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 on West Coast Vancouver Island
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).
Surfing on Southern Vancouver Island
The surfing conditions and facilities don’t match the constant surf and thriving surfing community based in Tofino and Long Beach. The southern island wields inconsistent and unpredictable surf days, unlike Tofino’s numerous open ocean swells. No Surf Schools are located in the Southern Vancouver Island area.
Jordan River is located on the West Coast Road (Highway 14) approximately 60 km northwest of Victoria, and is home to the informal Jordan River Surf Club. Jordan River Locals tend to be turf conscious (make that surf-conscious) and are rather protective of their place in the lineup. Any attempt to drop in out of turn risks a wrathful encounter.
Jordan River waves only work on one tide, and specific wind and swell directions, so visitors may not encounter surfing conditions if only visiting for a couple of days. This spot breaks overhead about 3 times per year on average – in winter – providing super long rides. There are three different spots to surf at Jordan River – Sewers, The Point, and Rock Piles. The ideal board for local conditions is slightly longer and wider than normal, and with three fins, which makes catching and controlling waves easier in less-than-optimum conditions.
Sombrio Beach in Juan de Fuca Provincial Park also provides wilderness surfing, located approximately 30 km northwest of Jordan River on Highway 14. If you decide to join the lineup offshore from Sombrio Beach, expect heavy conditions as you drift in the swells next to huge kelp beds. A gigantic rock commands the base of the breaking wave at Sombrio and dominates the path that faces a surfer after takeoff. A persistent mist often enshrouds the locale, creating a spooky ambience. Both Jordan River and Sombrio Beach are day trips from Victoria and Sooke.