Tofino, British Columbia, is an isolated spec of a town on the empty western edge of Vancouver Island. Two decades ago it was hardly known outside of the logging and fishing industries using the picturesque Clayoquot Sound. Yet today it's rapidly becoming a global beacon for ecotourism thanks to some unlikely Canadian creatures: surfers.
The transformation began about 15 years ago, when a small band of local surfers started making waves in international surf publications. They'd shocked the surfing world by uncovering a few perfect waves. And upon further inspection, surfing's wanderlust set realized Vancouver Island's rugged west coast had barely been scratched. Tofino became the jumping off point for surfing adventurists.
"There are literally thousands of surfers here in the summer now," says Peter Devries, Canada's biggest surf hero. "Most of them are just coming to learn how to surf. Surf camps and surf schools are big business here."
When Devries won Tofino's first international pro surfing competition a few years ago, Tofino was thrust into the national spotlight. That a local Canadian beat a global field of Australian, American, and European surfers was as shocking to Canadians as it was the rest of the world. Pete was subjected to dozens of national profiles, and a subplot to every story was the stunning scenery of Tofino and the Clayoquot Sound.
Slowly, the town once affectionately known as "Tough City" because of its rough weather and rugged breed began to cater to a new crowd interested in wilderness exploring and creature comforts. Surfers are still flocking, but they're now being joined by upscale visitors coming to sightsee, nature hike, and enjoy some spa treatments and world-class fishing. The old maritime industries are giving way to cutting-edge ecotourism.
While locals are surprised by Tofino's transformation, bustling docks and local businesses are a welcome sight. And besides, escape is always easy up here.
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