In November, the average temperature of the water in Tofino is 50 degrees, and it rains a lot—more than any other month. But for these reasons, November is actually one of the best times to visit the island and the surf capital of Canada. “One of the brilliant things about here is that when it’s sunny, it’s epic and there’s so much stuff to do,” says Krissy Montegomery, owner of Tofino-based Surf Sister—a surf school that offers daily group and private lessons, multi-day camps and surf-centric trips abroad. “But when it rains here, it’s actually when our surf is usually the best, because our dominant wind then becomes an offshore wind making our waves better.”
Montgomery fell in love with Tofino—which is within the traditional territory of the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation of the Nuu-chah-nulth people—when she was a teenager and made the journey from Nanaimo (on the east side of Vancouver Island) on the weekends to surf. “As soon as I turned 19, I just stayed,” she says. “I have been there ever since.”
Founded in 1999, Surf Sister began as a small venture—with a few surfboards and a pick-up truck—and now, with over 30 team members, is one of the largest surf schools with an all-women staff. “It started off as women-only—instructors and students—but soon we made our classes co-ed and for families,” says Montegomery. “We realized that we had a different style of teaching than everyone else; nurturing and no ego. Everybody wanted that.”
On a typical day with the Surf Sister, the instructor will meet the students in the parking lot of the beach that’s best suited to their skill level, taking into consideration wind and surf conditions. Equipped with wetsuits and boards stowed in brightly colored vans, the instructors lead the students to the shore. Beginners are first taught water safety basics, like how to manage and exit a rip current, as well as the Three Ps: pick (how to pick the best wave), paddle (how to effectively paddle to catch a wave) and pop (how to stand up on the board). Surf Sister also offers lessons for intermediate and more experienced surfers, focusing on stance, style and advanced maneuvers. There are also options for those who want to enter competitive surfing.
The Surf Sister’s approach is pragmatic, supportive and encouraging, and leads to tangible results. It’s clear from their coaching style and enthusiasm that the instructors love what they do. “One of our perks is that we get professional coaching for our staff—surf coaching,” Montegomery explains. “Shannon Brown, who is an Olympic Canadian surf coach, coaches us.” Taking care of employees is an important part of the tourism industry—especially in 2021. For a place like Tofino where real estate is soaring, Surf Sister provides quality accommodation for their staff and offers perks and support (including the aforementioned coaching) and lead by example.
With a 5.4mm wetsuit and an open schedule, it is easy to be enamored with Tofino. The lush flora and fauna of a temperate rainforest drapes the two-lane road into the town, and there’s plenty of adventures to be had there. On sunny days, visitors can do everything from sea kayaking to fishing trips, whale watching, hiking and bear watching. Just make sure to save the rainy days for the beach.
Images courtesy of Surf Sister