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For Laresa Czervenatis, catching her first wave at Tofino’s South Chesterman Beach was like opening her eyes for the first time.
Under the instruction of Mark Herzog, a teacher with Bruhwiler Surf School Ltd., Czervenatis recently waded waist-deep into the Pacific’s frigid waters and paddled into her first knee-high, whitewater wave.
With a sunny blue sky above and a westerly wind rippling across the water, Czervenatis popped to her feet.
“You can’t easily describe it,” said Czervenatis, a tour guide with Vancouver’s Club ESL Tours, following her first session. “It’s exhilarating.”
That exhilaration, known as “stoke,” is the natural high behind the sport of surfing, which, like an addiction, keeps drawing novice and expert surfers back to this small town on the central west coast of Vancouver Island.
Year round, rain or snow, surfers are searching for stoke at the handful of beach breaks inside the District of Tofino and Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. To serve this demand, three surf shops and four surf schools now compete for business in this town of 1,500 full-time residents.
Another surf shop and school are located 40 kilometres down the road in Ucluelet. “I feel really blessed to be able to do what I do,” said Raph Bruhwiler, the owner of Bruhwiler Surf School and one of Canada’s top professional surfers.
He said he’s seen the sport grow from nothing when he was a child to the point where he can make a living off surfing.
A surfer since the age of eight, Raph recently placed fourth in an international competition in Oregon, where surfers tackled waves as tall as 15 metres. “I’m addicted to it,” he said. “I love it. It’s very addictive. It’s a high.
“I’ll surf until I’m old and can’t walk anymore.”
Raph said he hopes to pass on his love for the sport to his students. “I just hope they leave with a stoke for surfing and a smile on their face.”
Including himself, Raph now employs four full-time and three part-time instructors. He pays for all his instructors’ life-saving certification and only hires those he knows who can surf.
Sepp Bruhwiler is Raph’s brother, the owner of Westside Surf School and also one of Canada’s top surfing pros. He likened stoke to a computer image that plays inside a surfer’s mind.
“After a while the jpeg fades out and you need a new one,” said Sepp. “It’s like an image that sits in your head. It feeds your addiction, as well.” Like his brother, Sepp said he has a passion for teaching what he’s learned and he hires instructors who are trained lifesavers and who can surf well.
Back at South Chesterman Beach, Czervenatis said surfing is a lot harder than it looks, but the three or four waves she caught were worth the effort.
A snowboard enthusiast, Czervenatis said it was tough to keep her balance. “It’s challenging,” she said.
When asked if she’d do it again, Czervenatis didn’t hesitate: “Oh, yeah.”
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For more information on Tofino’s surf schools and shops, visit: