This is a tidy history of British
Columbia surfing that also chronicles Vancouver Island and its move
from extremely rural retreat to semi-urban playground. Written by Grant
Shilling best known for his work as editor of the now sadly defunct
free newspaper The Gulf Islands Gazette, it spans roughly the mid -
50s to the present day. The goal here is not a comprehensive chronicle,
but instead a cross section of the history of a region, all examined
through the microscope of surfing. Why surfing? Because, as the writing
abundantly makes clear, Shilling loves the sport. But more importantly,
surfing works is here as a kind of metaphor. Early BC surfers made their
own boards, built their own huts on empty beaches largely cut off from
civilization, and taught themselves how to ride the waves. Today’s
surfers cruise into places like Tofino for the day, buy lavish gear
from shops, crowd locals out of the best spots, and annoy the locals
who nevertheless depend on them for their own cash. Still, Shilling
doesn’t condemn or lament, he simply tells the story through the
words of people who have been there, focusing on figures like Barbara
Oke and Steve Johnson who lived on Sombrio Beach for 16 years and raised
11 surfer children in a “cedar home they built themselves.’
Ultimately, Shilling’s message is a hopeful as it is nostalgic.
As Ucluelet based surfboard maker Billy Leach puts it, “Surf is
a resource that can’t be taken away from us. If you could harvest
it, it wouldn’t be here. It would have been gone.
--Hal Niedzviecki, Broken
Canadian surf texts are rare. So
are looks at the clan of surfers who follow their life passion with
5mm suits, orcas, and seaside rainforests. Coalescing the two. Shilling
has penned a concise tale of these folks and the woodsy environment
that molds them.
Publisher/editor of a local newspaper, Shilling weaves a rich, behind-the-scenes
lore of the quirky, mossy burgs dotting Vancouver Island’s southwestern
coast, illustrating key players from various eras and their sea lion-laced
surf spots, from Jordan river (localism!) to Tofino and points north.
From surf schools to hand paddles, logging to luaus. Shilling’s
tale will hold appeal for the cold water aficionado. And with the photo
flavour, both contemporary and vintage, you’ll likely contract
an acute case of “the Northing” as Dave Parmenter once said,
booking a ticket to Victoria in a hurry.
--Michael Kew, Surfer’s
Twenty years ago it was a fringe
sport, practiced by a few enthusiasts, who didn’t mind building
their own equipment and freezing in primitive westsuits. Now surfing
is a significant economic force and a subculture that is energizing
the whole coast.
Grant Shilling’s the Cedar Surf is a slim, unpretentious volume
that sketches the story of that transition.
The title comes from the area’s original waterman, the Nuu-chah-nulth,
who in time immemorial played not with surfboards but with cedar canoes
in the breaking West Coast waves. From there to here, many players figured
in the game, each pursuing their own personal version of Nirvana.
Reading the books feels kind of like sitting around a beach fire after
a day on the water and listening to your mates telling surf stories.
From the early days of living in Wreck bay squats in the 1960s, to the
Oke-Johnsons raising their kids on Sombrio in the 70s, to the Chesterman
Beach surfing revival in the 80s and the rapid Tofino-centred growth
of the 90s, the story is told mostly in the words of those who have
If surfing has one hallmark, it’s the ineffable high its adherents
get from chasing that perfect wave. This book is about the characters-
most still around- who have been incurably bitten by the pursuit, be
thy draft-dodging hippie, staid Ucluelet grocer or young surf-school
‘Surfing,” says Shilling,” is the message in a bottle
of global culture, from the ancients of Polynesia, the Tla-o-qui-aht,
California, and now here [Tofino], where today’s cedar surfers
are partying.” If you want to decipher the message, perhaps the
most valuable part of the book is the six-page glossary of surfer terminology-an
indispensable resource for those who want to sound cool.
And for those who already speak the lingo – well, brahs, if you’re
noodled after some bonzer action on the dunes, check out this book for
an idea of how you got where you are.
The Cedar Surf is published by New Star Books of Vancouver. It costs
$16 and is available at Wildside Books (Tofino), Words End (Ucluelet),
and most local surf shops.
--Greg Blanchette, Westerly
Starting from the very beginning
with the pioneers, to latest research on surfing in cold water and more
in between, we should be able to see the way Shilling’s work portrays
that surfing in British Columbia is its own unique culture. Shilling
touches on many aspects actively involved in creating a culture, as
well as on aspects allowing it to grow outside of the box. Combining
many mediums including storytelling, scientific studies and his own
personal research and opinions, Shilling is able to break past the stereotypes
placed around surfing and share with the world the story of a unique
culture, the British Columbian surf culture.
--Clayton Webb, Grade
11 Stellys Secondary, Central Saanich
full essay on the book*
For more information on The Cedar
Surf, visit New Star Books
Cover Photo: Jeremy Koreski, The Surfer: Raph Bruhwiler
To order, email firstname.lastname@example.org
ISBN # 0-921586-93-0