When I lived in Los Angeles, one of my favourite things to do was to go to the beach. I didn’t go to swim (too chilly), surf (poor balance), or sunbathe (I don’t tan). Rather, my excursions were all about ocean appreciation; I simply loved strolling along the beach, listening to the rise and fall of the waves, while gazing at the vastness of the Pacific Ocean. The experience was always profoundly humbling yet spiritually uplifting. At any time of the year, a trip to the beach was the best therapy I knew.
When I left Los Angeles and moved to Nanaimo (just over two years ago now), one of the hardest things for me to give up was that ocean view. Although the Strait of Georgia—the waterway between Vancouver Island and the British Columbia mainland—is an arm of the Pacific Ocean, the experience of walking along the shore in Nanaimo is entirely different. Yes, there’s the smell of saltwater in the air, and yes, the tide rolls in and out, but the vastness I marvelled at in Southern California is absent. Instead of endless ocean, the view (on a clear day) is of a majestic mountain range on the mainland. That’s not a shabby sight, to be sure—in fact, it’s pretty damn awesome. But as soul-soothing experiences go, it just isn’t the same.
For these reasons, I’ve been eagerly looking forward to travelling to the West Coast of the island, and a couple of weeks ago I made my first trip. At last, a chance to see the glorious Pacific as it should be seen, with ocean stretching to the horizon and beyond.
Sombre With a Chance of Stormy
The trip turned out to be a wet one, the skies grey and gloomy almost all day. While less rain would have been nice, I was in fact hoping the weather would be more dramatic, at least wind-wise. Why? Because serious surf is what a West Coast storm watching trip is all about.
Storm watching is essentially a laid-back version of storm chasing, which is the pursuit of severe weather conditions—like tornadoes (à chacun son goût, as the French say). From November to February, storm watching is a popular activity on the West Coast, and people arrive from everywhere and anywhere to check out the action. That’s why I’d decided to make a winter’s trek here—to witness the Pacific whipped up by Mother Nature’s fury. As it turned out, on this day she was only peeved.
Canada’s Surf Capital
While seeing the ocean was the big motivator for making this trip, visiting Tofino was a close second. Tofino (pronounced tow-FEE-no) is as far west as one can drive on Vancouver Island and has appropriately been dubbed “the end of the road.”
Located at the tip of the Esowista Peninsula in Clayoquot Sound, Tofino is bordered by the Pacific Ocean to the north, east, and west. It’s a small town with a big reputation: the illustrious National Geographic rated it one of the top surf towns in the world.
The area offers a host of water and nature activities, including kayaking, fishing, paddle boarding, whale watching, bird watching, and hiking. Not surprisingly, the year-round population of 1,900 swells during the non-winter months (when all the storm watchers have gone home).
My first visit to Tofino was christened by a steady rain. Soaked, chilled, and disappointed, I cut my walkabout short to spare myself (and my camera) further unpleasantness. But even in the grey gloom I could see that this was a place worth exploring and decided I will definitely make a return trip one day—in the summer.
Warming up and drying out on the drive back to Nanaimo, I felt glad I’d make this not-quite-storm-watching trip. Even when things don’t work out as you’d hoped, there’s almost always something worthwhile in the experience. For me, it was a teasing glimpse of a whole different side of the island—literally and figuratively. But more than anything else, it was a reignited passion for the Pacific. I can almost hear the roar of the waves…