Tofino - Ten Years Later

notes from Mom


Our kids love Hawaii: it’s one of the few places, guaranteed, everyone will have fun. However, the surf, sand, and sun come at a price. Not wanting to spend the thousands of dollars it would take for all of us to go to Hawaii my husband came up with a cheaper, and in his own words, “a better,” alternative. “Why don’t we try Tofino?” he suggested, when everyone was in a good mood. He showed the kids a few snapshots of the incredible surf Tofino gets in the winter, and, even though it wasn’t exactly what they had in mind, the kids went along with it. At first, I was a little nervous about the idea: I knew full-well the weather in Tofino was touch-and-go at the best of times. We went during storm watching season about ten years ago and my youngest thought he was going to lift-off like a spaceship, it was so windy. This year we went about the same time, only the weather was completely different: three perfect days of sun was what we had, with temperatures ranging from 11 to 15 degrees Celsius. The surf was so big, we nicknamed Tofino, Hawaii of the Northwest. Our hotel was perfectly placed in the middle of Cox Bay Beach. The surf was crashing right outside our sliding glass door. Not something you see or hear every day. We even had a surf shack on site where we rented everything we needed to surf. My plans initially did not include surfing: the thought of wiggling into a damp, cold second-skin wetsuit did not appeal to me. But then it dawned on me: if I didn’t go surfing then, I probably never would. As you close in on sixty candles these thoughts creep into your mind. Our daughter burst out laughing when she heard me announcing that I was taking the "Big Plunge." "You're really going for it, aren't you Mom?" I guess I had that coming. Everything was good until the shots of cold water began shooting up my spine. My husband warned me about how the wetsuit had to fit tight, otherwise too much water would seep in, and I'd get cold. An hour was about all I could take before I made up an excuse to go inside. But, I must admit, it was fun while it lasted: riding the waves onto the sandy shore atop my boogey-board. The shoreline in Tofino has beautiful sand with very few rocks or debris making it easy to ride your board all the way in. My husband outlasted me by about half-an-hour, but his lips were blue when he came in. As for my 16-year-old son, he insisted on renting a surf board, assuring us riding the waves would be no big deal, even though he'd never taken a lesson. That was until he hit the first big wave, and then realized he was literally in over his head. Our 21-year-old daughter, who normally doesn't like to be seen in public with her hair wet, was also having fun until it got busy, and surfers were riding it too close for her comfort. I got a kick out of the little kids chasing waves in their shiny black wetsuits. They looked like tadpoles jumping in and out of the water. You definitely need a wetsuit, if you want to stay in the water for longer than 5 minutes. Not like the older man we saw sauntering into the water one morning with nothing on but Hawaiian print board shorts. His family was yelling, "Oh, come on Dad, who are you kidding?" Apparently no one, he was out of the water as quickly as he was in. The next day we rented bikes (also on our hotel site), and rode into town. Tofino has a bike path which starts around the Tourist Information Centre and goes for about 5 miles into town. It was perfect for us: not too many hills at all. We had lunch at the hippy-dippy “Live to Surf” shopping area on the way. The Wildside Grill and Tacofino are both there. So is Chocolate Tofino, which serves up gigantic ice-cream cones. I remember the kids in the parking spot next to ours squealing with delight, "Yay, Chocolate Tofino, here we come!" I have to admit, I was impressed by the food in Tofino. They have no fast food restaurants. My kids had no choice but to eat healthy, and I loved every minute of it. Ordinarily, rain is the main event in Tofino, especially in the winter. Apparently Tofino gets 203 days of rain a year; it racks up more rainfall in December alone than B.C.'s interior does in a complete year. In other words, you're rolling the dice if you don't bring raingear, and that includes the summer. Tofino is a tourist town. Most of the shops and businesses are aimed at tourists. You can go whale watching, bear watching, fishing, kayaking, surfing, sit in the hot springs, or make your own fun. My husband and I got up early every morning and walked the beaches (Cox Bay Beach, Chesterman Beach, MacKenzie Beach, Middle Beach, and, on the other side of the peninsula, Tonquin Trail Beach). The beaches are interrupted by rocky areas made up of volcanic rocks which make it impossible to walk from one to the other. We walked along the Sunset Trail to Pettinger Point, which turned out to be a spectacular spot to see the waves come crashing in. Cox Beach has a rip current, which can be dangerous if you don't know how to swim. Chesterman Beach is the longest, and also the best if you're learning how to surf. If you go when the tide is out you can walk to Frank's Island, which has tidal pools if you like looking at sea creatures. The night before we left, we had a campfire on the beach. My husband is a graduate from boy scouts, and therefore was bound and determined to get the fire going with only twigs and driftwood, but sadly in the end succumbed to newspapers and a match. We also did something else we haven't for a long while, played a board game. It was called Apples to Apples. Everyone was amazed at who won--me. According to my husband's iPhone, Tofino has a population of less than 2,000 people. This doesn't account for the hundreds of young people who are there primarily to make enough money to live and surf. In fact, I saw one of our waiters riding his bike to the beach with his surfboard somehow attached alongside. On our way back home to Nanaimo we stopped in at Ucluelet, a town about 30 minutes from Tofino. My husband bought a t-shirt at The Crow's Nest Gift Shop, which he absolutely had no room for in his t-shirt drawer. And then we had lunch at Howlers, which truly was a gem. Imagine a restaurant serving tasty food with a four-lane bowling alley and video arcade attached to it. The perfect set-up if you have young kids. Ours aren’t young anymore, but they still couldn't resist trying their luck on the teddy bear claw. If you're looking for a spot that doesn't require boarding a plane to get there (Tofino is a 1 1/2 hour ferry ride plus 2 hour drive), makes you feel like you're far away from home, gives you a chance to step out and try something different, unwind, and re-connect with your family, Tofino just might be what you're looking for. P.S. We don't usually make plugs unless a place really stands out in our minds, but this one does: The Pacific Sands Resort. It was ideal for us: perfectly located, convenient, plus the people working there are really nice. It removed every excuse I've ever come up with for not going surfing--and I was grateful it did.


Tofino is on the west coast of Vancouver Island.


West Coast of Vancouver Island.


All year round.