Canada’s main western surf hub, Vancouver Island, has seen a boom in popularity over the past ten years, thanks in large part to continuing progression in the quality and warmth of wetsuits. A popular destination with backpackers and outdoor enthusiasts, Tofino has a number of surf shops, surf schools, and board rentals, all of which do good business in the warmer summer months. But winter is when the real Vancouver shows its face, with bigger swells, stormy weather, and colder temperatures making this Canadian island the classic Pacific Northwest surf destination.

The Surf: In and around Tofino you are looking at mostly user-friendly sand bars, but video evidence is floating around that proves Vancouver Island is hiding a number of high quality reefs and slabs as well. For the most part, Tofino should be considered a beginner surf zone, while the rest of Vancouver Island is an advanced to expert zone (due to access issues and the presence of heavy slabs).

Five Waves Worth Surfing:

  1. Long Beach: Ten miles of sand bars that typically offer up soft, longboard-friendly peelers.
  2. Wickannish: Popular with the tourists, Wickannish can occasionally produce fun little sand bar peaks.
  3. Cox Bay: A large, protected expanse of beach with a number of sand bar options, Cox Bay used to host the Quiksilver/Roxy Surf Jam every summer.
  4. Chesterman Bay: Another long, beautiful beach with a number of fun but not necessarily world-class sand bar peaks.
  5. Drop Box: A mysto right hand slab that tends to show up every few months in the latest video offering from Vancouver Island’s handful of pro surfers, Drop Box was named one of Surfer Magazine’s 100 best waves in 2011. If you want to surf this wave, you’ll need to make friends with Pete Devries or the Bruhwiler brothers as soon as you arrive on the island.

The Water: Vancouver Island has a reputation for having frigid water, but the Kuroshio Current actually keeps temperatures semi-comfortable, and the beautifully clean water in and around Tofino is typically warmer than Northern California, (especially in summer). Surface temps range from 46–59 F (8–15 C).

The Season: Summer is best for beginners, with warmer water, good weather, and user-friendly waves, but the best all around season in Vancouver Island is autumn (September through November).

The Vibe: Tofino is a laid back little surf village that some say is reminiscent of Santa Cruz in the ’70s. Crowds are increasing as its popularity grows, but for the most part people are stoked and friendly. Outside of Tofino, your biggest concern will be the bears on shore and sharks in the water.

Things To Do: Tofino is a cruisy backpacker hub with incredible natural beauty, and much to offer the avid outdoorsman.

Where To Stay: Typical of destinations popular with the backpacker crowd, Tofino has no shortage of hostels and budget accommodations.

What To Bring: A shortboard and a longboard in summer, and a shortboard and a step-up in fall. A 4/3mm wetsuit in summer, and a 5/4/3 with booties, gloves, and a hood in winter. Rain gear and a good pair of hiking boots. Fishing or hunting gear if these are activities that you enjoy.

Getting There: Victoria International Airport is the main gateway into Vancouver Island, although you can also take a ferry from Port Angeles, Seattle, or Anacortes (all in Washington state). Visas not required for citizens of many countries (for more information, visit: Airport code: YYJ.

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