Bodysurfing, Travel, and the Dead
by Grant Shilling
a beautiful fish
Flopping in the summer sand
Looking for a wave you missed when another one is close at hand
Neil Young, Zuma
Or was it Pooey?
A week of sleeping under the stars sure changes the human voice.
Makes it disappear… until the sound of human voices awakens me.
Hope you’re outside, or under atree, or by the sea, or crawlin
up into bed (ahem) with me to read this one. I’ll come up with
some words and you can fill in the blanks with blanks – in silence
I write this beside a big pile of bear pooh in the stump-dump, (a swamp
behind the Wickaninish Elementary School)--that is no longer a dump.
Wood and rust plowed over and more or less back to swamp. At one time
I’d come here for great wood scores--logging or carpenter (mainly
red cedar) discards.
The school is quiet with its wooden baseball bleachers making a person-to-person
call to Shoeless Joe. [Speaking of Shoeless, actually Vans shoes, there
are a lot of shrubbies here. Shrubbies are urban kids come to love and
live off each other and hang around the CIBC bank in th centre of town
(what gives?) ‘til the weather changes in the fall and they head
back to school. Predictable targets the shrubs. But hey, if you are
a local-–it’s only sporting.]
When Captain Cook first met the local native population, they said “Nootka,
Nootka.” (Translation: “Go around, Go around”) to
which Cook responded:
“They are called the Nootka.”
And when the local go-rounders saw Cook and Clan they noticed their
shoes and called them “ The men with wooden feet.”
There has been a lot of curious interactions around here lately-something
both locals and those just passing through share- bears. Bears cominng
into town, bears hunted by sport killers and bears protected by humans.
Sitting around the Pod coffee shop the other day somebody ventured”
Bears are like bees; you don’t bother them and they don’t
“Whoever said that about bees?,”enquired a friend.
“Yeah I saw one the other day,” says a friend. “ It
was headed in the opposite direction with its paws across its gall bladder.”
There is a beautiful woodcarved bear here. Very Yogi at Yosemite--great
Bear pooh to ground me. Sitting back here behind the school conjures
Tofino, the town (as opposed to the wilds around). The day–to-day,
work, not play, town. Tofino in winter. Or Tofino at the legion. Or
Tofino the house party. The Tofino of Welcome to our Town Everybody
Smokes. An Everclear “Real small town.”
Home of endless flirtation. What, not flirting? Are you running out
of bait or do you not have any hooks?
In Tofino, we also have the wheel--there is as much angst, hustle, greed,
work-damage, beauracracy (more so, Bylaw officer shuts down ice cream
stand--decency prevails--I scream, you scream,we all scream for…“Go
round! Go round!”)
Yet, the potential for departure, or feeling for it is infinite. Tofino
is a dock and to be truly in touch with the place you have to know the
water or the woods. And there are many people here who are living or
re-making that story. The closest I think I will ever feel to being
an astronaut was out on The Stroller going up to Nootka Sound in the
middle of the wild blue yonder. And docking at a small pox dock in Yuqot
(trans. “Where the four winds blow.”), where one family
now lives alone, where once there was many. I saw a small child look
at us from a doorway. We docked but didn’t go ashore, the pier
was way too rotten.
While there is something dawn-of-the–dead about tourists, there
can be something lovely and oh-so Canadian about a family on vacation
for two weeks. (Especially if you’re not in that family in some
cases, I suppose ). But still…
I woke up under a tree in “Ukie” (Ucluelet) the other day
and beside me under the next tree was this Quebecois family speaking
French, munching homemade sandwiches fresh from the car and talking
about the cinq bateaus in front of us. Down at the dock there was this
guy, so white, covered in unsocialized, tattoos (tattoos before you
were born), with a big beard and a bigger gut, we were watching him
broil like like a tube steak on the dock. A Harley--before you were
born--guy roared up to him to say hello.
There were so many eagles there you could almost take them for granted.
(For the first time ever here I saw seagulls flying in a V-goose formation!)
And, of course, I wanted one of those sandwiches the family was munching
on. Egg salad, please, may I just for a short while--be part of your
We were all watching a fisher fix his seining net which he unspooled
onto the dock at Ucluelet. (Ucluelet, by the way , is 40 km down the
road from Tofino on the other side of Pacific Rim national Park. It
is the Hatfield to Tofino’s McCoy.) The redneck to Tofino’s
(yikes!) hippies. Which, of course, captures nothing--but is a hook
I like Ukie because between its overly--um--harvested hills, its industry
and greasy spoon Smiley’s Bowling Alley and Restaurant, it reminds
me a bit of the East End in Vancouver.
Further notes ( connect the stars…)
I was down by the side of Departure Bay Road, by the Esso there in Nanaimo
dwelling on the Miasma of Kundalini and the fuck cure, dualities and
travel between Tofino and Vancouver all while I hitchiked when Father
Frank Salmon,yup his real name, of Ahousat stops to pick me up.
He is going all the way to Tofino, but he has to stop at the Costco
and Walmart in Nanaimo first. O.K.?
“I’ve got no appointments.”
It was my first Costco experience.Very Gulliver’s travels and
I’m the small and the Life cereal is larger than…We were
buying flats and flats of Pepsi for the good people of Ahousat, a native
village on Flores Island (off Tofino). We also bought a lot of motor
oil for boats and flour.
The Costco was big and bland and stocked like some kind of successful
socialism--that weird. Since I’ve been there I’ve had this
feeling that I’m a giant lemon poppyseed Costco muffin moving
through it all.
I had been picked up one time before by Father Salmon. It was Christmas
Eve day and it was snowing and I was outside Tim Horton’s there
in Nanaimo. It didn’t look good. But the father, um..saved me.
Horton was there to knock aside any rebounds .
On that trip I just had to ask Salmon why natives needed a priest. (Sort
of like why a fish needs a fisherman.)
This time there was no way I was to talk about the Kundalini cure, with
Salmon there. It would be like talking to a rock about basketball, or
something. (At least I truly hope so.)
We had a pleasant enough ride and let the scenery do the talking for
us. I guess the one philosophical question we touched on was how tourists
experience place as opposed to locals--what are they getting/missing/seeing
that locals do or don’t?
And, of course , we concluded thatwe are all just passing through.
My first night back in Tofino I went to a birthday party for a surfer
girl. Dave brought a salmon that he caught earlier that day, Paula brought
mussels fresh from the sea, and there was even hummus fresh from the
chick pea. Good grub, good energy, good music and just the right amount
of party favours present.
For a lot of surfers the day starts with the marine broadcast (echoing
the activity of fishers). Some gale up in the Queen Charlottes becomes
a mysterious force that will or won’t work its way down to us.
And the surfer kids drive up and down the Pacific Rim during the day
to check the surf. And the day begins to feel like this giant wave of
In the past five or six years Tofino has had a real resurgence in interest
in surfing. It has brough a new crowd and a labour force for the currently
mysteriously low (lack of good weather? lack of Fish? ) tourist crowds.
One more change for Tofino.
With all this enthusiasm over surfing I thought it was going to be my
next big career move. But I find the necessity of a board, wetsuit,
car (optional) and crowd (optional) and money for these things too much
– for now.
Instead I began to catch some waves in the cold, cold water here after
my jogs on the beach. I’ve built upa high resistance to the cold
and can stay in the water for up to 45 minutes.
Riding sets of waves, walking back and forth in the coolgreen/blue water,
arms flapping in a big bird hug for stretch and heat, I wait for the
wave. Then as it approaches I jack out straight and flat as if to do
a racing dive riding the top of the foam- and then…Ride!
Doing this cold water surf can change my whole day. The wave and the
feeling stays with you. I think that’s what I felt at that party
Bodysurfing is this total body rush that seems to be a gigle that the
unvierse has to offer. For me its like consciousness surfing.
After a surf I often walk up the road ( Pacific Rim Highway ) to the
cemetary. I enter, gentle and true. Rest assured that if Tofino is changing
the cemetary isn’t.
The Tofino cemetary is a small patch cut into the forest surrounded
by a picket fence.The cemetary gives you easy access to the “inside”(
the inlet of the ocean is calm and lake like. At low tide the inlet
is a mud flat, which offers up critters and creatures and green islands
and green hills in the distance.)
The snowcapped peaks of Strahcona Park (between Campbell River and Gold
River) are clear and predominate from here. You can hear the echo of
the “outside” surf from here.
I came to the cemetary for the same reasons I surf, I suppose, the silence
and the nature. The peace. They say the sea is like a womb.
I set up at the back of the cemetary outside of the perimeter of the
fence. I get naked in the hot sun and move between shade and silence,
reading and walking amongst the naked and the dead.
Some visitors to a grave marking an early death leave some fresh flowers.
A couple of tourists pull up, don’t get out of their car, turn
around, and drive away. Maybe I should’ve waved them in.
I feel myself walking up the pathway of the cemetary looking at simple
wood or stone markers considering history as I look up over the white
picket fence in the dense forest.
City July 18-24,1996