Tofino surfing: How to not Die

by Malcolm Johnson, Tofino

R Ride, ride, ride… ride the wild surf,’ sang Jan and Dean in 1964, and herds of thousands of hodads and cheesecakes jumped on the surf fad and made their way to the beaches of Southern California. The 00’s have been Canada’s 60’s, and once again this season the mostly mediocre, sometimes magical beachbreaks of the Esowista Peninsula will play host to no small number of hodads and cheesecakes venturing into the Mare Pacifica for the first time. Summers here are mellow for the most part, but the Mare can be a petulant, powerful woman, and there are things to know to keep yourself and your fellow surfers safe. For those new and relatively new to the sport:

1. Know the Spot.

Surf conditions vary markedly from beach to beach. Not all waves are equal; head-high waves at mushed-out Cox Bay and head-high waves at dumping low-tide North Chesterman’s are entirely different beasts. Make sure you’re at the right spot for your level of experience. If you don’t know where you should go, ask at one of the local surf shops.

2. Check the Signs.

Despite a somewhat arcane relationship between where the slider is and how big the waves actually are, the ocean hazards signs on the Pacific Rim Highway are excellent indicators. The Parks staff have years of experience, and know all too well what can happen when people don’t afford the ocean enough respect. If they say ‘Extreme,’ head for one of the more sheltered spots.

3. Regard Thy Fellow Man.

On most days in summer, surfboards themselves are the most dangerous element of the lineup. Boards – and their skegs in particular – are vicious things when they’re got the power of a wave behind them. Be aware of your board when you fall. Never drop in on a wave if another surfer is inside you or directly in your path, and never, ever ditch your board when a wave is breaking in front of you. Hang on and take it. Your loose longboard could do serious damage to people in the water around you.

4. Don’t Surf Tired.

Most accidents happen when you’re either too tired or too stiff from the cold. If your muscles are starting to go, head in. A surfboard is not a life vest, and you should always have enough energy left to swim in if your leash breaks or you lose your board. If the conditions are such that you wouldn’t be comfortable swimming out there on your own, it’s probably a good idea to stay on the beach.

5. Trust the Locals.

Tofino and Ucluelet are home to hundreds of committed surfers who, as a consequence of living in Canada, are perpetually starved for decent waves. If the conditions are good, or even passable, the locals will be swarming on it. If there’s no-one out at a spot you’re checking, there’s probably a good reason. Ask questions; if you come here with an open, low-key, stoked and humble attitude, most people will be happy to help.

6. Don’t Provoke the Wildlife.

Don’t yell at, spit at, taunt, threaten, sexually harass, or otherwise anger the sea lions. They weigh five times what you do, and have bigger teeth than a Doberman. Enough said.

7. Use Common Sense.

It’s all about the stoke and the glide and the fun of it; surfing is an otherwise pointless activity. Know your limits and don’t exceed them, especially if it’s just for some macho testosterone trip; the ocean is bigger, and exponentially stronger, than any of us. But approach her with respect, and she’ll show you wild riches like you never knew.

Malcolm Johnson is a Tofino-based journalist, Tofino surfer, and kayak guide with Remote Passages.

Tofino Surfing Articles 

tofino | tofino time | activities | accommodation | events | directory
maps | travel | food | art & artists | photos | horoscope | tides
search | magazine | issues | articles | advertising | contact us

hosted in tofino by tofino.net & studio tofino
© 2002-2014 copyright Tofino Time Magazine in Tofino Canada

© 2002-2011 Tofino Time Magazine & ThinkTank Design Inc.

Tofino surfing primer by Malcolm Johnson, explaining where to surf in Tofino and what to look out for. Published in Tofino Time Magazine in May 2005.

tofino time may 2004