Tofino: Surfin’ Safari West Coast Style

Head to Tofino, the surfing capital of Canada, for a totally awesome quest to catch the perfect wave

Credit: Catherine Roscoe Barr

The Long Beach Surf Shop in Tofino will rent you all the surfing gear you need

One of the beautiful things about living on the coast is the ability to go surfing in Tofino at almost any time of the year

As I write this the sun is bursting through my window, bathing me in warm, bright light. It almost doesn’t feel like winter and the solar energy has inspired daydreams of sand and surf.

Growing up, my brother and I were privy to the most fantastic summer vacations – cottages on the beach, beautiful nature hikes, fishing for our dinner, exploring the wondrous sea life trapped in rock pools during low tide.

Starfish at low tide on Chesterman Beach, Tofino

Although we all now lead busy lives in different cities, my parents still plan the odd getaway and round up the troops, significant others and all, for a memorable week of fun and adventure. Fortunately my mother is genius at problem-solving and made us an offer that no one could refuse: a week-long surfing vacation on Chesterman Beach in Tofino, BC’s first United Nations Biosphere Reserve

Surfing at Chesterman Beach in Tofino

The reason this plan was genius is that my brother is a die-hard surfer. This fellow doesn’t just love to surf, he’s crazy about it. The kind of crazy that gets up at five in the morning – in the winter – to surf.

Even going to university on the prairies didn’t stop him from surfing: he started a surf club, joined a river surfing club, and when the rivers froze up he surfed a standing wave called the Green Tongue at the dam-controlled Kananaskis River (somewhere exists a great picture of him with a veil of icicles hanging from his helmet). 

Needless to say, we had a very skilled and passionate instructor for our first foray into catching a wave. And, boy, did I finally understand his enthusiastic search for the perfect wave the first time I caught my own. Bliss.

Surfing Essentials: Equipment, Technique and Waves

There are a few essentials for the perfect surfing experience: the right equipment, the right technique and the right weather conditions (for the right waves). 

Head-to-toe coverage is essential for spring surfing in Canada

Equipment: Wetsuits and Boards

Surfing in Canada, especially spring surfing, requires head-to-toe coverage (I’ve since experienced surfing in Australia and that’s a whole different ballgame).

The pros (my brother and his girlfriend) had their own equipment but my husband and I rented all of our gear from the Long Beach Surf Shop. The wetsuit rentals came with hooded season-specific suits (thicker for colder weather), gloves and booties, and the board rentals came with a roof rack for our car.

The pros got short boards but we surfing virgins opted for gigantic boards, which makes it much easier to learn.

Technique: Paddling and the Pop-up

Sharing tips on surfing technique is defintely outside my scope of practice but I know for sure that paddling and the “pop-up” are essential skills to have. Paddling gets you out to the waves and the pop-up gets you standing on your board.

For a great breakdown of surfing basics, check out the surfing tutorial at

Weather Conditions for the “Perfect” Wave

The “perfect” wave means different things to different people. Never did I feel the power of nature so fully as when I was thrown from my board, dragged underwater by the powerful current, and then smashed, face first, into the ocean floor – and that was in mild conditions with small beginner waves.

Smart surfers are experts at reading the conditions and identifying rip currents (strong currents travelling away from shore). If you don’t have your own expert to show you the ropes it’s definitely worth starting with a lesson, and there are plenty of options in Tofino including Westside Surf School, Pacific Surf School, and Surf Sister Surf School

There’s More Than Surfing to Tofino

There’s so much to see and do in Tofino that our week there quickly flew by. Besides surfing, there were some spectacular yoga sessions on the beach, hiking through the rainforest in Pacific Rim National Park, and exploring the shops in Tofino.

Check out our Tofino Weekend Getaway Guide for more on where to stay, eat and explore in Tofino.