Surfing Canadian Waves

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Surfers in Tofino 1

Surfing comes with thoughts of white sandy beaches, palm trees, brightly patterned board-shorts and warm, balmy sea breezes. Destinations like Hawaii and Australia come to mind when one thinks of surfing, not Canada. Surprisingly, there is a distinct, though small, surf culture appearing in Canada. Surf's up on both the east and west coasts while land-locked Canadian surfers have welcomed a relatively new trend called river surfing.

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Mountainview near Tofino 2

Located on the west coast of Vancouver Island, the most well-known place to surf in Canada is Tofino. This quiet and amazingly beautiful area is located on the edge of the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, a United Nations World Biosphere Reserve. Surfers have been spotted here since the 1960s and, judging from the many surf shops in town, they continue to come. Tofino definitely has a surfer feel with young people decked out in surf gear, their cars loaded up with surfboards, always ready to head to the best break at any moment. They live the laid back island lifestyle that goes hand in hand with what surf culture is all aboutwaiting and chasing the best waves.
On the other side of the reserve is Ucluelet, 35km (22 mi) south of Tofino. The scenery changes between the two from long white beaches to stunning and rugged coastlines but big swells and surf breaks draw surfers to both of these areas as they search for waves.

Weather, Water and Waves
In Tofino it is possible to surf everyday, year-round, satisfying the serious surfers and providing a great learning environment for new ones. According to the locals, the best times to surf are spring and fall.

Tofino is a temperate rainforest and, as expected, rainfall is pretty abundant with an annual average of over 3m (10ft). Winter, November to March, is especially wet, and sees an average temperature of 0C (32F). People often visit during these months to storm-watch as waves are at their biggest, about 10m (33ft) high.
Summer is much dryer and temperatures range from 21C (70F) to 27C (80F ) but the waves are smaller, reaching somewhere between 1m (3ft) to 3m (10ft).
One thing to be aware of is although Tofino shares the same ocean as Hawaii, it does not share the warm water temperatures. Surfers sport heavy-duty wetsuits complete with booties, hoods and gloves to compensate for the 4C (40F) waters in the winter and 16C (60F) summer waters.

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Beach near Tofino 3

Places to Surf
Surf spots are in abundance in Tofino and Ucluelet but, as expected, it seems that locals know the best place to surfthough they might not reveal the best and therefore the most secret spots. However, newcomers need not worry, there are lots of well-known beaches to check out. Chesterman Beach, a great spot for beginners, has two beaches that come together creating smaller waves. Cox Bay is for the more advanced with larger swells and strong rips. It can be quite hard to paddle all the way out in the afternoon due to the large waves here and it is better to arrive earlier to sort out what the swell will be like. Long Beach is the place to be in the summer. Ample parking, good-sized waves with lots of room to maneuver and lifeguard towers create the perfect environment for those ready to paddle out and take their surf lessons from practice to the real thing.

Surf Shops and Schools
There are several surf shops to choose from, offering lessons, rentals or both. Long Beach Surf Shop is one of the older surf shops in Tofino and the owner himself has been surfing the area for the past 20 years. Boards, suits and roof racks are available and are surprisingly inexpensive to rent. Young surfers work the shop fitting out newbies with gear and assist with roof racks to ensure the boards hit the water not the road.

The ladies at Surf Sisters, across the street, offer lessons to women, kids and men. Jenny Stewart, a Canadian Women's Surfing Champion, founded this school in 1999 to promote women's surfing and Tofino's waves. Lessons come with the necessary equipment but they don't provide rentals without the lesson.

Bruhwiler Surf School is family-run and offers group and private lessons as well as camps during the summer months. Pacific Surf School offers women-only, group, family and private lessons. For those who don't require lessons this shop has surf equipment available for rent. They also carry a line of wetsuits and gear made specifically for women.

Westside Surf School offers beginner, intermediate and advanced lessons and Storm Surf Shop offers new and used surf rentals.

In Ucluelet, Inner Rhythm Surf Shop, provides rentals and lesson for all levels, as well as group packages.

There is a significant population of surfers on Canada's Atlantic Coast despite the numbingly cold waters. The surfers here are hardy, brave and must have a deep love of surfing to choose to paddle out in freezing waters to catch those icy waves. Queens County, Nova Scotia is the location for a lot of the east coast surfing available and, like the west coast, breaks can be found year-round. Rugged and challenging, the east coast of Canada is causing ripples in the surf world.

Weather, Water and Waves
Nova Scotia's climate is temperate though the weather is often changing. Late August through November is the best time to surf in Queens County. From early spring to late fall the water temperatures range from 8C (46F) to 16C (60F) so surfers definitely require wetsuits, booties, hoods and gloves. In the winter, winds from the northeast create great surf but the low water temperatures of -1C (30F) to 4C (40F), keep all but the hardiest surfers out of the water. Summer is warm, 16C (60F) to 25C (77F) but due to southwest winds there are fewer swells and not much surfing occurs as a result. It can, however, be a good time of year to learn since the waves are small.

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Surfing the Atlantic waves 4

Places to Surf
White Point Beach is a well-known local surf spot with a nearby resort. Sandy white beaches provide the perfect spot to attempt surfing. Martinique Beach is another favourite for surfing and boasts the longest white sand beach5km (3mi)in Nova Scotia. Lawrencetown Beach is known as the best destination for surfing in N.S.and since 1973, it has been supervised by the Nova Scotia Lifeguard Service. It is only 25 minutes from downtown Halifax.

Tonnes of breaks can be found around Halifax and, since this is a relatively new area to surf, there are lots of undiscovered areas where one can ride the waves. Locals will be reluctant to share their favourite spots but there are no rules about where one can explore.

Surf Shops and Schools

Though local surfers will say they have been surfing in Nova Scotia for a long time it is still a fairly new spot on the surf scene. Due to this, there are only a few surf shops but if the surf is as good as they say, more should pop up.

Rossignol Surf Shop offers 'learn to surf' clinics and surf camps at the White Point Beach Resort and equipment is included in the cost of the classes. Happy Dude's Surf Emporium is owned and operated by long-term surfer, Keith Clark and is located at Martinque Beach. Those starting out can find rentals and private lessons here. For serious Nova Scotian surfers, Keith has developed a line of boards shaped specifically for the local surf. South Shore Surf and Skateboard Shop has a huge selection of new and used gear, as well as rentals. Boat trips to secret spots are advertised though one has to call for details. Dacane has two locations for rentals. The Halifax store is open year-round while the Lawrencetown Beach location operates from June to September. Both stores offer surf camps and lessons as well.

Most of Canada is not anywhere near an ocean, however, it does have quite a few rivers. These rivers have become a paradise for land-locked Canadian surfers, as well as a place for new surfers to try it out despite being far from any sea.

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River Surfer 5

River surfing originated in Germany in 1975 when two brothers set off in search of a surfable wave in Munich. They did not find an ocean wave but they both managed to surf the Flosslaende on the Iser River instead. Once word spread the local river surf scene began to take off so quickly that before 1975 ended the first river surfing competition was held.
Body boarding also contributed to river surfing as body boarders started boarding in river waves when no ocean waves could be found. In the mid 90s, a professional group of boarders went down the Zambezi river leading touring companies in New Zealand to establish body boarding river tours. These boarders brought the concept of using river waves, when the ocean's waves were 'flat', to the mainstream surfing community.

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Surfing the St.Lawrence River 6

River Surfing in Canada
Montreal burst on the scene only a few years ago as a top river surfing destination, second to Munich, when surfer Corran Addison took his board onto the local rivers in 2000. Though he was the lone river surfer for a few years, friends started to ask for lessons and today he teaches river surfing for a living through his school 2imagine. Realizing his niche, Addison also designs river surfboards and continually promotes the sport of river surfing. The St. Lawrence and Lachine rivers are fast becoming well-known river surf spots.

Prairie Surfing
Perhaps most unusual of all is that river surfing has popped up in Alberta, home to oceans of wheat not water. But hard-core surfers have made the best of the rivers in Kananaskis country. Two areas known as Green Tongue and Santa Claus are the best places to river surf. Though the glacial waters are chilly a serious number of people are picking up this new sport. The toughest even brave freezing waters in winter instead of the more usual cold weather sports of skiing and snowboarding. Wet suits, hoods, booties and gloves are standard in Alberta's cold waters. Even Calgary's Bow River has a small surf spot just under the 10th Street bridge for those who need a quick river surf fix.
In 2006, the Alberta River Surfing Association was founded to help promote the sport and unite those who are looking to surf and those surfers living in a place where riding ocean waves is not possible. Currently, they have approached the City of Calgary about re-working the Harvie Passage, known as the Calgary Weir Project, into a surfable wave. There is no doubt that the trend of river surfing will only increase as outdoor sport enthusiasts take up the challenge to surf the best 'river' wave.

  1. Kelsey Mulyk; c/o; Surfers on a beach; Tofino, BC, Canada
  2. Kelsey Mulyk; c/o;Mountainview near Tofino; Tofino, BC, Canada
  3. Kelsey Mulyk; c/o; Beach near Tofino; Tofino, BC, Canada
  4. Surfing the Atlantic Coast; NS, Canada
  5. River surfing; Canada
  6. Surfing the St. Lawrence River; Montreal, QC, Canada

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