4/2/2008 – Jim Marsh, Advertising Director.
As I approached Chesterman’s Beach near Tofino, B.C. I could see a lot more kayaks than surfboards. The breaks were immense, more waves were available than people to surf them. More kayaks were available than people to paddle them. The sun was blinding, the waves were perfect five footers, and I thought that possibly I had driven across Vancouver Island and landed directly in heaven.
I was late. I had gotten caught in a rare Seattle spring snowstorm and getting out of the city had taken me an extra four hours. That made me miss the ferry, which had me sleeping in Nanaimo on the east side of the island. Driving through the interior of the island I realized this place had more water than anywhere I have ever been: huge alpine lakes, slow meandering rivers, steep creeks. It was one of the most stunning drives I’ve ever been on.
As an American who rarely goes north, you can imagine my surprise when I crossed the border and suddenly didn’t realize how fast I was going (kilometers-per-hour are the small numbers near the big miles-per-hour numbers on your dashboard). When purchasing gas I couldn’t believe how low the price was. Oh, that’s per liter. I get it. How can it only be 8 degrees outside? Celsius? That road sign was in French. And what are those Tim Horton restaurants? There were so many I imagined they must be the Canadian version of McDonald’s. Then I wondered for a while what Canadian fast food was all about. After all, it was an eight-hour trip.
The boats are covered in frost, and I’m thinking,”these Canadians really don’t care about the cold.” They tell me it’s warm. It’s 37 degrees and we are about to hit the surf.
Mark Hall had invited a bunch of kayakers to come up and surf the beaches of Tofino. Mark is part owner of Delta Kayaks, a company focused on lightweight thermoformed boats. The boats he brought were 12-foot-10 to 17 feet, and folks seemed to try all of them. There was Brandon, Sue, and Kalvin from Sealegs Kayaking Adventures, a Vancouver Island outfitter. Alex and Justin came over from Ocean River Sports in Victoria. Kirby and Karen from Coastal Waters Recreation came over to paddle and camp in their sweet Mercedes panel van/camper. And me.
I charged out into the surf and caught my first wave in a hurry. Sweet ride, but I got sucked down too far into the sand surfing. As I paddled back out I noticed a swimmer. It was Brandon.
“Does he want a tow?” I asked one of the other boaters.
“No, I think he wants to try and self rescue,” replied Alex.
I caught about five more waves and was having the time of my life when I noticed Brandon was still attempting the self rescue, and he only had a wetsuit on. He’d been in the water about 25 minutes now. I was determined to rescue him. It was 40 degrees outside and the water felt a lot colder than that. He must have been freezing I thought from the comfort of my drysuit. I paddled up and asked him if he wanted a tow.
“No, I think I’m going to try and jump back in,” he said. I thought he must be nuts, 20 minutes later when he finally gave it up and swam in I knew he was crazy.
Brandon kept catching waves, getting knocked over, swimming out of his boat, and attempting the self rescue in very active surf. It was quite a show. One of the important things about surfing that day was making sure not to run him and his boat over as he was swimming to the shore. That made for an extra obstacle that took things up a level. I applaud him for charging it hard, getting wet, having a good time, and leaving his ego behind. We were having a blast, but it was getting cold. Time to head in.
As we loaded up the boats I noticed everyone used Canadian paddling products exclusively, except for Mark’s Kokatat drysuit. It was Salus Marine, Aqua-Bound, Grey Owl, Whites, Level 6, even an old Current Designs paddle with the Canadian Maple Leaf on it. These guys stick together, I thought. I wonder if they go to Tim Horton’s and talk about hockey.
We loaded up and headed to town. Tofino is a growing community of 1,700 “natives and hippies” on the west coast of the island. It’s a world-class sea kayak, surf, and whale watching destination that sees a million tourists each year. But there is absolutely nothing happening in Tofino today. Surf breaks, resorts, and beaches are nearly empty. Heaven on earth.
Over dinner I inquire about hockey. Indeed, it is the only sport anyone at the table cares about. No one can keep their heads up. All are exhausted. We retire early to the Dolphin Motel, the cheapest place we could find. Mark later commented, “the breeze actually penetrated the walls, and the sheets were so thin it was like they weren’t really there. It was weird.”
The next starts early-8 a.m. at the beach. The boats are covered in frost, and I’m thinking these Canadians really don’t care about the cold. They tell me it’s warm. It’s 37 degrees and we are about to hit the surf. Everyone wants to be done by 11 so we can start our long drives to the ferry. Brandon swam a lot. I truly almost ran him over in a close call. Once you take an angle on a wave in a 17-foot kayak you’re pretty committed. We barely avoid carnage. Time to head in again.
We got the boats loaded, got dressed and said our goodbyes. Mark leaned out of his truck and yelled, “See you at Timmy H’s in Port Alberni!” This was going to be my Tim Horton’s experience. The hour drive had my mind racing. What do they serve there? Poutine? I didn’t know what to think, but I was hungry, having skipped breakfast for the morning session. I saw a broken down Tim Horton’s truck on the side of the road. It had pictures of bagels on the side of it. Bagels with Canadian bacon sounded good.
I walked in and was surprised to see people ordering a deli sandwich, their choice of donut, and coffee for lunch. What a strange combination I thought. Who eats donuts for lunch with a sandwich? I took Mark’s advice and ordered 20 donut holes to go. I had a ferry to catch. And I found out the secret of Tim Horton’s: the coffee is fantastic.