When Canada’s snowboard team gets those rare breaks from the mountain, they relax by changing the medium: from solid water to liquid. Mazda Stories joins some of the team as they take a Mazda CX-9 on a road trip to the tiny Vancouver Island town of Tofino, surf the tail end of a south swell and catch a few fish. Before we get started, let’s meet the crew…
Having picked up Derek and photographer Kyler Vos at Vancouver Airport we head for Squamish in one of the team’s Mazda CX-9s to collect Darren and Chris, who holler excitedly at Derek while loading up another team CX-9 with surfboards.
We hope to make the noon ferry and a sunset surf before the waves fade, so go in convoy to the ferry terminal. But we hit a load of unexpectedly heavy Monday traffic, and we’re bumped to a later sailing. There’ll be no sunset waves today.
To kill time, Chris whips out a deck of cards and we take turns to DJ, making use of the CX-9’s Apple CarPlay™ integration. We don't even have to climb over each other to change the music. We just ask Siri.
I like these guys a lot. By the time we’re finally on the ferry crossing the Strait of Georgia to Vancouver Island, I feel totally comfortable asking dumb fan questions and grabbing selfies.
As the ferry docks, dragon-like clouds turn orange and purple as the light wanes. And it doesn’t hurt that the drive from Nanaimo to Tofino, during which we traverse the mountainous width of the island, is stunning.
When Highway 4 turns to a section of hairpins, the CX-9 transforms what could be a gruelling drive into a pleasure, thanks to its i-ACTIV AWD that monitors changing road conditions and adaptive headlights that follow the bends.
Despite a late night, Kyler and his friend Noah Cohen, a local pro surfer, wake us at 7am the next day. “Tide’s super high,” says Noah “We fish first, surf later.” So we head for the boat full of anticipation.
On our way out of the harbour, Brodie (our captain) motors by an orange buoy and asks Derek to pull up the line. Derek’s eyes light up as he tugs out a round-silver trap full of purple-and-orange Dungeness crabs as big as baseball gloves.
Seconds later, Brodie’s radio crackles. “Anyone want to see orcas?” he smiles. That question doesn’t need an answer. A short ride to the mouth of the Pacific, Darren spots a triangular black fin circling an island full of sunning sea lions.
After a Dungeness haul and orcas, it seems like gilding the lily to ask for salmon too. “Worth a try, though,” Brodie says. He baits a rod and demonstrates how it will shake when a fish is on the line. When he lets go of the rod, it keeps shaking.
“Umm,” says Chris, who grew up fishing with his dad. “That there is a fish.” Chris offers the rod to Derek, keen to earn his teammate a first catch. Derek starts reeling and not a minute later, a gorgeous 4.5 kg coho salmon flops into the boat.
It takes an hour for Darren’s rod to get a nibble, but when he pulls up a coho of similar size, he looks every bit as happy as Derek. “This might be the best surf trip I’ve ever been on,” Darren says. “And we haven’t even surfed yet.”
It’s finally time to try that surfing bit. Back on terra firma we strap a few longboards to the top of the CX-9s and throw the shortboards in the back, letting Noah lead us to where he thinks this fading south swell will be showing the most.
Noah has warned us that the surf might have faded to “just about squat,” but when we pull into a parking lot for Long Beach, head-high walls are peeling off a tiny offshore island. “Well,” Noah says. “You guys are clearly a good luck charm.”
We rush to suit up and maximize the last of the light. There are a dozen other surfers out, but more than enough waves for everyone to get their fill without any competitive vibes. “Always welcome when you compete for a living,” Derek says.
Followed by a bonfire and a meal of all-you-can-eat salmon and Dungeness crab—turns out these Olympians know their way around a kitchen—it’s hard to think of a more perfect day. “You boys just packed a week of Tofino into a day,” Noah jokes.
I sleep like we packed a week in. But unsurprisingly Kyler wakes us early with a suspicious grin. “Anyone up for a helicopter ride?” he asks. Turns out he booked the local helicopter tour company, Atleo River Air, to take us “heli-surfing.”
Unfortunately, the surfing element may not be possible “but an aerial tour doesn’t sound too shabby,” Chris says. “Aerial tour to the hot springs perhaps?” Darren, who has surfed Tofino quite a bit, asks hopefully.
And so it is that we end up with a jolly local pilot named Dudley flying us low over one of the most breathtaking coastlines in the world. We spot black bears foraging beaches and a 12-metre grey whale lollygagging about in aquamarine shallows.
We land near a geothermally heated waterfall that gushes at about 42°C, creating natural warm baths in the granite beneath. “Is this place real?” I ask as we kick up our feet in a hot spring pool, cool mist from breaking waves refreshing our faces.
“Welcome to Canada,” smiles Chris. “It’s pretty much all like this.” The truth is that there is nowhere on earth like Vancouver Island’s western fringe. That evening, bobbing in the waves at sunset, Derek summarizes what the whole team is thinking: “I love snow,” he says. “But I’m going to miss this.”