Once and future queens: When women surfers rip gnarly swells, Tofino bursts with pride
By the afternoon when time longboard finalists, Leah Oke, Kate Prothero, Nina Waltl and Lauren Aikins paddled out, the waves were getting pretty gnarly.
photo Janel Johnson
Leah Oke from Port Renfrew had a vocal cheering section of friends on the beach with brightly coloured signs. Said Leah, “there were a couple moments that were really fun for me, I hit the lip really hard and it was a crucial landing and I was kind of stuck in the foam for a minute but I came out of it. It’s awesome to do stuff like that especially on a longboard- they’re hard to handle, it’s like driving a boat.”
Leah went on to win the longboard competition despite the fact she’s a shortboarder. “I’m not a longboarder but when you understand the waves, you understand what’s going on in the water, you know where you have to hit the waves and that’s what really comes into it.”
The shortboard finals were the last event of the competition and the waves were getting pretty fierce. The finalists were Cath Bruhwiler, veteran Tofino surfer and owner of a Paddleboarding company, Leah Oke from Port Renfrew who won the longboarding event and spends part of the year in Panama, Tamarah Stephens local Tofitian who grew up surfing in Mexico, and Sarah Taylor from California and last year’s winner. Though Cath Bruhwiler prevailed, the competition was very close, as all the surfers caught the big waves and thrilled the crowd with their great surfing.
Princess of the Peak
Besides surfing and dogs, the other constant of life in Tofino is small children, they’re everywhere. The 2013 QoP saw 25 girls between the ages of 5 and 12 surfing in the Princess of the Peak Exhibition on Saturday. Seeing so many little girls laughing and splashing in the water and surfing really well, was definitely a paradigm-shifter for many people.
photo Kyler Vos courtesy of Tourism Tofino
Said shortboard champion Cath Bruwiler, “I inspire them, they inspire me- we surf together. In terms of the kids who’re up and coming, the little girls in this town are absolutely amazing. They’ll put their wetsuits on and stay in them for 6 hours and surf and surf.”
Twelve girls competed in the finals. Ten-year-old Matea Olin distinguished herself by paddling out with a family friend past the huge breakers and the women competing in the shortboard finals, to catch the big swells and surf then confidently to shore to win the Princess of the Peak.
Surfing the big waves, said Matea, felt, “scary and energetic.”
photo Janel Johnson
Krissy Montgomery, surf school owner said watching the little girls surf gave her goosebumps and was the highlight of the event. Of Matea, she said, “not only did she paddle out but she caught those bombs. And she didn’t just hold on, she did turns. It’s remarkable, I can’t wait to watch that girl grow up in this town cause I really think she’ll be our first sponsored girl.”
Once and Future Queens
On Sunday evening, all Queen of the Peak competitors, organizers, family and friends gathered at Shelter Restaurant in Tofino for the gala awards ceremony. The place was packed to overflowing and the vibe was ecstatic with the competitors spraying each other with champagne.
Said Krissy, “I really think this was our most successful year, just measured by how quality the contest was and just the things that happened, the winners, it was just a dream come true.”
And Tofitians weren't the only ones paying attention Almost immediately after the championships wrapped up, the Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP) contacted the event's organizers about playing a larger role in a professionally sanctioned women's surf competition in Tofino in 2014.
Women’s surfing in Tofino looks poised to gain a new level of respect and while attracting more attention and tourist dollars to the area.
Says Mayor Josie Osborne, “to me, Queen of the Peak is the West Coast's pinnacle surfing event and it represents the very best of Tofino - incredible beaches and surf, warm and friendly residents who welcome visitors, and a proud community that celebrates the excellence of its own girls and women in surfing. It's also full of Tofino's small town character as a family-oriented event with very little commercialization.”
Photo of Samantha Fyleris from Tourism Tofino (left) and Mayor Josie Osborne courtesy of Anja Konjicanin
Whether future women’s surf competitions in Tofino can continue to resist commercialization remains to be seen. But the future of women’s surfing in Tofino is only getting brighter. Says Shannon Brown, “surfing’s pretty fresh here. Most of the people surfing are between the ages of 20 and 40 and the girls are really gung-ho. They want to get out there and just rip it up. They watch and analyze things and take the time to learn. And just the sheer numbers of them, it was only a matter of time before so many of them got good.“
And according to 10 year-old Princess of the Peak, Matea Olin, the best reason for girls and women to participate in surfing is because: “it’s fun.”