Vancouver Island, in British Columbia, is amazingly beautiful.
Bald eagles are as prevalent there as pigeons in a major city. The hiking trails provide incredible coastal views. And the surf, while hit and miss in terms of conditions, is awesome in that the water is remarkably clear and the majority of surfers in it are beginners who stick close to the whitewash near shore.
If you’re up to dealing with the occasional drizzle, a lot of overcast days and the usual summer lulls (which could last a week), Vancouver Island is thriving with surf. Here’s a brief description of the major breaks on the island, in the event you decide to visit during the summer for its pristine wilderness and potentially great surf.
This is probably the most beautiful of all the beaches between Tofino and Ucluelet. You won’t see Florencia Bay (the locals call it “Flo”) listed in most surf travel guides, and if a local didn’t tell me about this special spot on my first night in town, it probably would have taken me weeks to find the place.
It isn’t hard to locate. You head north toward Wickaninnish Beach and turn at the sign that says “Florencia Bay.” The beach faces directly south, so when a great south swell comes in, this place goes off.
And the best part? The way it’s topographically set up, it blocks out most wind, so the water stays calm.
With the exception of an unusually warm summer day where temperatures were in the upper 80s and sets measuring 10-plus feet were pounding the beach, it was relatively empty during my visit. One day I surfed Flo for two hours with not another soul in sight.
On small days a decent set will come through every five to 10 minutes. It isn’t always going off, but when it does, I highly recommend spending a couple of hours in this little slice of paradise.
The best way to describe Wickaninnish Beach is to compare it to Ocean Beach in San Francisco. It can get choppy and windy in a hurry, with heavy fog preventing vision past 15 feet and currents pulling you down the beach in a flash.
But when it’s small nearly everywhere else, “Wick” will have something. I caught a few lefts here that turned out to be some of the rides of my life. And if it’s good at Wick, it’s great at Cox Bay.
It’s a love/hate relationship with the Wick: Some days it’s great, and others can be flat-out nasty. You’ll never get the same day twice here.
Near the midpoint between Ukee (the local nickname for Ucluelet) and Tofino lies the most well-known break in the area: Long Beach. Parking lots here are packed regularly with tourists and beginners during the summer, but unless it’s firing, the break doesn’t provide much of a swell during the summer season. When a good swell does come in, though, Long Beach can provide some epic rides.
There’s a rock that splits Long Beach into a north and south side, and this rock sets up one of the few peaks in the area. During a strong south swell that hit the Pacific Coast while I was there, I managed to grab an incredible left. A local surf instructor I hung out with told me that twice he got barreled at Long Beach. It definitely has some great days.
Overall, Cox Bay has the best surf in the area. The way it’s situated, swells tend to squeeze their way through the bay’s entrance, creating a surge that forms beautiful waves.
There are more beginners at Cox Bay than at any other break in the region, mainly due to its reputation and location (it’s 15 minutes from the heart of Tofino). I was lucky to avoid any unpleasantness with the novice crowd, but I could see this being a major dilemma in the near future as Vancouver Island continues to explode in popularity.
There is a downside to Cox Bay: It can’t handle swells that go above 6 feet. With larger surf, Cox Bay turns into Closeout City.
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