Tofino. Suring capital of Canada. Seriously? Ok, the waves are good, and consistent. But the water is cold. Freezing cold. Though it can reach a relatively balmy 17 degrees C for a day or two in July, the water usually hovers around 10 degrees C pretty much all year round. If you fall off a boat into water that cold you have about 10 minutes before you lose the ability to function. It wasn’t until the invention of neoprene in the 60’s that surfing in Tofino became possible. You NEED a wet suit!
Turns out cold water surfing is actually a thing. There is even a Cold Water Classic Competition. Why you might wonder. I certainly did. Aficionados note it’s a completely different experience than warm water surfing in places like Hawaii. It’s an adventure. The locations are more remote; there are no crowds. The landscape is usually bleak and isolated. Camping is often required. It is surf exploration. A new frontier with the goal of finding a wave that no one has surfed before.
You don’t have to be searching for the extreme experience to surf in Tofino. Every corner seems to have a shop offering lessons. Many of the beaches have mild waves just perfect for the beginner. However, even with the thickest of wetsuit it held no appeal for me. So, what’s a girl to do?
Turns out there is a long list of alternatives that don’t involve getting too cold. I only had 40 hours so was a bit rushed! Tofino Resort & Marina helped me out. They organized a 6 hour boat tour complete with a gourmet picnic lunch. We saw the hat trick of whales… orcas, humpbacks and greys. We were lucky. Many guides have never seen all three in one day. We also saw puffins, otters, sea lions, seals and lots of eagles. Way better than a zoo.
Our boat dropped us off at Hot Springs Cove. From 1947-74 the government maintained a post office here; now there is just a big dock and some very smelly bathrooms. A stunning 2 k boardwalk trail takes you to the top of the thermal spring fed pools. I carefully navigated my way from the top one at 43 degrees C (too hot) to the bottom at 10 degrees C (too cold) along the slippery uneven rocks. Jack bounded from outcrop to outcrop as I gasped in admiration and horror. You can only get here by boat or float plane. Still it can get pretty crowded during the high season.
Sadly, I didn’t have time for one of the other 16 well mapped trails or a more serious hike. I did manage to wander around town. Tofino is small with a definite charming hippy vibe. There are cute gifty shops, surfing stores and the absurdly tiny Tofino Clayoquot Heritage Museum. It is shockingly informative. Located in one room below the Royal Canadian Legion, it houses an eclectic collection of artifacts that don’t take much time to see. The information panels that cover most of the walls impart a wealth of great history of the region and the impact of various inhabitants and visitors. They take a bit longer to read.
And of course, there are restaurants, bars and coffee shops galore. Stay tuned for my thoughts on two of the best next week.
Before catching our noon flight, Jack and I got out of bed at what seemed a shockingly early 7 am to go for a 2.5-hour kayak trip. Amazing to watch the world awaken as the weather turned from misty drizzle to patchy sun. A bit of exercise, a bit of nature and a lot of fresh air is a fabulous way to start a day. And convinced us to come back and spend a bit more time here soon. Who knows, I may even try surfing.