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Where to Surf in Tofino

Updated: Mar 4

While most foreigners visit Canada in search of Niagara Falls, the Northern Lights, great hockey, or maple syrup, the western coastline of the country actually has some incredible surf breaks.

One town in particular that surfers will want to add to their bucket list is Tofino. 

Tofino Surf Guide

Waves in Tofino

Located on Vancouver Island in the Canadian province of British Columbia, Tofino is known for its scenic beaches and open ocean swells.

The waves are said to have been first discovered in the 1960s by Americans trying to avoid being drafted for the Vietnam War – and they picked the perfect hiding place.

In addition to nice views and great surfing, Tofino has a reputation for its quiet remoteness, with a population of less than 2,000.

Since the 60’s, surf culture has become wildly popular within the town, which now has over a dozen surf schools in the span of 4 square miles… yes, you read that right. From 2013-2017 Rip Curl hosted their annual “Rip Curl Pro Tofino” and has since been continuing competition with their “Rip Curl CANAM Championship”.

The town has hosted some of the greatest names in surfing and is constantly gaining more attention as snapshots of glassy barrels under snowcapped mountains are published in magazines and posted to social media. 

Surf Culture at Tofino

Throughout the 90’s when the sport really started to boom in Tofino, there was a tense separation between surfers and other locals.

Because the town has always operated very hushed and under the radar, big groups of mostly teenagers ecstatic to get in the water upset residents living along the shore.

However, it wasn’t long before folks started realizing the economic benefits that came with surf-related tourism.

Nowadays, Tofino lives and breathes surfing just like the North Shore – only 40° colder, so visitors can expect to be welcomed with open arms without having to worry about ‘territory’.  

Gear Needed to Surf in Tofino

If you’re trying to choose between your longboard and shortboard to bring to Tofino – pack both.

The town has strong swells in the winter and clean swells in the summer that are perfect for shortboards.

On the other hand, there are plenty of beach break conditions year-round better suited for longboards. 

Water temperatures typically stay between 44°F-48°F and air temps between 37°F-48°F, so you’ll want to pack heavy, especially in the colder months.

A 5/4 mm wetsuit, booties, a hood and gloves are recommended. 

The Best Waves in Tofino

Chesterman Beach

Chesterman has a lot to offer surfers as the white sandy beach stretches over a mile and a half up the west coast of the island.

Forecasts are normally split into ’North Chesterman’ and ‘South Chesterman’ since there are two main breaks that rarely align in conditions.

North Chesterman tends to be a sizeable, steep wedge close to shore, while South Chesterman offers a left-corner wedge against the bordering rocks.

Both can go flat in the summer months but are dependable to revive in the winter.  

Rosie Bay

Rosie Bay is somewhat of a hidden oasis in Tofino.

The waves here break into a small cove that’s surrounded by huge trees and large rocks, which also help deter strong winds.

Shortboards are best for Rosie Bay since the break is usually a punchy left with lots of opportunity for airs.

Less than advanced-level surfers will want to try their luck elsewhere. 

Long Beach

The entirety of Long Beach is just over a 10-mile stretch, but when people talk about surfing there, they’re typically talking about a half mile of ocean that rests between Incinerator Rock and Lovekin Rock.

This break is bordered by banks which help create its notorious slanted lefts and sharp rights. The curve of the swell can have powerful rips, but on calmer days the shape makes paddling out a lot easier.

Cox Beach

Cox is another lengthy shoreline with a little more surfable ocean than Long Beach.

Good waves over 6 feet here aren’t common, so it’s a nice spot for surfers still mastering their technique.

On a good day, you’ll see defined wedge peaks that form from both the North and South swells.

Mackenzie Beach

While surfing at Mackenzie Beach is pretty much unheard of in the summertime when the area goes flat, this spot can really come alive during the winter to offer some clean, glassy 4-5 footers.

If by some chance there are small waves when it gets a bit warmer, Mackenzie is the perfect place for beginners. 

What To Do in Tofino When the Waves Are Flat

If the swell doesn’t live up to the forecast while you’re visiting Tofino, fear not! There are countless activities to keep outdoorsmen busy during your stay.

Go on a wildlife tour to watch the abundant species of whales, bears, and otters, hop on a seaplane flight for an ariel view of Vancouver, explore surrounding islands, or hike one of the town’s many beautiful waterfall trails. 

The Bottom Line: Surfing Tofino

Waves in Tofino are idyllic for brave souls in the winter and thrill seekers in the summer.

The town runs on surfing, so regardless of what level you’re at, you’ll be able to find a time and place that fits your skillset no problem. 

Looking for other places to surf in Canada? Check out our Ultimate Guide to Surfing in Canada.


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