Not a Soul in Sight

Malcolm Johnson
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The day before, after a grievously cold boat trip through disordered winter seas, we'd arrived at our côte de Dieu: an uninhabited stretch of the Vancouver Island coast, with reef waves bombing all around us and not a soul in sight. The morning's sleet had eased, but cutting offshore winds were tearing at the swell as it stacked onto the reef, each wave trailing a banner of white against a grey sky. We'd motored out to surf a spot that Clay had discovered the year before, and we'd lucked into some of the heavier waves we'd seen all season: thick slabs of opaque ocean lunging onto the rocks, each one looking like some primordial and unfinished prototype of Oahu's Backdoor.

Later that evening we'd returned, stoked and exhausted, to the camp that Clay and his partner, Silvi, had carved out of the rainforest. With the winds still building and the sounds of Hank Williams drifting out from the stereo, Silvi fastened the weatherboarding to the windows. "I think it's been five hurricane strength winds we've ridden out here," Clay told us; the weather radio was calling for a deep low, and that night the cabin, built around big spruces just back of the beach, strained on its anchors like a ship enstormed.

The next morning, waking to conditions too bad for the boat, we set out on foot for the break we'd surfed the day before. It seems like up here a great deal more time is spent hiking than actually surfing, and that day was the stuff that Canadian backcountry surf life is made of: detours around fallen cedars, precarious rope descents from the headlands, long hauls past cliffs where the fossil bodies of extinct creatures writhed half-exposed towards the light.

The conditions that day were quickly becoming a hopeless prospect, and we all knew it; each view we had to the west was showing nothing but turbulent water and skeins of spray. It was apparent, as sheets of squalling rain kept coursing through the forest, that another surf on that lonesome coast was out of the question. Even Clay's dog Lucky was over it, and after sheltering for a few words and a thermos of tea we turned back in temporary defeat. But we'd all been up here long enough to know, as does anyone who's lived the weather-dependent life, that there really isn't a thing called defeat: there's only tomorrow … only next time.

About the Author

Though decidedly sub-par ocean conditions are the norm on the British Columbia coast, there are enough revelatory sessions on offer to keep residents like Malcolm Johnson firmly rooted and resolutely optimistic. Splitting his time between surfing and writing, he bases himself on Vancouver Island, where he and his girlfriend share a small house and an overworked Subaru.