THE WINDSWEPT VILLAGE of Tofino, on the west coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, is no beach-blanket paradise. For much of the year, storms spin out of the Gulf of Alaska, dumping 128 inches of rain annually, and even the quickest of dips in the 45- to 60-degree waters demands the full neoprene deal: a thick wetsuit with booties, and often gloves and a hood.
In other words, it's the perfect spot for Canada's first permanent surf camp. "There's an energy I feel on this coast," says Dean Montgomery, 28. "Everything here exists on a grand scale—huge mountains, towering trees, and big surf." Along with his girlfriend, Jenn Smith, Montgomery scraped together $150,000 and bought five acres of untamed rainforest. Shrugging off the resident black bear, in April the pair built three spartan bunkhouses, a volleyball court, and a clutch of gravel tent pads. Presto: The Inner Rhythm Surf Camp was born, a new emblem of the nascent Canadian surf scene.
The digs may be rustic, but no one comes for the room service. Beginning in October, North Pacific monsoons slam 20-foot swells into Tofino's beaches.Then there's the solitude. "We've got 16 miles of beach break," says Montgomery. "Guys in Southern California would laugh if they saw what we consider crowded." While as many as 80 surfers jockey for position at decent Orange County breaks, you won't see more than a dozen at Tofino on a busy weekend.
Then again, news travels fast. Tofino outfitter Surf Sisters expects to sign up more than 500 gals for its female-only surf classes by year-end, and Summer Surf Jam, the nation's first pro surf competition, was held at Tofino's Cox Bay in July. Montgomery hopes to bring 600 clients out beyond the breaks in Inner Rhythm's first year (a four-hour course runs about $40; 250-726-2211; www.innerrhythm.net). But the locals are pretty sure the heavy weather will keep the mobs at bay. "When it's sleeting, you gotta be pretty keen to be out there," says Leverne Duckmanton, 51, who has been riding off Vancouver Island for 30 years. "We'll always have plenty of wave."