans the storms but hope you return for that too sometime. Besides the big waves on your next visit we will also have to introduce you and B to the Ancient Cedars Spa or at the very least the new Sea Cave steam room.

    Charles McDiarmid
    Wickaninnish Inn Managing Director

  4. Nice pictures. I am going to Tofino tonight. Can't wait to leave Downtown for a weekend out on the island!

    Cheers & happy Friday! :)