Story by Michelle Hopkins
TOFINO, BRITISH COLUMBIA — My legs are shaking and it isn’t from the cool early morning air.
I’m paddling on Kennedy Lake in Tofino and I’m repeating a mantra in my head — please don’t let me fall, please don’t let me fall.
Within minutes, I lost my balance and plunged into the lake.
Lucky for me, the water was calm and warm as I had forgotten my wetsuit at the Long Beach Lodge Surf Club. Right away, my instructor Chance McCullough stripped off his shirt and passed it to me — I don’t think he counted on my second plummet into the lake 15 minutes later!
Tofino Exhilarates and Relaxes
Earlier, he had set me up with a lifejacket, a paddle measured for my height and a paddle board at the water’s edge. After some instructions, McCullough joined me on his board in the water.
Wearing my bathing suit and a warm sweater, I knelt as I paddled, to get a feel of the board. Slowly, ever so slowly, I got up, using my oar for balance. The board handled with surprising ease, and with the sun beaming down on us through the clouds, we paddled across the lake.
Moving from knees to standing felt unsteady at first, but I felt pretty confident … ok, that’s an exaggeration — I never mastered paddle boarding but by the end I finally learned how to stay on without falling! Getting up was my forte. Soon, we were far out on this pristine lake surrounded by sweeping views of the rainforest on all sides. After a couple of hours, I was hooked on paddle boarding.
My son Mathew and I had arrived at the Long Beach Lodge (LBL) the night before. This was a mother/son bonding trip because Mathew is moving out of the country for a year.
The resort is at Cox Bay, seven kilometres (4.3 miles) south of Tofino, renowned as a world-class surfer’s paradise. After we picked up the keys to our cozy cabin, we took in the Great Room. It was designed to replicate the owner’s own living room, and features a large stone fireplace and floor-to-ceiling windows offering unobstructed ocean views. As we scanned the room, we watched as relaxed guests sat in clusters of weather-worn leather couches as well as on oversized chairs a la Ralph Lauren style. It is here where meals are served and complete strangers chat over a cappuccino or play a game of chess by the roaring fire.
It isn’t just the surf that has people visiting from all corners of the world, but the raw, rugged natural beauty of Tofino. It’s the surfing though that is the top draw. Thousands arrive each year to test this part of the Pacific Ocean. Surfing is ingrained in Tofino’s culture. Mathew surfed the waves here many times and loves it.
However, for those baby boomers like me, Tofino is about reconnecting with nature, through the ocean and old-growth rainforest. During my brisk morning walks, I passed dogs playfully retrieving driftwood, joggers leaving their footprints in the wet sand and surfers clad in full head-to-toe wetsuits braving the surf. Life is good here.
This trip was more about relaxing, breathing in the fresh air and spending time together. However, there’s a plethora of water sports available. Yet, storm watching is fast becoming a reason why people come between November and March. The lodge offers a front-row seat to this gale-force, wave-crashing phenomenon. Wearing the pre-requisite storm-watching garb — long gum boots, heavy duty rain jackets and bigger smiles — you can witness a storm unlike any other.
Fine Dining at Long Beach Lodge
For a small town of approximately 1,800 full-time residents, Tofino has a bustling foodie scene. Whether you choose fine dining or roadside café, there’s no dress code here. One evening, we dined at the resort’s new beachside patio, SandBar Bistro. The menu is small yet features a nice al fresco-style menu. Mathew and I shared the Tofino salmon poke and baked beach oysters. Both were fresh and delicious. For our main course, we both went for the SandBar fish burritos. For these, you need to have napkins handy … but those burritos are worth it.
When it was time to head home, we walked the beach for the last time as seagulls circled overhead. We loathed the idea of leaving this quaint seaside town — and already began thinking of the next time we might be back to rediscover Tofino anew.
More About Visiting Tofino, British Columbia
Long Beach Lodge Resort — Location: 1441 Pacific Rim Highway, Tofino, BC (see map below). Telephone: 1-250-725-2442. Website: www.longbeachlodgeresort.com. Accommodations: There are 41 lodge rooms and 20 cabins/cottages. Nightly Rates: Fall rates run from $199-$529. The resort is pet-friendly.
Getting There — By Car and Ferry: BC Ferries travels to Nanaimo from either Horseshoe Bay or Tsawwassen terminals on the British Columbia mainland. Then, it’s about a 2.5-hour drive to Tofino. By Air: Four carriers fly into Tofino. They include: Orca Airways, K.D. Air, and seaplanes Tofino Air and Atleo Air. Visit www.tourismtofino.com/getting-to-tofino for details.
SUP (Stand Up Paddleboard) Lessons — The Surf Club at Long Beach Lodge offers a range of lessons. Details include:
- $129 per person for a 3.5-hour lesson for a group of up to five people. All must be over 13 years old.
- All SUP lessons include full equipment rentals (wetsuit, booties, board and paddle) as well as a packed snack
- Best conditions and preferred lesson time are in the morning (wind must be under 10 knots in order for the lesson to commence)
- Lessons are held at McKenzie or Chesterman Beach or Kennedy Lake.
P.S. I’d highly recommend Kennedy Lake. It’s about a 40-minute drive — including a 20-minute drive up a dirt road. It’s the largest lake on Vancouver Island. The day we paddled there wasn’t another soul to be found.
Foraging — These food-focused expeditions are fun for all ages. Thursdays run from 2-5 pm with a maximum of six guests. The cost is a $20 minimum donation with all proceeds going to the Raincoast Education Society. Sign up at the front desk of the lodge. You head out with executive chef Ian Riddick. The Ontario-born chef is passionate about scavenging for different species of mushrooms.
Where to Eat for Grab & Go in Tofino — These are two of my must-visit spots each time I’m in Tofino.
- Wildside Grill (1180 Pacific Rim Highway) — This funky, distinctive little spot is in the Live to Surf plaza, a compilation of shops housed in cedar shacks that look like Hobbit-style cabins. The Wildside Grill serves up some of the freshest seafood in these parts. Chef Jesse Blake and his business partner Jeff Mikus (who happens to be a commercial fisherman) opened up their outdoor eatery a few years ago. Mathew ordered the BC side-stripe shrimp burger and fries and I went for a small bowl of the award-winning seafood chowder and fish tacos. Our meal was so good that on our way back to Vancouver we stopped for lunch and ate the very same meal. Prices range from $10 for a full bowl of seafood chowder to $13 for three fish tacos, and the costliest dish is $15 for a cod club sandwich.
- Tacofino Cantina (1180 Pacific Rim Highway at the back of the mall) — This is the original food truck that started the craze. You can’t miss the orange truck with its large painting of the Virgen de Guadalupe. Line-ups can be insane during peak lunch hours but it does move fairly quickly. Described as possibly the best Mexican cuisine in BC, Tacofino doesn’t disappoint. t can tell you this much: the burritos, the Baja-inspired tacos and pretty much anything on the menu is simply mouthwatering. I know — I’ve tried a number of different items. We did end up eating here again as well! Prices range from $4.50 for a taco to $11 for a fish burrito.
More Tofino Coverage on Vacay.ca