Depending on your choice of locale, surfing can sometimes require taking your life into your hands. Crushing walls of whitewater, clueless surfers, hidden reefs and swarming sharks - the list goes on. In our Surf Hazard series, we'll give you a heads up to the dangers and best ways to avoid them. First up, one of the sea's most venemous creatures (for which there is no anti-venom): the blue-ringed octopus.
The dark brown octopus develops glowing blue rings when provoked.
The most immediate result of a blue-ringed octopus bite is complete paralysis that shuts down the respiratory system - not the best time to be in the water. For a victim to survive, CPR must be adminstered until they are transported to a hospital, which is easier said that done since it's impossible to tell if the victim is responding. While senses are still functioning, one can't communicate or signal that they're still alive. Most deaths are caused solely by paralysis, so if the victim reaches the hospital, chances for survival are much improved.
The blue-ringed octopus only measures 5 to 8 inches but stores enough venom to kill 26 humans.
Where to Find: In the coral reefs and tide pools of the Pacific and Indian oceans, concentrated mostly around South Australia and New South Wales.
What to Do: Avoid at all costs; administer CPR to victims until they reach the nearest hospital.
Overlooking Tofino's Chesterman Beach, one of North America's best spots for learning to surf.
The first Surf Nomad to necessitate a wetsuit, Tofino, British Columbia is worth the extra layer of neoprene. A former fur trading and logging outpost, the town occupies a breaktaking location surrounded by water at the very end of the Trans-Canada Highway. Its laid-back, sporty population rolls out the welcome mat for surfers from across the globe. Legend has it that the area's widespread surf culture began in the 60s as hippies and Vietnam draft dodgers drifted as far west as they could, ending up in Tofino.
Massive tidal swells flatten area beaches to create beginner-friendly swells as well as much more serious surf, all set against a lush background of temperate rainforest and ancient cedar trees. The price you pay for surfing amidst such stunning scenery? Water temperatures that vary from between 44 to 59 degrees Fahrenheit. Thanks to its marine climate, however, Tofino escapes the threat of major snow even in the dead of winter.
Sunset surfers at Chesterman Beach.
Winter brings storms and much larger swells.
Start out at Chesterman Beach, which is rated one of the best breaks for novice surfers in North America. Conditions here are eased by Frank Island, which deflects the massive Pacific swells to ensure that this sheltered beach routinely enjoys ideal surf (eith the exception of winter storms). Another popular destination is Long Beach, where the stretch of sand is long enough to give you a claim to entire sections of the beach for yourself. Expert surfers can head over to the area's "wave magnet," Cox Beach, where powerful, hollow waves pound the shore. For some help getting your sea legs back, countless surf schools and shops fill the town and will outfit you with everything necessary. Pacific Surf School has a great reputation and offers a comprehensive program, with three-hour lessons costing $75.
You'll be able to keep an eye on conditions at Chesterman Beach from any one of the 75 rooms at the stylish and well-appointed Wickaninnish Inn. The inn features a gym, library, two complimentary SUVs and direct beach access among its many amenities. Jane Ince, PR manager for the inn, will point you towards local favorite Wildside Grill for a Tofino style restaurant featuring freshly-caught fish grilled and served on outdoor picnic tables. Nearby, Shelter restaurant also offers locall-harvested seafood with a heated outdoor patio overlooking the water. Plenty of bars and a rollicking karaoke scene in town should provide you with lively post-dinner entertainment.
Arriving at Wickaninnish Inn, surfboards in tow.
When you're ready to take a break from the waves, don't miss one of Tofino's most iconic experiences: whale watching combined with a visit to Hot Spring Cove. The famed hot springs are only accessible via plane or boat. A boat charter will tour the area in search of humpback and orca whales, which congregate here from March until June, along with sea lions, seals and sea otters on your way to the natural springs. When you finally arrive, toss your wetsuit aside, the water temperature here is a balmy 122 degrees.
A humpback whale breaches in the waters off of Tofino.
Pacific Surf School
Where to Stay:
Rates begin at $300 per night and increase during prime summer season
Long Beach Resort
Rates begin at $200 per night
When to Go:
Winter brings huge swells and even colder water temperatures; if you're into extreme surfing, this is your time. March - May marks prime season for whale spotting, and the summer months offer warm weather and ideal surf conditions.
How to Get Here:
To reach Tofino, you'll need to fly into Vancouver International. From here, you can either drive to Tofino, which is a 6 hour trip (including a ferry ride to Vancouver Island) or book a direct flight, which cuts travel time to 45 minutes. Nonstop flights from New York begin at roughly $700 for travel dates in March. Direct flights to Tofino from Vancouver start at $150 each way.
A storied fishing locale, Cabo Blanco is named for the color of the adjacent mountain ranges. During the heydey of the Cabo Blanco Fishing Club in the 50s and 60s, the spot was renowned for its marlin fishing scene. Ernest Hemingway once caught a 700 pound marlin here during the filming of "Old Man and the Sea." Attention later shifted to its world-class break in the 1970s, as the hollow, powerful left became known as the "Peruvian Pipeline" and gained a reputation as the best left barrel in the Americas.
The lineup at Cabo Blanco. Crowds swarm to this spot when the wave is firing.
A surfer arcs across a wave at Cabo Blanco with one of the area's many oil rigs in the background.
This barrel has earned Cabo Blanco's break its "Peruvian Pipeline" title.
Area fishing boats anchored at Cabo Blanco on a calm day.