Life's a Beach in Tofino
The coming of age of BC's surf playground
Twenty years ago, there were surfers in Tofino, British Columbia on the west coast of Vancouver Island, but they were few in number, predominantly locals and more than one had white boy dreadlocks. It was a gorgeous natural paradise with epic beaches, rainforests with trees as wide as cars, and a hippie vibe that occasionally bumped up against old school logging and fishing.
Tourism was focussed more on boat trips to places such as Hot Springs Cove with its natural watery cauldrons carved into rocky outcrops found after a gorgeous rainforest stroll as well as whale watching, bear watching and kayaking trips. And, yes, these still happen with great frequency and they are wonderful, including those provided by long-time outfitter Remote Passages Marine Excursion.
Some of best things remain the same. The Common Loaf still serves up some fine and healthy fare for lunch and should not be missed, the Roy Henry Vickers gallery still manages to stun. The sunsets will always bring a tear to your eye.
Orcas, humpback and grey whales, seals, otter, sea lions, black bear, bald eagles and much more are a part of daily life in the Tofino area. As are some of the biggest and most incredible trees anyone could imagine, best scene and easily accessed via the Big Tree Trail on Meares Island — a short boat ride from the Tofino harbour.
Back then, many people knew the region as the focal point of a battle over logging in the area’s temperate rainforest ecosystem called Clayoquot Sound. One of the largest acts of civil disobedience in Canadian history happened near town in 1993 when some 900 people were arrested for blocking logging roads.
There was far more granola served in those days, although some of the hippie roots of the town are lovingly preserved. But, the board wax is on the wall — make no mistake, Tofino is now all about the stoke.
And why not? There are countless beaches with really good surfing, small crowds and, what with the advances in wetsuits, the cool water (which never really gets above 15-degrees celsius) ain’t no thing even if travelling outside the cherished summer time frame. Plus, the waves are generally better in the spring and fall shoulder seasons. Storm season, not so much.
In 2017, Tofino has long come of age as a international surfing destination.
Surf shops line the main thoroughfare into town, board rentals and lessons abound, providing the area’s growing numbers of permanent resident surfers with somewhat gainful employment. Resorts have sprung up on nearby beaches focussed on providing surfing and paddleboarding lessons to a growing throng of tourists looking to tap into the West Coast experience.
Our crew shacked up at the gorgeous Long Beach Lodge Resort, which is actually not on Long Beach, but the also spectacular Cox Bay — one of, if not the, most consistent surf breaks in the area.
The beach is lovingly nestled at the base of the bay, the rocky shoreline with windswept trees characteristic of the Vancouver Island coastline rim the area to dramatic effect. To the north sits the well-known Chesterman’s Beach, another popular surf break and to the south Pacific Rim National Park, home to Long Beach and innumerable stunning hikes including highlights the Rainforest Trail and Schooner Cove.
Cox Bay is wide and hard-packed enough to pedal a cruiser bike, which is also super fun. Give TOF Cycles (www.tofcycles.com) a call and they’ll drop a sweet cruiser bikes at your door. The resort also plunks down yoga mats with regularity hosting limb-loosening sessions in one of the most stunning studios one could imagine.
The surf itself is varied even in Cox Bay, with a picture perfect area for beginners closer to shore and some more dramatic waves further out.
The resort provides expert surf instruction. Believe me, I’ve tried and failed at this sport on more than one occasion, but after a lesson at Long Beach Resort, I was able to legitimately get up and surf with some semblance of regularity. The gear provided was top notch, as are the facilities. There was even an ace photographer waiting in the wings to snap that perfect photo available for purchase following the session.
The main lodge is breathtaking with its massive stone fireplace, the restaurant and 41 lodge rooms, as well as 20 stunning cottages that are really as could as it gets, many with hot tubs, fireplaces, gleaming marble, fine kitchens and beds that won’t quit. I’m not saying I never wanted to leave, but it was pretty difficult.
The resort is not in town, but a short 10-15 minute bike ride away.
From the Lodge, it is also easy to bike to a little plaza five minutes away that actually provides some of the more affordable and tasty food options for those looking to make an extended stay in Tofino. There is a wee grocery that carries the basics, but also a rather sweet taco food truck dubbed Tacofino and another takeout food shop Wildside Grill that offers up even more tacos, as well as burgers, breakfast, poutine and more under a gorgeous thatched-cedar canopy. In this same delicious plaza, you’ll find incredible gelato at Chocolate Tofino and primo perk at Tofitian Café.
With the increase in tourism and real estate development in general, the area has also developed a higher-end food scene with numerous restaurants boasting a local food philosophy opening up in recent years. Wolf in the Fog (www.wolfinthefog.com) — named En Route magazine’s best new restaurant in Canada in 2014 — is one that seems to be the most adventurous when it comes to its menu and how it uses local food, especially seafood from the region.
In addition, Shelter restaurant (www.shelterrestaurant.com) is a perfect little restaurant again with a focus on local food from the surrounding ocean and forest with a stunning patio with stunning ocean views. And Kuma offers more for the locavore but with a Japanese comfort food bent. And the place is buzzing.
Like any other town of note these days, Tofino is also home to a craft brewery, this one tucked into a bit of an industrial plaza. But it’s where the cool kids seem to hang out, and the Tofino Brewing Company (http://tofinobrewingco.com) itself turns out decent suds, including one featuring kelp another flavoured with spruce. Fancy.
Despite increased tourism and more real estate development in the area that has never fully embraced the change, there is still more than enough space to get lost, to find a slice of beach or rainforest all to yourself. And that’s important. It’s one thing to walk a beautiful beach or rainforest with a crowd, it’s another to feel completely alone amidst the majesty of Clayoquot Sound.
Tofino has something for everyone whether adventure sports such as surfing, cycling and kayaking, or fine food and drink, or just sitting on a beach with a book and a glass of local wine. It’s a rare and special place that still manages to inspire.