As we snaked our way through the shallow approaches to Tofino, boats buzzed every which way, sea planes took off and landed, and kayakers paddled gracefully down the shoreline. Ashore, cars and trucks moved about, buildings cluttered the waterfront and we could tell the town was brimming with life. It was by far the most people and activity that we’d experienced since leaving Port Hardy in a month and 350 cruising miles, and at first, all the buzz was a bit overwhelming.
Tofino is the farthest town west on the only paved road reaching the Pacific Ocean on Vancouver Island (Highway 4). Considering that the island is 285 miles long with six and seven thousand foot mountains running up the middle that break into smaller ranges, long fjords, bays and inlets along the entire rugged outer coast, that makes Tofino itself a pretty remote and special place.
Located in picturesque Clayquot Sound, Tofino’s road access creates a hive of wilderness activity for fisherman, whale and bear watchers, hikers, beach-goers, backpackers and kayakers. As with many tourist towns, its population swells in the summer and the services for boaters and travelers are all there. Also, due to a chain of nearby beaches, it is an excellent place to surf — and surf we did.
Having grownup snowboarding and skateboarding, I’ve always wanted to try surfing and, quite honestly, I can’t believe I hadn’t yet. Porter, too, is in love with board sports and talks about surfing like he’s as experienced as they come. So when we got to Tofino, there was only one thing for us to do: take a surfing lesson.
When we walked into Westside Surf School, Porter struck his best surfing pose for the dude’s working and any reticence they had about teaching a three-year-old to surf was washed away. Since he’s three, we opted for a private lesson so Porter could have the hands on attention that someone his age needs on the water. And I could learn alongside him and then get more help when he needed to take a break.
Our instructor Tom, a native of the UK, drove us to the beach and being that we don’t own a car or ride in one very often, the boys thought even that was pretty sweet. Riding waves was even better.
At nearby Cox Beach, Tom had us lay our boards on the sand and gave Porter and me a tutorial on the waves and how to standup on the board once we caught one. From there, we were in the water and I got right to it while Tom put Porter on the board and helped him get into the waves. With my boarding and sailing background, surfing came naturally to me and riding the board was just as familiar as seeing the waves, picking the best ones and knowing how to get into them. When Porter took a break, Tom came out and taught me how to get past the white water and out into what he called “the backyard.” This is the spot where, once past the breakers, I could sit up on the board and wait for a curling wave of choice. From there, I paddled hard into waves and when they started shooting me towards the beach, I stood up and enjoyed the ride.
As we’d thought and hoped, Porter excelled throughout the lesson while Tom and him became best buds. Porter has always had incredible balance and after Tom had him standup while riding his first wave towards shore, he got up again and again. From farther out in the swell, I could see Porter learning to ride and the perm-a-smile smeared across his face was huge — as big as I’d ever seen. Mine probably was too. Later, Porter said with that same enthusiastic grin, “Dad, I want to go surfing again!”
“Me too, buddy. Me too.” Thanks, Tofino. Porter and I are hooked on surfing. And Jill and Magnus are next.
For Boaters and Families
Besides the surfing, our stop in Tofino also included the usual groceries, laundry, showers and a trip to the hardware store and marine supply store to top up one of our propane tanks. The scuttlebutt from cruisers coming down the west coast had been that Tofino wasn’t a very boating friendly town due to its limited moorage space and only decent anchorage. We found quite the opposite.
The best place for visiting boaters to stop is at the 4th Street Dock (aka Fisherman’s Wharf), which is inexpensive and located in the heart of Tofino. It is as crowded as any marina in the summer but we were fortunate to get a spot from a boat that was just leaving. Other than that, the harbormaster was quite helpful and found room for friends we knew on other boats. Also, rafting up is an option. The anchorage is straight out from the marina and while semi-exposed and current swept, it is a viable solution if the docks are full.
Outside of the marina we found Tofino to be an quaint tourist town unlike anything else on the outside — or inside, for that matter. Ice cream shops, restaurants, cafes, gift stores and surf shops line the town’s two main streets. There is a BC Liquor Store, bank, hospital, and we found Tofino Brewing and its delicious beer after a pleasant 20-minute walk on a nice multi-use path. The park at the center of town was great for the kids and has a playground, skate park, green space, and basketball and tennis courts.
We had friends over to Yahtzee both evenings we were there and it was wonderful to socialize and share a few laughs over desserts and cocktails. When asked by a fellow cruiser if we’d come back to Tofino next time we were out this way, Jill and I quickly responded with a “yes!” It was an excellent place for our family to roam, play and provision, and after being in remote places for so long, it was enjoyable to spend some time in “society” again.
In the future, we’ll also plan to make it a place to base our adventures farther into Claycuout Sound and of course, there will be lots of surfing for the crew of Yahtzee next time we sail into Tofino.