As Canadians, we often struggle to define our national identity. We are challenged to identify what it is that unites us or what we should be known for. When pushed, we will highlight our diversity, our humility and our love for the outdoors. This past weekend, we travelled from Ontario to British Columbia and were reminded of just how much this country has to offer.
Late last year, a surf competition in Kincardine, Ontario on Lake Huron – yes LAKE Huron – earned three Great Lake surfers the opportunity to compete in the Rip Curl Pro Tofino. In its ninth year, the competition is the foremost surf competition in Canada serving not only as a major stop on the Rip Curl Pro Circuit, but also our National Championship. We at Surf the Greats joined João Pedro Belfort, Aurélien Bouché-Pillon, and Pablo Bonilla in a transcontinental journey to document the experience and represent the growing stoke that is building on the Great Lakes.
The Rip Curl Pro Tofino, formerly the Rip Curl Stew, is renowned for striking that balance between a local organic event and a professional surf competition. The hospitality of the local organizers was on full display from the outset with a warm welcome to us, their eastern cousins. The weather was unseasonable — blessing us with warm weather and clear skies — two things for which Tofino is less well-known. The surfing conditions held steady throughout most of the competition, and the competitors certainly made the most of the waves.
Six-time winner and National Champion Pete Devries was in tough with strong competition, in the form of Noah Wegrich and Dane Anderson who made the trip from Northern California. A recent knee injury and subsequent surgery led to the late withdrawal of the dynamic talent of Noah Cohen. The Brazilian Storm, which is dominating the WSL, was blowing at gale force with strong representation in the Men’s open and Masters competitions. Costa Rica’s Junior National Champion, Sean Forester made the trip in an attempt to achieve the unlikely double national title, made possible by his dual citizenship. Local contenders, not ready to have their event overrun by an international invasion were ready to stand battle and represent with Vancouver Island pride on the line.
The opening heats on Saturday played out without many surprises. The Men’s Heats and Quaterfinals saw Great Lake surfers Belfort advancing and the elimination of Bouché-Pillon. Bonilla advanced to the Longboard Final demonstrating the talent that had resulted in a virtual sweep of his qualifying event in Ontario. Sunday showcased the talent on the Women’s side including more infused talent from California in the form of Sara Taylor — up against Island natives — Leah Oke, and the rising talent of 11-year-old Mathea Olin. A hard fought, but stoke filled men’s open final saw the affable Darren Lundquist beating out Belfort for the top spot on the podium. Bonilla represented his fresh water brethren taking the win in Men’s Longboard with inimitable style and grace. Taylor scored highly in the final, relegating Olin to second – but with her win in the Girls < 16 year old Division and being crowned Women’s National Champion – there was much to celebrate. All eyes were on the Men’s Final late on Sunday afternoon with Wegrich, Anderson and Devries being joined by the always entertaining Australian export Ben Murphy. Waggy proved too strong for the rest of the competition, and for the first time in recent history, a new champion was crowned. Showing grace and panache, directly following his defeat in the final, Pete Devries thrilled the crowd with his incomparable moves and snagged the top recognition for the Expression Session. While Devries remains our National Champion, certainly the call has gone out that next year’s 10th anniversary competition is not to be missed. We look forward to being a part of next year’s event, and strengthening the bonds between two incredible surf communities in this great country of ours.
Article written in collaboration with surf photographer Lucas Murnaghan of Surf the Greats .