Vancouver Island is the focal point for surfing in Canada. Indeed, many past and present members of our Canadian national surf team have roots in Tofino.
People who already know how to surf will find no shortage of good spots, especially off the beaches along the stretch of coast between Ucluelet and Tofino (including the many beaches within Pacific Rim National Park). One thing surfers will have to get used to out here is the wetsuits – West Coast surfers wear 3 to 4 mm of rubber in summer, and at least 5 mm in the winter.
Water temperatures can range from as low as 4ºC in winter to as much as 16ºC in summer. But the titles of local surf flicks will tell you even more than those numbers: “Numb” was produced by Tofino-based film-maker Jeremy Koreski, and “49 degrees” refers both to our latitude and to the water temperature (in Fahrenheit).
If you have never surfed before, don’t let that stop you! You are strongly recommended to start with a lesson, for many reasons – the foremost of which is for your own safety. The ocean can be very dangerous for those who do not know what they are doing: the waves are powerful, the water is very cold, and one can get into serious trouble extremely quickly. There are also standards of “surf etiquette” that you will learn in a lesson, for example about who has right-of-way on a wave. Finally, if you have never stood up on a surfboard before, a surf lesson or two will definitely quicken your path to success. The surf is generally much bigger in the winter – normally several metres in height, and occasionally up to 10 metres or more. Big winter surf is usually accompanied by strong storm winds, though, so even if you are a strong and experienced surfer it is rare that these big-wave conditions are very surfable. (Study the maps and check in with local surf shops to see if you can find some cove protected from the winds).
In summer, typical wave heights are more like one to three metres – very good for learning. Which beaches are good depends upon the swell’s direction. If you are an experienced surfer, check in with the local surf shops for info. If you are a beginner, your instructor will make sure that you get to the beach with the best conditions for learning.
Tofino and Ucluelet have numerous surf shops that offer private and group lessons, as well as rentals of everything you will need: boards, wetsuits, roof racks and more. Some also rent other gear, such as bodyboards and skimboards. Several companies also offer multi-day surf camps, some town-based and some based out on remote beaches. Although there is good surf near Bamfield, there are no surf shops here – you must arrive with everything you need. Port Alberni, located at the top of a deep inlet, does not have any surf nearby.