Passion, while sometimes tough to harness, or control when it overwhelms us, is something we all need, whether we acknowledge it or not. It doesn't matter if it's shooting marbles, if holding a cat's eye between your fingers tweaks the pulse, than that's it. That's what we're after.
And that's where I find myself now. Chasing it in the middle of nowhere, with an eclectic group after the same damn thing. People bonded by the commonality of going after it, to the ends of this grand Earth in search of that which ignites our souls. In this case, it is waves.
When Sean Poynter, Rob Zaleski, Stuart Robinson and I throw our drybags on to the 18-foot Zodiac in Tofino, a tiny surf town on Vancouver Island's wild west coast, the rain pelts our drysuits. The pine forest reaches down to the water's edge everywhere you look. The clouds are low and a slight fog curls around the green shrubbery, enveloping the place in a moody swirl of mist and nerves and overwrought foreshadowing.
Only hours earlier we were cruising in the rental car along the Vancouver Island highways, caught up in the mountain scenery and goodness, wondering why in the hell we were so lucky. But then we reminded ourselves: we're chasing it, setting ourselves up to score, like you have to with everything you love. You may not always get the goods, but the more you put yourself in position, the luckier you become.
In a few hours, Allan Gornall and Maris MacDonald—our volunteer guides for the week—will boat up in the dark of night to the tiny island cabin we're staying in for the week carrying Zane and Matty Schweitzer and our group will be complete. The cozy base camp will serve as ground zero as we scour the coastline for hidden breaks, warming ourselves near the fire and eating the best food we've eaten in weeks, cooked artistically by Maris.
Sean makes a smooth, full rail turn on the only open face we've seen and then gets caught inside. Stu catches a big left down the coast and rides it all the way in. Twenty minutes later they call it good, crawling onto the beach in surrender. When Zane reaches the sand he lies on his back in the howling wind, exhausted. "That was miserable," he sighs, spitting sand out of his mouth.
When Sean comes in he stands there for a moment in the wind looking out at the ocean. "Totally frustrating," he says. "There wasn't much to work with." It's as if Mother Earth is giving us a little spanking.
A bit dejected, we trudge back down the trail to meet Maris, who's waxing gourmet over an open fire in the cove. Shrimp and veggies. We all dig in and enjoy the windless sunshine. Eating good food in this place makes up for the beating the boys just took.
While our days are filled with serious exploration, the nights are all about new friends, good food, and good music. Maris slaves in the kitchen and we gather near him, sitting on stools around the wood island, drinking beer and talking life. With some nudging, the humble Maris talks about going to architecture school in Vancouver, how he and his family built this cabin from the ground up and that they've been coming here for years. Allan is stoked to be a new dad, and explains passionately how dedicated one has to be to surf in British Columbia. Allan and Stu are from nearby Cofax, where Stu and his family have run a sailing club for years. Stu and his brother now operate the family business and focus on getting kids on the water.
After dinner, Maris busts out his fiddle and I grab the guitar and we jam for the small crowd. When Elena belts out a beautiful tune she wrote, Zane is pumped, "That was sick," he says.
I take a second to look around the room. Everyone gathered near the cozy fire comes from different places, different backgrounds, but we groove like family. Matty and Zane (who actually are family) give each other shit and talk about their long trip here from the Middle East (they flew straight through from an event in Abu Dhabi). Sean—one of the sport's most gifted surfers—loves to talk about his sister, an equally gifted musician. I can't help but admire the humility of it all.
Motoring up and down the Vancouver Island coastline, deer and elk dot the shoreline and the wildlife is everywhere. Maris and Allan had mentioned hot springs that morning and we don't let them forget about it on the return trip. Just before we reach the springs, a small brown dot appears on a rock outcropping ahead of us. We pull in for a closer look and the small dot turns into a large Canadian wolf, pilfering the shoreline for mussels and crabs. He puts on a show for us, flipping crabs in the air playfully.
Following the wolf show, we motor into another cove and hike up a rocky cliff to the hot springs where we see other humans for the first time in five days. The hot water soothes our tired muscles and we soak in the heat, crawling up and down the pools of the hot springs which empties from deep in the Earth into a granite gorge that rises up above us, filtering out to the ocean. Eventually, we have to pull our drysuits back on to continue the boat trip home.
Zane Schweitzer doesn't like the cold. Here, he is generating his own heat.
Familiar move, unfamiliar place. Sean Poynter, getting comfortable in new surroundings.