Let me paint you a picture. Your toes are cringing slightly, uncomfortable from the muddy gray sand that slides between them. The crackling of the glassy water catches your attention, and you look up to see the foamy whitecaps forming as they splash onto the shore. Light drops of rain, no bigger than a spray of water bouncing off of a rock, tickle your cheeks as you breathe in the sea-salted air. The skin-tight wetsuit wraps around your limbs like a Victorian-era corset.
In a very brief summary, that’s how my first surfing experience went.
Surfing wasn’t the only thing I tried for the first time in Tofino; in fact, my visit to Tofino was full of firsts—my first time surfing, fishing, staying in an airstream and travelling for work. For a 21-year-old who grew up surrounded by city skyscrapers, I’d say those are some pretty ambitious adventures to embark on. Reasonably so, the first hour or-so that I spent sitting at YVR’s South Terminal (due to a two-hour delay) were a bit nerve-racking—this was my first time going to Tofino, with people I didn’t even know, to embark on adventures that I’d never had the opportunity to test out before with the brand YETI. However, within a few minutes of being surrounded by fellow journalists, mouth-watering barbecue and Yeti coolers, any worries about Tofino had disappeared like morning mist over chilly waters.
Due to the delay, I ended up arriving at our accommodations around 6:30 p.m. Yeti, our lovely sponsor for this trip, booked us into Mackenzie Beach Resort, which is home to a variety of lodging types ranging from modern suites or cabins to camping options. I stayed in a cute airstream with a fun outdoor space and soaker bathtub.
After unpacking, I headed to the resort’s restaurant, Lil’ Ronnie’s Beachside BBQ, to meet up with the rest of the group. Chef and owner Ron Lee (Ronnie), who graciously took care of all our meals for this trip (alongside executive chef Raphael Ouellet), was waiting at a long picnic-like table in the middle of the restaurant’s outdoor patio. The restaurant moved all their seating to the outdoor patio due to Covid-19 restrictions, but since then, Ronnie has expressed interest in expanding it.
The echoes of live, open-mic-fed music filled the tent-covered space as more and more of the group began to filter in. Introductions were accompanied by large platters of ribs, nachos and burnt-end brisket supplied by Beretta Farms. Despite most of us having met only minutes prior, we bonded over smoked margaritas and stuffed stomachs.
A No-Sweat Kinda Morning (Except for in the Sauna)
I started off the next morning by filling up my YETI Rambler Mug with a hot americano, as the morning chill had begun to settle over the island. Knowing that we were going to be embarking on an open-air boat ride to our first adventure of the day, I made sure to grab a hot drink in anticipation. I’m happy to say that even after we’d finished at the sauna, the five-hour old coffee was still warm.
Knowing that we were going to a floating sauna in the middle of nowhere, I made sure to pack all the essentials in my Camino Carryall Tote: my Rambler Water Bottle filled with cold water, a Chawel Multifunction Towel for after a dip in the water and a copy of explore magazine’s summer issue for some suntanning entertainment.
A 30-minute boat ride away from Tofino brought us to Tofino Resort and Marina’s Floating Sauna (I wish I could give better directions, but I honestly have no clue where it was). The sauna itself was fixed atop a large wooden dock that also housed a fire pit, longing nets, a rope swing and shelves for kayaks and SUPs. Our guide and boat captain, Liam, kicked off the experience by doing a flip off the rope swing and into the water.
We spent a couple of hours enjoying the water, sweating in the sauna and enjoying two (yes, two!) rounds of brunch thanks to Lil’ Ronnie’s (kept cold throughout the journey by YETI). One of my favourite parts (throughout an entirely enjoyable experience) was chilling on the lounging nets and connecting with everyone else while staring out at the beautiful view.
An E-fish-ent Excursion
After packing up and leaving the sauna, we arrived back at the resort to change, shower and prepare for our next event: fishing. Johnny, from Tonquin Fishing Charters, and Rob, from Lucky Strike Sportfishing, brought us out for some deep-sea fishing. Our group was split up into two, with five people on each boat. On the way out, we managed to catch a few glimpses of sea otters.
We spent just under three hours on the boat and caught a Lingcod, a Rockfish, and lots of Coho and Chinook salmon. While I personally didn’t end up catching anything, the experience was still enjoyable—I’ll admit that I underestimated the intensity of trying to haul a fish onboard.
With the two boats’ combined catch, we ended up with more than enough fish for lunch for the next day. In fact, there was enough fish for each of us to take 10 one-pound portions back with us. I only took two, as my bag was completely stuffed with YETI mugs and Beretta beef jerky.
Our night ended with yet another delicious meal cooked by Ronnie and Chef Raph, and a YETI Presents screening at the Clayoquot Sound Theatre. We watched creatively-curated films on mountaineer Jimmy Chin, fly-fisher Oliver White and Canada’s first professional surfer (and our surfing instructor!) Raph Bruhwiler.
Not Your Typical Work Trip Board Meeting
The group met up for an early morning breakfast at the resort’s lobby (yet another meal provided by Ronnie and Chef Raph). We ate yogurt parfaits out of Rambler mugs that could easily double as bowls for soup, stew or anything else you’d like to enjoy hot or cold at a campsite. After filling our water bottles and packing up our bags, we made our way to Chesterman Beach.
We met up with Raph Bruhwiler, who distributed our wetsuits and gave us boards to use. Despite the light rain and chilly air, the change rooms were filled with laughs as we struggled to worm our way into the tight, damp suits. After suiting up, Raph brought us down to the beach—which he told us was the very beach he grew up surfing at—and the lesson began.
Raph walked us through a few basic surfing steps before encouraging us to catch some of the gentle waves lapping up onto the beach. We were taught the optimal spot on the board to lay on as well as how to pop-up (stand) in one smooth motion. With an eight-year background in ballet and previously phenomenal balance, I thought I’d be able to pop-up at least once—but that wasn’t the case. Apparently, just because I could hold a scorpion pose ten years ago, it doesn’t mean that I can balance on a surfboard. Who would have thought?
With the rain pattering down on the sand as well as the foamy lapping of the waves, we kept all of our phones and valuables safe with the YETI GoBox. It was easy to carry while being durable enough to shield everything inside from the various water sources rushing around us. The removable caddy ensured that there would be space for everyone’s valuables, and the locking port acted as yet another line of defence from the water.
Our lesson with Raph was so fun—and while I may not have popped-up during this session, I now know the steps I’ll need to take for the next surfing opportunity I get. This lesson also allowed me to do something I’d been wanting to do all summer, which was to re-familiarize myself with the water (thank you, nosedives).
A Reluctant Clock-Out
After a warm bath and a quick packing session (in which I stuffed my bags to the point of sweaters spilling out), I headed back over to Lil’ Ronnie’s for lunch. We ate fish tacos made with Lingcod, Rockfish ceviche and salmon all caught the day before. These were served alongside Ronnie’s smoked margaritas and beer from Tofino Brewing Co., which were kept nice and cool by YETI's Rambler Beverage Bucket and Colster Can Coolers.
Before heading out to catch my flight, I joined a few of the others on a jaunt to Mackenzie Beach. Shockingly enough, in the entire time we’d been staying at the resort, this was the first time we’d visited the beach that hosted us. After a quick beach lounge, I said my goodbyes to the lovely group I’d met only two days prior and made my way back to Vancouver.
With plenty of time to waste on the plane, I opened up my phone and looked through my photos. Only a few days before, I was nervous, uncertain and struggling with a typical case of imposter syndrome. I was a 21-year-old with an incomplete communications degree who had only ever travelled with family and friends. But despite my inexperience and information-absorbing, sponge-like approach towards everyone, this group kept me comfortable and safe. Even though I didn’t manage to catch a fish or pop-up while catching a wave, I’m happy to say that I tested the tides in Tofino—and they welcomed me in with open arms.