Tofino, Ucluelet, and the Pacific Rim Feature

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Pacific Rim Surfing

Though the water tends to be nippy—full-length wet suits are worn in summer and winter alike—Tofino has skimmed its way onto the international surfing map for several reasons. Framed by rocky headlands, the curvaceous hard-sand beaches are smack on the open Pacific Ocean, guaranteeing long swells and sizable waves year-round; the area is also a rain forest, providing a genuine wilderness experience. What's more, the Tofino region nurtures an easy-going, even mildly anarchic lifestyle. It's no surprise that a distinctive "free style" of surfing has taken root here as local surfers often eschew competitions in favor of doing their own thing. The culture attracts many warm-climate surfers to test themselves in what's considered a more challenging environment. What they find, along 20 miles of rugged shoreline between Ucluelet and Tofino, are at least four spectacular surfing beaches.

The most famous, Long Beach, together with Wickaninnish Beach, is within the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. The next beach northward is Cox Bay, arguably the most popular—and most challenging—of the surfing beaches located outside the park. This is where the most skilled surfers launch their boards and where competitions, when they're held, take place. That said, there's space for everyone on this long and lovely stretch of forgiving sand, even for beginners. Several lodges, all suitable for families, are located on Cox Bay. Chesterman Beach, the next major beach as you travel towards Tofino, is similarly picturesque and is considered the best beach for those just starting out in the sport. Finally, MacKenzie Beach is conveniently close to the town of Tofino.

Whichever beach you choose, take note that the waves and rip currents present real danger, and first-time surfers are advised to take lessons. Parks Canada employs surf guards at Long Beach in the summer. Wave-hazard signs are posted along the highway and updated daily.

The Pacific Rim Highway, running the length of the Tofino peninsula, includes a separate bike path, and almost any day of the year you'll see surfers, with a skate, skim, or long board under one arm, cycling their way to their preferred destination. It's quite common to pick up surfers hitchhiking from one beach to another. And it's equally normal to see local surfers heading out on stormy days and when it snows. The best surfing is said to take place in spring and fall, when the waves are strong and consistent and the weather more or less cooperates. Lessons and equipment rentals are available year-round.

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