Wild wild country

Chris Peel
Swellnet Dispatch

Words and photos by Chris Peel

When someone say to you, 'lets go on a surf trip' the first thing that comes to mind for most of us is perfect waves, warm water, offshore wind, and no crowds. For a small percentage of surfers it's the total opposite - well, minus the crowds bit.

Last week, a storm in the North Pacific caused a core group of surfers on Vancouver Island to speculate about a wave in their 'hood that doesn’t do it’s thing all that often. A small window of opportunity had cracked open and decisions had to be made.

Vancouver Island is home to a bunch of good waves and very protective locals. Scoring those waves is much harder than just rolling up with a surfboard under your arm. You need a lifetime of experience to understand the lay of the land and the radical movement of tides. And if you think you can just show up to these hard won locations and paddle out...well, you best think again.

If you've ever looked into the Tofino surf scene you'd know the name Bruhwiler. The Bruhwiler brothers, Sepp and Raph, plus their sister Cath, are responsible for putting Canada on the map in terms of professional surfing.

Understandably I was pretty stoked to get a Tuesday afternoon text from Sepp. 'Tomorrow is on', it read, 'Meet at the dock at 5am’.

Dockside the following morning, Sepp and his boat ‘The Best Day Ever’ (best name ever!) were waiting under the cover of early morning fog that makes boat exploration such a mission. A couple hours navigating in virtually zero visibility and the fog finally lifted giving us the first glimpse of our reef.

The waves were fun. Not as big as we hoped, but fun no less. Everyone made the most of what it was and came in stoked. It didn’t matter that it wasn't pumping, everyone was still buzzed on the setting. I think for these guys it's almost like the old Jeremy Jones quote: The journey is the reward. Maybe someone else said that first, Buddha or Steve Jobs or Kelly Slater, but I'll credit it to the big mountain snowboarder.

Every surf that these guys go on is a well-planned mission, and it has to be, because something as small as a wet wetsuit means missing out. It's not like you just need a board and trunks and you're good to go. Uh-uh, there's a whole list of things that you need to tick off just to surf, let alone score.

They really earn their waves up here, and I think that's why they love it so much. Each surf trip is truly an adventure where you never know what could happen. Yeah, by the end of the trip your clothes stink of fire, you’ve eaten more canned food than a prepper in his survival bunker, everything is wet, while a warm bed is all you can think of. But then you get home, have a shower and a good nights sleep, then before you know it you're watching the weather charts looking to do it all over again!

Swellnet will be on the ground all Canadian summer, so hopefully we can bring you more glimpses into this fascinating surf zone and the people who have pioneered it.


A campfire is a must on these trips. It dries your wetsuit, warms your food, and hopefully keeps the bears away.

Brian Kenny on a low tide drainer.

Four guys out? Look again. Old mate is just making sure everything is in order. 

Sepp Bruhwiler driving hard off the bottom.

Stepping off the edge of the world.

Sepp swings the axe in big timber country

Kalum Bruhwiler is Sepp and Raph’s nephew. His group is the next generation of surfers up here, yet they still get last dibs in the lineup - for now.

Sepp throwing the fins to the beach with that beautiful Canadian backdrop.

Another well known surfer from Tofino, Pete Devries.

Noah Cohen, another surfer from Tofino going all out in the shallow section. If the rocks don’t get you the bull kelp will.

Andy Jones twisting through a backside pit on a stubby twin fin.


dewhurst's picture
dewhurst's picture
dewhurst commented Tuesday, 12 Jun 2018 at 4:00pm

Yew! I'll be there in two months, not expecting any boat trips though.

thermalben's picture
thermalben's picture
thermalben commented Tuesday, 12 Jun 2018 at 5:26pm

That's the most un-Canadian weather I think I've ever seen in a surfing gallery. Would love to get back to VI one day.. amazing place. 

neville-beats-buddha's picture
neville-beats-buddha's picture
neville-beats-buddha commented Tuesday, 12 Jun 2018 at 6:31pm

Never been to Tofino (probably not likely to go either as the warm water caveat applies to me) but how's all the coast north of there when you scope Google Earth? Be radical scouting all that coast under a big swell and they're mostly islands too so it's water access only. Last frontier shit.

chook's picture
chook's picture
chook commented Tuesday, 12 Jun 2018 at 7:23pm

great shots. very nice looking waves.
you certainly have to be hardy to indulge your passion for surfing on vancouver island. wind and rain like i've never seen before...i stopped the car to pick up someone standing next to the road because the weather was so bad i thought it was a life or death situation and i couldn't morally drive past... they were just hitching home after basketball.

i'm heading off to vancouver in three weeks. spending the rest of the year in canada.
i'm not taking a board. i've been to vancouver island a couple of times...way too cold.
i'm going to play to the canadian strengths -- paddling a canoe into a wilderness of endless lakes.

radiationrules's picture
radiationrules's picture
radiationrules commented Wednesday, 13 Jun 2018 at 11:16am

Hi Chris > I just love this story; every aspect - especially the frontier nature of what you and the crew are doing - waves just a part of it all - but clearly all surfers are highly competent at their lines too. More please. > RR

Chris Peel's picture
Chris Peel's picture
Chris Peel commented Thursday, 14 Jun 2018 at 6:36am

Hi RR,
Thanks a bunch. Stoked your into it. More coming soon.


shoredump's picture
shoredump's picture
shoredump commented Thursday, 14 Jun 2018 at 7:10am

This is why I need to win lotto

chook's picture
chook's picture
chook commented Wednesday, 4 Jul 2018 at 9:49am

Just arrived in BC.
Water is a little chilly. But think I might get in contact with the international brotherhood of kneelos and borrow a board.

But for now I have a big legal joint to enjoy. $5 over the counter!

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet commented Wednesday, 4 Jul 2018 at 10:00am

Wondering if it's as much fun when it's legal?

Call it research, Chook.

spuddyjack's picture
spuddyjack's picture
spuddyjack commented Wednesday, 4 Jul 2018 at 10:19am

Nice story Chris . . . these are serious crew. How about a follow-up interview on the the Bruhwiler family - Sepp, Raph and Cath with their thoughts on contemporary Canadian surfing and their take and tips on dealing with harsh weather conditions?

Stay salty