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Winter Surfing in Tofino

Surfing is to California what cream is to peaches: they go together.

In the collective conscious, California is sun, warmth, sand, ocean and surfboards.

So, what happens when you add an island, remove some of the warmth, mix in some clouds, rain and wind and set it all against a temperate rain forest backdrop? You have Tofino: Canada’s premier cold water and winter surf destination.

Tofino cold water and winter surf destination   Tofino cold water and winter surf destination

The notion that surfing is a warm-water sport has been put-out-sea on Vancouver Island’s west coast. The new reality is temperature need not be part of the conversation and winter is as desirable as summer for a great surf adventure.

Tofino surfers embrace the cold air, cool water (8 degrees Celsius - around 46 degrees Fahrenheit) the damp, waves and salty gales. They know the best swells often arrive in Cox Bay, Chesterman Beach and Long Beach during the winter months.

To partake, Tofino surfers just have to be better prepared and bold.

This means wetsuits (usually five mm. with boots, hoods and gloves) and a willingness to overcome the initial cold shock.

In a July 22, 2010 article, Surfer magazine offered a couple of tips on how to get the best out of cold water and winter surfing:
  1. Don’t cheap out and get a wetsuit that’s too thin. Find out what locals are wearing, and heed their unspoken advice. The last way to earn respect in a rugged locale is to drone on about how cold it is.
  2. Eat root vegetables a couple of hours before you head out. Seriously. Aside from being good for you, vegetables like carrots and sweet potatoes are easily digestible and emit the heat needed to keep you warm.
  3. Layer up for the pre-session check. Your mum was right when she said layers are warm. Air gets trapped in between them and is warmed by your sweet potato-generated body heat.
  4. Stretch. While scouting the lineup, take a couple of minutes to limber up. Stretching stimulates blood flow to your muscles so you’ll be warm when you punt out of that slab. Bonus: you won’t pull your groin and ruin the night’s festivities.
  5. While you’re out in the water, keep moving. It seems obvious, but if you paddle around every few minutes in between sets, you’ll increase your water time exponentially.
  6. Don’t leave the water when you first feel cold. You’ll regret it later, and it’s almost guaranteed that as soon as you get to the beach, the best set of the day will thunder to shore. If you can still speak normally after a session, you came out too early.
  7. When you get out, have something warm and dry to change into. One of my favorite feelings is trying to pull a dry pair of wool socks over my feet with fingers so cold they feel like they’re made of wood. The anticipation of warmth is almost better than the warmth itself.
  8. Don’t go out alone. Not for safety reasons, though. Some of my fondest surf memories are during the post-session thaw. Sitting around a fire with all of your buddies, eating, drinking, and bullshitting about the day warms me up more than any root vegetable or spiked coffee ever could.
A cold water, winter surf adventures awaits on Vancouver Island's western edge. 

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