DECEMBER 5TH 2004 - THE NORTH SHORE NEWS
SURFING SCHOOL AT 60 – A TALL TOFINO TALE
!“You’re doing what?” “You must have really lost your marbles this time” “I hope I’m in your will?” I have to admit the response from my friends was not all upbeat when the brochure arrived. Please fill in your Height….Weight…..Shoe size……My god they’re measuring me for a coffin already!
I always thought that surfing was about leaping onto a board, catching the curl of a perfect wave, hanging ten, then retreating nonchalantly to a beachside café for a couple of Margaritas. Add a bit of breathless adoration from a bevy of languid blondes with milk-white teeth, and the Beachboys (I bet no one ever measured them for a coffin?) belting out “Surfing USA” in the background…. You get the scene!
Northern Hawk’s 8 seater Piper Chieftain drones across central Vancouver Island. Pristine lakes lie sandwiched, inaccessibly, between jagged mountain peaks. We begin our descent above Longbeach. Armies of great Pacific rollers, that began as a ripple in Japan, have somehow gathered into advancing banks of water that rise into cresting half-pipes before delivering a final, crashing assault on the snow white sand. I am hyper-ventilating as we land.
Tofino, despite much gentrification, has more than its share of battered VW vans stacked high with surfboards. A wetsuit sale at Storm Outfitting attracts more customers than Bayday. A promised change in the weather brings jubilation from the young crowd at prizewinning SOBO where trendy tidbits such as “Tofu pockets with sushi rice and smoked fish” are served from a 20 year old movie-catering truck. “We celebrate storms here” – “Really” I splutter, suddenly gagging on a mouthful of deep-fried polenta sticks.
I slope off, quite unable to share the mood. I am the first occupant of a brand new 1350 sq. foot two storey townhouse at Pacific Sands Beach Resort. I have two fireplaces; a heated tiled floor; a fully equipped kitchen and even an ironing board should I be overcome with the need to run my smalls through the washer and dryer. A double soaker tub thoughtfully provided on the raised dais in my bedroom will surely come in handy tonight. A man would be a fool to tamper with paradise. My creative mind goes into avoid mode.
I sink into a leather armchair. The waves are crashing just beyond my balcony. Black neoprene-suited figures disappear into boiling spume to miraculously reappear on the other side and gather in small clusters astride colourful boards. Each waits his, or her, turn to paddle ahead of a perfect wave before being caught by the curling crest.
I grab the brochure as a distraction. “Surf Sister is dedicated to promoting women’s surfing in Tofino and worldwide” Good grief, there must be some mistake. Here’s my “out” for sure. Last time I looked, I was still a man. A somewhat ancient specimen in his sixties maybe – but a man nonetheless. I read on. “Our goal is not to exclude men from our lessons but rather to make sure women feel included when trying surfing in Tofino for the first time” – Damn!
I head to The Gazebo and join a young father toasting marshmallows over a wood fire with his 3-year-old daughter – A nice touch at this family orientated resort. I am the first “surfer” to arrive.
Louise pulls up in a black truck bristling with boards, booties and wetsuits. “You must be Andrew”. “From your measurements this suit should fit?” Ah yes – the measurements. No attitude problems here. In fact she’s all smiles and youthful exuberance.
I am the only male in a group of four. We begin with stretches. Got to be flexible to stay sharp in the ever-changing wave patterns. I’m incredulous, and not a little deflated by some of the pretzel-like positions my fellow students are achieving. I vow to reconsider yoga.
We trace imaginary surfboards in the sand and practise “pop-ups.” The seamless move that takes a prone, paddling, surfer to the upright position with the grace of a ballet dancer. This proves tricky. My knees are intent on making the first contact. Perhaps I am experiencing a subliminal urge to pray before fully committing to the task at hand.
It’s time to take to the ocean. The board is wired to my right leg. We are an inseparable team plunging out through the waves in search of the perfect ride. I make my choice, leap aboard and paddle like hell. The wave catches up and propels me at the speed of light towards the beach. I’m sold. To hell with the naysayers, this is the thrill to cap all thrills. I play in the surf until my arms plead for mercy. Just one more time!
The card at my residence is reassuring. An in-room therapeutic massage offered by Sacred Stone Wellness Studio is only a phone call away. I deserve it dammit. I have conquered fear and survived to tell the tale. In minutes my aching shoulders are being kneaded blissfully back to life. I think about dinner. Perhaps a beach stroll to Long Beach Lodge for a Rack of Lamb and a Crème Brulee – I can hold my own with any surfing server - followed by a long hot soak in that beckoning tub. A perfect end to the day.
IF YOU GO:
BY AIR: Two companies make scheduled flights to Tofino from Vancouver’s South Terminal:
North Hawk Aviation 1-866-225-8181 – Regency Express 1-800-228-6608. Expect to pay around $270 + 7%GST return.
A Budget car rental office is located at Tofino airport. (1) -250-725 2060
BY FERRY: Take the Nanaimo ferry from Horseshoe Bay. Head North on Hwy 19 to Parksville then East on Hwy 4 to Tofino.(approx 3 hrs drive from the terminal)
PACIFIC SANDS BEACH RESORT: www.pacificsands.com Tel: (1) – 800- 565-2322 - Beachfront accommodation with equipped kitchens and fireplaces starts at $140 (less 15% seniors discount!)
TO BOOK THAT SURFING LESSON: Surf Sister www.surfsister.com (1) -877-724-7873
TO ORGANISE THAT MASSAGE: Sacred Stone www.sacredstone.ca (1) -250-725-3341