Advice for catching the best waves in Tofino:

Looming at the far Pacific edge of Vancouver Island, the wild swath of beaches and coastal forests dotted with cedars surrounding Tofino are a veritable surfer’s nirvana that attract wave riders from across the globe. Renowned as Canada’s surfing capital, Tofino’s location within the open swell window facing full-on into the North Pacific Ocean’s dynamic storm patterns yields countless world-class waves sweeping down its raw, rugged coastline.

With eight prime surf breaks to pursuit within twelve miles, the challenge for many visitors is figuring out the optimal conditions for each spot given fickle surf seasons, swell directions and shifting sandbars that can make or break a session. Surfers flock to Florencia Beach, Wickaninnish, Cox Bay and Chesterman Beach during peak storm cycles and summer swells, while other renowned waves at Long Beach, Incinerator Rock and further south at Pacific Rim National Park offer additional options when conditions align.

Careful study of regional tidal patterns, swell correlations and predominant weather patterns, augmented by decades of logged observations by resident veterans, offer key insights for chasing the best waves the Tofino area has to offer.

Tofino Beaches


Just shy of the beaches neighboring Pacific Rim National Park lies mystical Cox Bay, celebrated by locals as one of the longest rides in the region when conditions align. Premier swells sweep in from the W-SW around 250 degrees refracting off outlying Son Bird Islands, drawing surfers during overhead 6-10 ft swell cycles at 13 to 22 second intervals on the descending afternoon tidal push after 1 pm.

“Cox Bay turns on most brilliantly on a lower tide between 3-5 ft with a moderate SSW windswell in the 8-10 foot range at 15 seconds” notes Bennett. “The left can run a dreamy 400 yards down the point towards the creek mouth when the sand bars and rips sync up right, effortless speed and open walls.”

October and November see more frequent ideal alignments as the first winter swells come from a favorable angle. On smaller days in the shoulder season, the protected sandy-bottom cove also offers one of the warmest breaks to pull on a wetsuit in the 3mm range, unlike the frigid Pacific waters plaguing most other regional breaks.


Arguably the most popular and high performance wave in the Tofino area, South Chesterman Beach hosts a premier reef and point break churning out thick, hollow barrels and steep walls breaking both left and right. Located due west of town adjacent the Tofino airport, it draws surfers from around the world to its powerful peaks that churn on swells arriving 220-250 degrees from multiple storm tracks across the sea.

A magnet for advanced short boarders and savvy long boarders, veteran local pro surfers like Pete Devries and his brother Dan have long carved their legacy into these calculated walls that demand experience navigating shifty peaks, strong rips and a shallow, unforgiving reef lurking below the surface.

Devries tips, “The optimal season for South Chesterman really runs from September through May as the Northwest storms kick in. The most rippable swell sizes range from about 6-8 feet at 15 seconds on up to 12 foot faces during more intense storms. The interval is key, you want a steady pulse around 15 seconds to shape the wave best without too long a flat spell between sets that cools your wetsuit off.”

He advises surfers to target the mid-rising tide window from 3-5 feet up to the daily high between 10am to 2pm when swell angles running 220-250 degrees light up Chesterman Reef most brilliantly in front of the beach. Exercise caution however, as the shallow reef can become extremely dangerous above 8 feet – inadvisable for all but the most seasoned chargers like Devries.


Straddling over a mile of pristine sandy shore due west of downtown Tofino, Chesterman Beach shifts dramatically from one end to the other, requiring an adaptive approach to find each day’s peak zone as bars and channels morph. North Chesterman’s long mellow left point break unfurls better at mid to higher tides, favoring a short to mid length groveler board around 7 feet or a nimble high performance longboard to best enjoy its friendly glassy walls unfurling for 200 yards down the beach.

Local shop owner Bennett suggests the optimal swell window ranges from knee-high playful peelers up to overhead sets in the 5-7 foot range at a moderately long 16-18 second interval for the North Chesterman lefts to stand up and traverse the sand shelves cleanly. Less steep and hollow than its southern reef break counterpart, North Chesterman still offers fun walls for all levels to progress and refine their style at a more forgiving wave when the angle aligns within a 240-270 degree NW-WNW fetch.

She notes the tide plays an instrumental role, with the best lefts peeling down the point arising 2-3 hours before and after the daily high tide between 9am-3pm. Seek these user-friendly playful walls on mid-range rising tide dates during new and full moon cycles for maximum push.


Stretching over ten miles within the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve north from Ucluelet to Grice Bay, stunning Long Beach and its notorious surf break Incinerator Rock gathers swell energy arriving from a due westerly direction straight off the Pacific, making it optimal during intense winter storms.

Venerated Tofino surf pioneer Joe Martin, who began surfing the area in 1971, tips “Long Beach can turn on rare epic days when a extreme low pressure system tracks northeastward well offshore towards Haida Gwaii, sending perfect swell alignment steaming onto our shores – maybe 4-5 times a year.” He notes these storm cycles spawn mammoth 15-20 ft swell arriving 270-290 degrees that wraps into the rocky left point break Incinerator Rock at Wolf Creek.

Martin continues, “These big wave days only happen a half dozen days out of the year – when it’s firing on all cylinders with heavy 25 foot faces it’s one of the best big wave surf spots in North America… if you can handle the bone chilling cold Pacific and ever-present risk.” He stresses wetsuits over 7mm and ample safety support are essential to challenge the mighty break that’s notorious among surfers.


Lying just north of Long Beach past Florencia in Pacific Rim National Park, Wickaninnish Beach may receive less hype than Tofino’s primary breaks but offers a dazzling canvas of beach breaks and secret point break opportunities for those willing to trespass beyond Awaya Surf Shop’s private access signposts.

A remote choice best suited for knowledgeable surfers who respect First Nations ecological values, Wickaninnish comes alive a few times a season when an intense NW Pacific storm track sends swell directly ashore between 280-310 degrees. Local legends Jeremiah Hermann and Gary Young have scored epic session there amid 15-20 foot walls exploding over an unforgiving rocky reef along the beach.

Hermann suggests winter days with over 10 feet of swell energy at 14-16 second intervals, a mid rising tide stage up to 6 feet, and light easterly offshore breezes make for the prime Wickaninnish recipe when the direction aligns – though very few ever witness it at its full fury. Treat any journey there with utmost care and cultural sensitivity.

In Aggregate over 40 miles of raw, exposed beaches from Florencia south to Long Beach service Tofino’s surf starved sojourners in search of untamed waves thrust upon Vancouver Island’s wild shores by North Pacific storms. By studying swell patterns, tapping local knowledge and mastering rip currents, the reward can be scoring a perfect day in surfing paradise. Just be ready to handle whatever raw fury the Pacific Ocean chooses to unleash upon you here at the edge of the continent where the next swell is always building just over the horizon.

Best beach for storm waves


About 12 minutes drive from Ucluelet, the north part of Florencia Beach is a popular location that refracts and grooms swell arriving from multiple angles into premium peaks.

According to Surf Sister Surf Shop owner Alicia Bennett, a standout local wave guru and instructor with twenty years invested scouring the Tofino surf scape, “Florencia is an A-frame, left point break that really turns on with a nice south or westerly wind swell pushing in at a moderate 6-8 feet at 14 to 17 seconds intervals on a mid rising tide of 6-8 ft.” She adds that longer interval groundswells over 17 seconds running larger than 8 ft have a tendency to close out, while shorter period wind swells around 11 seconds may not wrap coherently around the point.

Renowned as one of the most consistent breaks in the area during peak storm cycles, Florencia lights up several hours either side of the daily midday high tide mark from October through April. Regional low pressure systems churning down from the Gulf of Alaska spawn riders to its consistent peaks. Surfers flock when plentiful storms marching an optimal 260 degree southwesterly trajectory send pulse after pulse of vigorous swell towards Vancouver Island’s wild Pacific shores.