The epicentre of surfing on Vancouver Island is in Tofino (Long Beach), which provides the best surfing in all of Canada. Long Beach is a beautiful 20-km stretch of beach between Ucluelet and Tofino on the west coast of Vancouver Island. There is also a hard-core clique of riders on Southern Vancouver Island, but the surfing conditions and facilities don’t match those in Tofino and Long Beach.
Storms originating in the Gulf of Alaska generate most of the tastier surf that lashes the coastline of British Columbia from late September through March. Other swells come all the way across the Pacific from Japan, or are caused by more localized weather systems. In summer, the distant Southern Hemisphere swells have a lesser effect, particularly on Southern Vancouver Island, which is blocked by Washington’s Olympic Peninsula across the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
Surfing in Tofino and Long Beach
Tofino is the most popular surfing destination in Canada, offering year-round surfing enjoyed by surfers of all ages and abilities. The Tofino area is very accessible, and provides waves throughout the year, boasting world-class waves on occasion. Because of its wide expanse and western exposure, Long Beach is the beach of choice for freewheeling, Maui-style windsurfing when the ocean gets riled, particularly in winter months when the storm season produces the best peeling surf. Long, rolling waves on Vancouver Island’s isolated west coast provide terrific surfing opportunities. A thriving local industry in Tofino caters to surfers who dare to ride those 12-foot beauties into the remote beaches of Pacific Rim National Park.
The ocean temperature here hovers at nearly 50 degrees F throughout the year – and can reach up to 58 degrees F in the summer – so it hardly matters what month it is: it’s the waves that count. Tofino does boast the highest annual mean temperature in Canada, which may help remove some of the sting if you think about it hard enough while you’re paddling out to catch one more wave. All surfers and visitors should be aware that a full body wetsuit and booties should be worn year round. Parks Canada insists that all surfers know this, as the majority of their rescues are for people not wearing wetsuits. A wetsuit makes a great raincoat, and if it’s raining – as it quite often is in this area – being in the water surfing is the best place to be! The wetsuit technology of today makes it possible to go for a two-hour surf session without the hint of a shiver. Surfing is popular in the winter months, with the surfing businesses operating throughout the year – even offering popular Christmas Surf Packages.
For the uninitiated surfer, there’s a host of cool instructors in Tofino and Long Beach ready to help you discover the most thrilling way to get the Pacific up your nose! Long Beach is suitable for beginners and intermediate surfers, but for their own safety, new surfers and beginners are advised to take a surf lesson as an introduction to surfing and to the local conditions. The ocean is always unpredictable and taking a lesson will increase your level of enjoyment. There are 3 surf schools in Tofino, and one in Ucluelet, where surfing instruction is offered, and they’ll also fill you in on local etiquette when joining the manners-conscious lineup offshore. You can also rent boards (surf and body styles) and wetsuits in Tofino.
Tofino hosts an annual surfing contest organized by the British Columbia Surfing Association (BCSA).
Windsurfing in Pacific Rim National Park
Some of the finest windsurfing in North America draws devotees to Nitinat Lake from around the globe. You have to be dedicated to make the long journey to the west side of Vancouver Island, and you have to be good to handle the constant thermal winds that sweep across the lake at speeds of up to 50 kph. Don’t wait until you get to the lake to begin building upper-body strength. You’re going to need all the buff you can bring with you.
Nearby Regions & Towns:
- Pacific Rim (West Coast)
- Pacific Rim Highway 4
- Barkley Sound
- Broken Group Islands
- Port Renfrew
- Port Alberni
Parks Canada – British Columbia