Pacific Rim Surfing Tofino Ucluelet
Imagine mile upon mile of beautiful sandy beaches and the crashing Pacific Ocean teaming up to create Canada’s own surfing paradise: Tofino. Truly a surf town, there are several quality breaks in town and a total of six within 30 minutes of downtown Tofino. Surfing is also one of the main reasons people travel to Ucluelet – because of its proximity to the quality surf breaks of Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. Surfing is usually synonymous with Long Beach, but there are many more spots to choose from.
With consistent year-round beach break conditions at many easily accessible local beaches, the area has a lot to offer everyone from beginner to expert level surfers. Waves in this area are generally bigger and a bit more challenging in the winter as stormy weather can bring big swells. Summer brings warmer temperatures and calmer surf; it’s an ideal time for learning. But conditions can vary year round – and you can luck out year round with world-class waves. No matter what time of year, you will need a wetsuit, ranging from a 3-4.5mm in the summer to a 6.5mm in the winter. Water temperatures range from about 4°C (40°F) in the winter to around 20°C or warmer in the summer (low 70s). The local surf industry has also expanded to serve a growing numbers of locals and visitors who enjoy surfing here. Six shops in Tofino and Ucluelet provide surfboard and wetsuit rentals as well as boogey boards, and six schools teach lessons. It’s highly recommended that beginner surfers take a lesson the first time they venture out into the waves, in order to understand the dangers associated with the sport, local conditions, and surf etiquette.
The beaches closest to Ucluelet for surfing are: Florencia Bay, Wickaninnish Beach and Long Beach. Florencia Bay faces south and has some rocks close to the beach you should make note of before paddling out. Wickaninnish Beach faces west and Long Beach also faces south. From Tofino, North and South Chesterman, Cox Bay and even Mackenzie Beach and Tonquin Beach (on a big swell) are the go-to surfing beaches. Mackenzie Beach and North Chesterman face west to northwest, South Chesterman faces south and Cox Bay faces west. Long Beach is about halfway in between both towns and is a popular surfing spot for both towns. Rip currents are a factor on the west coast, and surfers always need to be aware of their position in the water. If you feel like you’re caught in a rip current, paddling directly back to shore likely won’t get you anywhere. You will have to paddle at a 90-degree angle to get yourself out of the rip current and then proceed to shore. It’s unadvisable to surf alone, so bring a buddy for greater safety.
Knowing surf etiquette before you paddle out will ensure that everyone has a positive experience. The basic code of conduct for safety in the water involves four basic points:
1. only one surfer should be on a wave and the surfer closest to the peak (or the point where the wave is breaking) has the right of way
2. do not drop in or “snake” someone already riding a wave – look both ways before you take off
3. never throw your board – always hold onto it, this is very important for the safety of others around you
Some other useful tips to keep in mind:
1. Do not paddle out to a break that is beyond your ability (if the waves look too big, they probably are!)
2. Once you’ve made it out past the break, taking the first wave you see is considered poor etiquette. Remember that there is a lineup and take your turn.
3. Take the time to see where the best place to paddle out is, and where the “take-off” spots are – do not paddle directly into a take-off spot.
4. Smile and don’t be afraid to ask questions of other surfers. Locals have a lot of knowledge about local beaches.
5. Don’t paddle around someone who is in position to catch a wave by paddling further out or further inside. The most important thing to remember while surfing is common sense, but please take the time to either take a lesson or learn proper etiquette before paddling out. It will make the difference between a fun and enjoyable first session and the possibility of getting seriously hurt your first time out.
Surfing has been around for a long time on the West Coast, showing up as early as the 1950s and it has grown steadily in popularity since then. In the fall of 2009 Tofino was host to the O’Neill Cold Water Classic, the first ASP (Association of Professional Surfers) event ever to be held in Canada. Local Tofino pro surfer Pete Devries won the event, much to the delight of the hundreds of locals who gathered to watch and cheer him on at North Chesterman beach.