Canadian National Team Decided at Tofino Paddle Surf SUP Invitational
It poured. It howled. And, the sun even made an appearance. Through it all, 64 standup paddlers from around the world surfed their hearts out in Tofino, October 25 and 26, in the First Annual Tofino Paddle Surf SUP Invitational. In the end, three stood atop of the podium: Diane Wenzel in the women’s division, Heath Thompson in the open men and Kiel Harvey in the amateur.
With the winning results, Wenzel, Thompson and Stuart Robinson, who placed second in open men’s, all qualify for the Canadian National Team heading for the ISA World Standup Paddle and Paddleboard Championships in 2015.
“The level of surfing was amazingly high and Thompson put on an incredible and very inspiring performance for everyone at the event,” says Catherine Bruhwiler, contest organizer and silver medalist in the women’s division. “I can’t thank everyone enough—the volunteer team, co-organizers and family, all the amazing sponsors and of course, the contestants. It was an amazing weekend and we’re already planning next year's event.”
Head judge, Chris Freeman, flew in from Hawaii to help run the contest. Visiting Tofino for the first time, Freeman was blown away by the natural beauty of the area and the great people. “Tofino delivered great waves, tough competition and lots of new friends,” Freeman says. “With three divisions, the schedule would always be tight, but thanks to the hard work put in by the many volunteers, the event ran incredibly smoothly, especially for an inaugural event.”
Competitors packed the Tofino Brewery on registration night, with 28 men entered in both the open and amateur categories and eight in the women’s. Competitors aged from 14 up to 55 years old came from across Vancouver Island, B.C., and as far away as Ontario, Nova Scotia, the U.S., Czechoslovakia, Italy, and Hawaii.
On Saturday, event-goers woke to pouring rain, but clean surf at North Chesterman Beach. The rain barely let up, but despite the dreary conditions, nobody's day was dampened. “It was wet, wet, wet, but everyone managed to stay so positive and comfortable in their wetsuits or rain gear,” Bruhwiler said. “The beach was nonstop action with the heats running back-to-back all day, and there was a great contingent at the waters edge cheering everyone on.”
The event saw primarily new paddle surfers, many of whom were first-time competitors in SUP. “Most of the riders were new to competitive paddling and it was so rewarding to see them having fun in the waves,” said Freeman.
Sunny skies brought excitement on Day 2 of the Tofino Paddle Surf SUP Invitational, but unfortunately, conditions dropped and participants experienced choppy surf. As the field of competition was steadily eliminated throughout the day, conditions became progressively more challenging with strong onshore winds and building surf.
“The riders put on a great show trading rides in the head high waves with the beach crowd cheering the best moves,” said Freeman. “As the qualifier for the Canadian SUP team, the tension was high in the Open and Women's divisions, and this pushed the riders to new highs.”
In the men’s open final, Tofino Paddle Surf team rider Heath Thompson put on quite a show, outperforming the other surfers with powerful cutbacks and turns, illustrating skill from growing up on Oahu's North Shore as well as his expertise in local waters from living in Tofino in recent years. In a tightly contested women’s final, Diane Wenzel squeaked past Bruhwiler to take the win. Wenzel, a Canadian who grew up in Edmonton, runs a SUP and sailing school in Dana Point, Calif., home of the Battle of the Paddle.
When the contest wrapped up, competitors and volunteers headed to Wolf in the Fog, a local pub and restaurant—and presenting sponsor of this first annual event—where door and raffle prizes were given out. Division winners each received trophies by local Tofino artist Sol Maya, as well as an SUP board donated by sponsors. Altogether, the First Annual Tofino Paddle Surf SUP Invitational raised upwards of $1,000 for local charity, Surf’s Up. With food served family-style and live music from Parab Poet and Hip Hop Hippies, the after party raged late into the night.
“It was such a fun event in so many ways,” says Bruhwiler. “I can’t wait till next year.”