The newly named Ripcurl CANAM Surfing Championships took place over a stormy and sunny weekend in Tofino on Vancouver Island with Ripcurl and Surf Canada. The 16th edition of one of the very few national events really putting Canadian surfing in the spotlight—bringing together seasoned champions from the international surf circuit and Tofitian household names from April 14-17.

With this year’s prize purse the biggest yet, and the longboarding event deciding the Canadian team for the ISA World Longboard Championship, contestants’ determination in the surf was palpable throughout the weekend, particularly when faced with the wild west coast weather.

Mathea on her way to the ISA World Championships.

Mathea on her way to the ISA World Championships. Photo: Aimee Isakson Photography

Day 1

Friday saw spectators soaking in the long-awaited sunshine while looking out to the surf and milling around activation booths from the likes of Surfrider Pacific Rim, White Claw, and Yeti. The surf at first reflected the somewhat mellow, sunny conditions on shore, but by late afternoon there were moments of carnage in messy sets and building swell alongside a lack of priority hierarchy as surfers became stuck on the inside. 

In the evening, the surf community turned out in full force for Ripcurl’s Canadian premiere of “Through the Doggy Door” featuring Sheldon Paishon, who was competing in the pro shortboard events over the weekend. Announced just a day or two prior, the world premiere of Drew Austin’s film “Almanac” featuring Reed Platenius was also added to the line-up. Reed’s recent North American Junior Title win was also celebrated, along with Mathea Olin’s win at SLO CAL Open—making her the first Canadian woman to win a women’s WSL qualifying series event.

Charging right. Photo: Aimee Isakson Photography

Day 2

By Saturday morning, the conditions—earning two Special Weather Statements from the Government of Canada—were even less ideal for longboarders. In reflection on Sunday, pro surfer Michael Darling (also known as @aquajunkie) shared, “I wouldn’t usually paddle out in these conditions on a longboard if it wasn’t for this competition. All the days were a lot to handle—I don’t usually go out if it’s over waist high”. Yet despite the challenging conditions, he brought stylish nose-riding and hang fives to his quarter-final heat, as did the likes of last year’s champion Jeffrey Spencer, and David Schiaffino who excelled in his open-face carving. For the women’s quarter-finals, it was Mathea Olin’s consistent nose-riding that provided her with a standout score across the heats. 

David Schiaffino taking the win in the mens final

David Schiaffino took the win in the men’s final. Photo: Aimee Isakson Photography

Day 3

Day three brought a howling southwesterly, heavy rain, huge waves, and even some hail. Boards were broken and the men’s semifinal was delayed a little so they could actually get out back. A few momentary teasing spots of sun ended in a winner’s podium somewhat hilariously wreathed in bright gold light after three days of everything but. 

Canadian Surf Championships 2023

Canadian Surf Championships 2023. Photo credit
Aimee Isakson.

For the longboarding semis and final, it wasn’t just about the best manoeuvres, but also who could best navigate the conditions and not get stuck on the inside. West Coast Shapes owner, David Schiaffino, wasn’t going to let the intense conditions get in his way—in the first minutes of the semi-finals he’d already caught three waves (only two in the competition) with a score of 6.67. And he didn’t stop there—continuing to catch wave after wave with turns that fuelled audience gasps, leading to a lead of 14.34 with no one coming close for a while, and lighthearted heckles of “guess who’s on another wave” and “come on in for a pancake…” from the announcer’s box. It was a determination he took all the way to finals and onto the first-place podium.

Walking the board, walking the dog. Photo by Aimee Isakson Photography

Walking the board, walking the dog. Photo by Aimee Isakson Photography

In the women’s division, Canadian team surfers Mathea Olin and Liv Stokes came out on top in the semis before taking first and second place in the finals respectively. When asked how she felt about the win, Mathea shared: “I feel really good—they were really tricky conditions, we were all struggling, but I’m happy I managed to get a few, and I was extra happy my friend Liv (Stokes) came up from California for this”. A final sentiment echoed by Michael Darling’s reasoning for additionally entering the longboarding this year: “I wanted to be against some of my closest friends, especially my brother—I grew up wanting to surf like him…and then I surpassed him,” he shared with a smile. This a reflection of Tofino and Uclulet’s community vibe when it comes to even pro surf competitions—while competitive, the camaraderie is overflowing. As is the comedy—especially prominent in the announcement booth across the weekend, keeping the mood light and the crowd energized amidst the chaos of the conditions.

Congrats to all the longboarding finalists. In order of placement: 

Women’s: Mathea Olin; Liv Stokes; Claire Parson;, Izzy Abdurahman

Men’s: David Schiaffino; Jeffrey Spencer; Michael Darling; Adam Talbot Tory