Once and future queens: When women surfers rip gnarly swells, Tofino bursts with pride

Photo sourced from Queen of the Peak website

The surfers paddled out to face the swells.  Said Cath Bruhwiler, “it was pretty full-on. It was really difficult, a lot of paddling. The waves were beautiful, almost as good as it gets. Too bad for the wind, the chop on the wave was about a foot high, which made it really difficult to do turning and stuff like that.”

photo Kyler Vos courtesy of Tourism Tofino

Watching the experienced surfers catch pounding waves, turning on them and occasionally wiping out, was awe inspiring. "I knew that it was kind of close and that I needed another wave to take me all the way to the beach,” said Cath. I bid my time. I thought I can’t get another big one, I need a smaller one that I can have more control over, it was crazy…it was too hard to surf and they were too bumpy, a saw a little one and I got it and rode it all the way in."

Cath’s patience paid off and she won the shortboard category for the first time after being a finalist for four years running. “I feel really excited because I feel like this year, more than any other year, the level was like out of control. People were absolutely ripping out there. I think the most amazing thing for me though is, I’m 37 years old. I have 2 kids they’re teenagers, you know, I own a business. These girls were like to my knees- 22, 23, I just almost can’t believe it. I’m so excited.”

October in Tofino, is when the big swells return to the Pacific Coast, and when Tofino’s female surfers hit the waves for the Queen of the Peak women’s surfing championships. In its fourth year, the Queen of the Peak is the largest women’s surfing competition in Canada or the Pacific Northwest.

photo Kyler Vos courtesy of Tourism Tofino

Created by Krissy Montgomery, owner and operator of the Surf Sister surf school and Mike Jacobson, manager of Shelter Restaurant, the QoP gives Canadian and West Coast female surfers a place to show their moves.

For the first time this year, the contest had a director in veteran Australian surfer Shannon Brown. Of women surfers in Tofino, he says, “Every day of the week when you go surfing, the girls out number the guys. Number one, you don’t see that in too many places and for the most part, the girls surf better than the guys. The girls are awesome surfers.”

At the 2013 Queen of the Peak on October 5th and 6th, almost 100 of these awesome surfers rode the waves to compete in the surf championships. The contest included Shortboard and Longboard categories and a Princess of the Peak exhibition and competition for girls, 12 and under.

Queen of the Peak Competition-Day one

The first day of competition at Cox Bay kicked off under overcast skies. The beach was dotted with groups of supporters in their Tofino uniform of rubber boots and rain gear. Surfers wearing neoprene with tangles of wet hair resembling the masses of bull kelp strewn about the beach, wove their way through the spectators to carry their boards to the water and back.

photo Kyler Vos courtesy of Tourism Tofino

A record 48 women were entered in the short board category and most of the first day of competition was spent in preliminary heats four finalists. 

Photo courtesy of Anja Konjicanin

Huddled against the grassy bluff were a number of tents. The judges’ tent was set up at the top of the bluff at the same height as the waves. The judges, all male professional surfers, sat in folding chairs at a table surveying the surfing heats. Mike Jacobsen stood on a rock with a bullhorn signaling the beginning and end of the 20 minute heats. At the blow of the horn surfers paddled out and started catching waves to show their stuff. Each of the four surfers per heat wore different coloured jerseys over their wetsuits.

 photo Janel Johnson

The other tents on the beach included the Wickaninnish Inn’s Ancient Cedars Spa tent which provided free massages to all competitors. A local chiropractor was also set up on the beach to do adjustments for surfers. One tent sold event tee-shirts, hoodies and bikinis but other than a few Billabong banners demarcating the competition boundaries, the event was non-corporate. The Cox Bay Beach Resort provided space for child-minding.

photo Kyler Vos courtesy of Tourism Tofino

Crowning the Queens-The finals

Day two of the competition took place under sunny skies. The contest director, Shannon Brown, agonized over which site would be best for the second day of competition. He’d been tracking the weather for months so he’d be able to make the best decision on the day.

He decided to return to Cox Bay even though the swells were likely to get very big by late afternoon when the longboard and shortboard finals would be held.

In the end, Brown’s research won the day. “I couldn’t have asked for anything more,” he said. “They were probably the best waves I’ve seen at any event in Canada by far.”

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