August 25, 2011 Features & Images » Feature Story

Shredding and surfing - a tale of two towns 

Whistler loves Tofino but is the feeling mutual?


When Whistler based pro snowboarder and Sandbox Helmets founder Kevin Sansalone wants to chill out - literally - he packs up his surfboard and heads for swell season on B.C.'s west coast. Sansalone started surfing seven years ago north of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico and has been regularly travelling to Tofino since 2008.

"I always thought it was going to be too cold but when I got out there and jumped in the water I was blown away at how great it was," says Sansalone. "Wetsuits are so good these days so you don't feel the cold water too much. I mostly go out from the spring until the fall so the air temp isn't too harsh."

Sansalone loves the simplicity that surfing offers, unlike snowboarding and filming around Whistler where the veteran video producer is often travelling with a posse of snowmobile-propelled cameramen and pro riders. Alas, surfing is purely a recreational pursuit for Sansalone.

"It is by far the most difficult board sport and I am still at the bottom of that very long learning curve," he says. "When I have a bad day in the water it does get a little frustrating and I sometimes wonder what the heck am I doing out there."

But just as Whistler is more than just riding powder, Tofino is more than sand and surf. And while the locals may be quick to point out the differences in both towns, the two may have more in common than first meets the eye.

Sansalone says of Tofino: "The town is amazing, for sure. It's a lot like Whistler in many ways. Both places have a great core scene of riders who are friendly and support each other. We are all living and working in these towns and are fully absorbed in the atmosphere and activities that we love to do. That vibe is shared by people in both places."

On the other hand ...

Head into the Long Beach Surf Shop and you'll find bumper stickers with the slogan: "Whistler is THAT way" - with "the way" being shown by an extended middle finger.

While a lot of Whistlerites are enamoured with Tofino, many Tofitians view Whistler with a mixture of bemusement, or even horror. In the same way that "Disneyfication" is tossed around by various critics of Whistler who bemoan its reliance on chain stores and summer crowds, "Whistlerization" is used by Tofino locals to most definitely describe what they do not want their town to become.

Tofino's past bears a strong resemblance to Whistler's, especially during the 1960s with the influx of American draft dodgers and back-to-the-landers who were simultaneously attracted to Clayoquot Sound's natural beauty and its end-of-the-road freedom. Like Whistler, an RCMP presence was spotty at best back then and the west coast of the Island became a vital link in the narcotics trade.

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