There are only two surfing areas in southern British Columbia that are accessible by roads—leaving the other 15,000 miles or so of coastline somewhat inaccessible other than by water or air. The rugged relief and complex bathymetry make for complicated coastal exploration—to land an aircraft on the beach takes an entirely different set of skills and preparation. For the last four years, Rory Bushfield and I have been studying and exploring BC’s remote coastline in search of waves.
From an aircraft, we can scout hundreds of miles of coast in a short period of time. Regardless of what we discover, the difficulty is finding an appropriate place to land nearby.
I called Rory one afternoon to tell him I thought we had a window to get out to the coast. I double-checked all of the weather models and loaded up my gear as fast as possible to get down to the airport. We carefully lodged a couple of boards deep into the tail of the plane, then packed all of our necessary camping and survival equipment for at least a week, just in case. We were going back to a wave we suspected would turn on with the forecasted conditions. Having seen the potential when we visited previously, the size and direction of this new swell could be perfect.
We got lucky. The tide had dropped out just enough to open the beach. We snuck the plane in with just enough time left in the day to turn back if we needed to. Touch down. We were greeted by some confused faces as to why we had arrived at such an unusual time. But those faces soon turned to smiles as we learned we were cut from the same cloth—all surfers. Our new friends helped us clear a spot to push the plane up above the high tide mark and we started exchanging stories.
These fellows had traveled all the way from Texas over the course of three days to get to this exact place. They were dropped off by floatplane and had endured a 12-hour trudge with 150 pounds of gear through the high-tide collections of kelp detritus stacked several feet thick on the shoreline to arrive at the same camp as us. Although our travel methods differed, it became apparent that we shared the same drive for empty waves in a truly wild landscape.
We woke up to the white noise of building surf and geared up for the hour-long hike to the wave. Our eyes were peeled to the horizon, scanning for signs of the swell. We rounded the bend and it looked flat, but we knew you had to get closer to determine if it was working or not. We stashed our gear on a rock and wandered out to a keyhole on the reef.
Through the mist, I saw a humpback whale breach in the cove and just past him, peeling rights down the coast. The excitement was overwhelming. I jumped in the swash and swam out to photograph Rory who was already in the lineup.
I was swimming off the shoulder of the wave, watching the sets roll down the reef, trying to stay in position against the current. I paused for a moment when an alpha male sea lion popped up a few feet from my face. Startled, I tried to stay calm. He snorted and barked at me before he slipped away into the murky green water. I was too shaken up to even snap a portrait, but the image of his face remains ingrained in my memory.
My legs tired and feet started to cramp from being jammed into my swim fins with my booties on, so I made my way back to land to grab my board.
But I’ve learned that a little ingenuity goes a long way.
I paddled out and surfed until my arms faded. Then I paddled just outside the lineup and pulled out a hand jig I made from a fishing net float and dropped my lure into the kelp. Ten minutes later, I pulled dinner to the surface. Had I not broken my fishing rod the day before, I wouldn’t have had to resort to such means. But I’ve learned that a little ingenuity goes a long way.
We decided to prepare for our departure after the swell dropped. The window opened, the tide moved out, and we loaded up and said goodbye to our newly acquainted friends. Once disconnected, there’s no way to accurately predict what the next day will bring, so we seized the opportunity to head out, so we didn’t end up stuck and out of food like times we’ve had in the past. It’s tempting to stay and wait to see what the waves will do, but our intuition steered us home.
There is a visceral connection to nature that has grown with each moment I spend on the coast. The motivation fueled by a sensation that only a surfer knows—to be immersed in the beauty of discovery, and the notion that another magnificent place to surf in the wild could be just around the next headland. With an insatiable appetite for the unknown, I return to the maps and plot the next course.