I’ve surfed with dolphins in San Diego and had an eagle soar just meters from my head at Long Beach, but the closest encounter I’ve ever had with sizable surf wildlife came the first day back at Wickaninnish Beach. I was on dinged up board I borrowed from my friend Antonio to take advantage of my days off, while looking for a new board to buy.
Long Beach looked like garbage that day for some reason — just too fickle and all over the place. It seems like there’s gonna be a wave but it just never stands up. I’d hit up Florencia once since Parks Canada finished its roadwork (spawning an “I survived the Wick road closure of 2016” sticker from a fellow radio producer), but I was saving my return to the beach at the end of the winding route near the junction for a special day.
What I love about Wickaninnish is how no matter how grimy and lowbrow the rest of the Tuff City-Ukee corridor gets, this beach always seems to have a faded out pastel sheen. Maybe it’s just the days I’ve been there, but I don’t know. I think it has to do with how the mists interact with the land mass differently then at, say, Chesterman or Cox.
The surf was small and concentrated in two main peaks, a smaller one near the trailhead of the first parking lot, and a larger one down by the dunes. There was a wave, and it was setting up quite nicely. You get this small flutter inside when that happens, you know, that little push you need to achieve excitement to go through the motions of putting on your wetsuit and bursting into the liquid.
Wick’s cool, because you get the sense you’re tapping into more of the Ucluelet energy than the typical Tofino tourist scene. Plus, it could be total garbage out and people from the more southern community would still be stoked to paddle out, just happy there’s a more local beach they can call their own. There was a lot of waiting for decent sets on this day, but they came. And it thrilled the surfers — including one who was wearing a cast.
Small waves are the best because you don’t have to work too hard to paddle out, and as long as your board has enough foam, then you’re still gettin’ the rides (or gettin’ worked by waves in a fully exceptional manner). But what took place next was beyond what I thought I had signed up for that day.
After just a few waves on the smaller break, I paddled over to the larger peak. I had only attempted to paddled into one or two decent sized rollers with nice faces when a less fat and rather sizable bit of swell seemed like it would break in my general location. I started paddling this rather heavy eight-foot log with a single fin towards the beach.
I swear I was about to catch it — I saw the curvature beneath me at the perfect angle, although it was a bit mushy still — when I caught myself. There was a surfer right in the path below: less than two metres away.
The wave moved on and as I floated down in the chaos of the whitewater and dropping frequency I realized that black mass was not a surfer at all. It was a hunk of blubber, which I took to be a seal.
And as I paddled back out he came at me. I was on the board and there was a sudden splash not three feet away. Okay, I guess it could have been a she. I literally have no idea.
Anyways this ocean mammal sunk into the depths and did a reverse dive bomb from directly below my waxed-up watercraft. It stopped just inches away from my board.
Then as suddenly as it had arrived it disappeared once again.I figured the animal was just playing, but I was on an unfamiliar board, so I figured just in case I better increase my chances of survival and at least be right among the other surfers.
I told one of the other dudes about it and he said that was, in fact, a sea lion, not a seal.
“They like to get frisky sometimes,” he said.
Yea, no kidding.