The year was 1987, and a few ambitious Vancouver Islanders had chosen Tofino as the site of Canada’s first-ever surf showdown, despite the disdain of the region’s rugged logging and fishing ranks. This year, a legion of the Pacific Northwest’s best celebrate the anniversary of the Rip Curl Pro.
The Rip Curl Pro Tofino Canadian Surfing Championships hasn’t always gone by the same name. What was once but a humble bunch of DayGlo-clad locals battling for bragging rights on mushy onshore waves has grown into Canada’s largest and most influential surfing competition, as well as a renowned annual party. It has become the most influential surf event in Canada.
“It’s a really important event for up-and-coming surfers,” says Peter Devries, seven-time winner of the event and a Tofino-raised local. “The energy is crucial for the development of Canadian surfing.” Devries is Canada’s most iconic surfer, having landed on the cover of Surfer magazine. He won his first Tofino event at 17 years old. Back then, it was called something else.
The competition’s roots undeniably lie in the annual Summer SurfJam, when Victoria, British Columbia, surfer Dom Domic saw promise in unlikely places like Tofino. “In the winter of 1987, my friend Jon Little and I had just watched a surf comp held in Cornwall, England,” he recalls. “We thought, ‘If they could do it, why not us?’”
The following summer, the Summer SurfJam was born. Its popularity with locals and Pacific Northwest surfers was immediate, and by the second year it was unexpectedly large. “We didn’t know if anyone was going to show up. This was 1988—before Internet and social media,” says Domic, who now serves as the president of the Canadian Surfing Association. “It became obvious there were way more surfers than we knew about, and they needed to be a part of something they felt was their own.”
There was just one problem—Tuff City didn’t want them. “Tofino was a long way from the resort surf town it is now,” says Domic. “Back then it was a resource-based town; logging and fishing was the game. Out-of-towners were not very well tolerated.” After two short years, the Summer SurfJam had already become myth. In 1998, Domic resurrected the SurfJam for the 10th anniversary, but by 2005 the event had once again grown too big, too fast. The town of Tofino terminated it. And that was when the Rip Curl Stew started brewing. “In 2006, Drew Hawkshaw, who was working for the former title sponsor, took a new job at Rip Curl,” says Domic. “We talked about starting the event again, but with a new name: The Rip Curl Stew.”
“They saw the void there and wanted to capture the summer crowd,” says Devries. As the event grew so did its influence on the culture. Devries remembers meeting one of his heroes when the organizers brought none other than three-time world surfing champion Tom Curren to judge the event. “It was really cool to meet one of the best surfers of all time and have him here in Tofino,” recalls Devries.
In 2012, the word “stew” in the event’s name was swapped out for a slicker title, and while the trademark pot of communal stew served beachside is gone, the spirit remains. “When I restarted SurfJam in 2000, I wasn’t sure if it would resonate with new surfers,” says Domic. “I never thought I would ever see what was once a quiet, empty stretch of sand on the edge of the continent turned into something resembling a California beach on a long weekend. I felt like Oppenheimer after the first nuclear test. ‘Oh my god, what did I do?’”
“In the winter of 1987, my friend Jon Little and I had just watched a surf comp held in Cornwall, England. We thought, ‘If they could do it, why not us?'” – Dom Domic, Event Founder
While party people have always played a big role at the Pro, the focus is still on the gathering of the tribe, a three-decade legacy Domic is proud to be a part of. “Yes it’s a party, but it’s so much more. It’s a celebration and a means to bring together a tiny but dedicated group of people that are truly passionate with surfing, the ocean and nature.”
It’s still a hearty stew, and the dedicated organizers are ensuring it won’t lose its unique flavour anytime soon.
On May 12th – May 14th, the 11th annual Rip Curl Pro Tofino will be held and Canada’s greatest surfers will come to battle at Cox Bay in Tofino, British Columbia. For more, log on to ripcurl.com/pro-tofino.