Part of the on-going project Back To The Land
When you think of Canada you may think of hockey, cold winters, mountains, and really friendly people (or at least I do); you don’t think of surfing. Obviously Canada isn’t known for producing world-class surfers on the big stage, however our waves are starting to take notice especially in a places like Tofino. If you have ever visited Tofino I’m sure you’ve see the many surf shops that line the main road as you drive into this small island town. The place is a lot like Alberta's Canmore with beautiful shop facades, stunning homes, incredible scenery and good food. Instead of mountains you have incredible beaches, national parks, pristine coastline and islands that stretch for hundreds of miles; the traffic in high season however is very much the same.
On Vancouver Island there is a talented community of surfers and one of those talents is little grommet Mathea Olin. Mathea was once a resident of Canmore as her father guides for one of the bigger heli-skiing outfits, but with life, things change and the family moved to the island setting up shop in the heart of Tofino on the shores of Cox’s Bay.
I first found out about Mathea through the surf community as I was reaching out to various surfboard shapers and other craftsmen in the Tofino area. Curious to know more, I reached out to Mathea’s mom and she was thrilled once I told her about the project Back To The Land. Mathea is just like any other kid. She enjoys hanging out with friends, skateboarding, plays various instruments and participates in gymnastics and ballet. When I spoke with her in person, she was a bit shy just like any 12 year old, humble, but as soon as you mention the word surfing, her eyes lit up. When I asked her when she stared surfing, she said "I don’t really know exactly when, but by the time I was eight I was starting to surf beyond the break".
Mathea was 12 years old when I took her photograph in May of 2015, she tries to surf everyday come rain, snow, or shine and with that level of commitment, it has paid off winning some major titles both on a national and international level. In the summer time she trains in California with her coach and team, and in the winter spends some of her time surfing with friends in Hawaii. She has already been recognized by companies such as Billabong and receives tremendous support from her local community including surfboard company Aftanas Surfboards. I have always wondered, is being a professional surfer unattainable for a young Canadian? You might not think so, but Canada has produced some pretty incredible surfers including Raph Bruhwiler and Canadian champion Peter Devries which I recommend you google because it's pretty inspiring what these guys have accomplished. With Mathea's ever-growing list of competition victories it turns out she has her eyes set on becoming a hopeful Olympian for the 2020 games. I didn't know this but the Tokyo Olympic Organizing Committee is proposing surfing along with baseball/softball, karate, skateboarding, and sport climbing for inclusion in the 2020 Games; they will have an answer by August 2016. There is even talk of her talent that could potentially reach a spot on the World Championship Tour. If this happens, Mathea would become the first Canadian female ever to accomplish this.
I got to spend an afternoon watching Mathea surf from the shoreline. Paddling out past the white water and losing sight of her amongst the break. It was only the turquoise coloured board that made her visible during brief glimpses on each wave she caught. It was absolutely incredible watching what this girl could do, performing cut back after cut back amongst the choppy swell. I look forward (as do many) on where this young athlete will be in five years. Either way her connection to the ocean on both an athletic and spiritual level is inspiring and I wish her all the best in life.