Woman surfer at Chesterman Beach, Tofino

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The [Women's] Surfing Capital of Canada

By Jen Dart

It's no secret that Tofino has a well-developed surf scene complete with schools, contests, and pros showcasing the area internationally.

It is the self-proclaimed Surfing Capital of Canada after all.

Tamarah Stevens Surfing

Tamarah Stephens setting up for an ice cold barrel.

Besides being one of the most easily accessible areas with surfable waves on the west coast, the Tofino and Ucluelet area is a novice's paradise of sandy bottoms and mostly mellow waves.

There are several factors that make this a unique surfing location, including the need to wear thick wetsuits most of the year due to water temperatures in the 7°-12° C range year-round (45°- 55° F).

Tofino also stands out because there is a high ratio of female to male surfers in the water. A visiting journalist recently called this one of Tofino's "pleasant quirks," and I would have to agree.

During a recent all-female surf contest, I asked a few local women how Tofino's surf scene came to be so female-friendly.

Catherine Bruhwiler, a sponsored surfer who grew up in Tofino, said when she started at age 12 it didn't seem very friendly at all. She described flushing suits that were too big, boards that were too small, riding a bike to Cox Bay only to spend an hour paddling out and catch one wave. By sheer tenacity, and wanting to be as good as her brothers, Catherine stuck it out.

Catherine Bruhwiler Surfs

Catherine Bruhwiler of Tofino Paddle Surf charging cold water waves. Photo: http://www.TofinoSurfShots.com

Jenny Stewart, founder of Surf Sister Surf School, says surfing took a while to catch on in Tofino. When it started to take off, it happened to coincide with the hype around the movie Blue Crush "“ a movie featuring female surfers.

Stewart said she founded her surf school so she would have more women to surf with. She does concede however, that it may be more difficult for girls to learn: "Well, obviously girls have a harder time because we're not as strong in general."

"I know women hate to hear that, but it's true."

Luckily, the women surfing in Tofino had and have the stubbornness it takes to stick to it.

One of Stewart's early employees, Lou Rodgers, agrees that women were there from the beginning of the relatively new surf scene in this area. She feels like the number of girls has grown steadily over the years.

Louise Rodgers Surfing

On a recent trip to Costa Rica, Louise Rodgers proves that Tofino's female talent thrives in warm water too.

"[Having a high ratio of women in the water] creates a culture of acceptance," said Lou. "And I definitely think it mellows out the water."

The logical consequence of having a vibrant population of female surfers was for there to be a contest dedicated to women, rather than one section of a male-dominated competition.

The Queen of the Peak (www.queenofthepeak.com) debuted in 2010 and has since grown into a two-day contest featuring shortboard and longboard sections.

The contest, which is well supported by many businesses in Tofino, is also very surfer-friendly with a massage tent for competitors, a babysitting service for surfing moms, and a celebration at the end of the contest.

"It's a natural progression to have an all women surf contest," said Rodgers. "The stoke is there, the women are there, and the talent is there."


About the author
Originally from Barrie, Ontario, Jen is a long-time Tofino resident, although not quite long enough to be considered a full-fledged local. Jen has been writing professionally for the past seven years. In that time, she's worked for the Tofino-Ucluelet Westerly News as both a part-time and full-time reporter and photographer. Jen has been published in a variety of publications, including SBC Surf Magazine, the Native Journal of Canada, the Victoria Times Colonist and the Vancouver Sun.

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