Whistler vs Tofino: Two towns, two dreams, two fights…growing up local in BC


“I don’t like your jacket.”  Those were the last words I heard outside the arena after the Rockies game in Invermere that night in 1984 before the first punch broke my nose.  I was 15 and I knew like every small town kid knew there’s a point when you can’t walk away.  I took off the bloodied wool coat and broke my hand on Clay’s head and face in the minutes that followed before big Eddie Mountain (RIP) broke up the fight.  It isn’t easy being local in small town BC.

Almost 30 years later, I read the cover story in the Pique Thursday and couldn’t help feel the crack and both eyes turning black when I read about the, “Whistler is that way”, sticker with the ‘F-ck You’ finger pointing sideways being sold at the Long Beach Surf Shop in Tofino after giving the north-west surf scene so much love for so many years.  I’m saddened and disappointed but I’ll stop short of saying surprised…I’ve seen it before, and no, I’m not going to walk away.

The Dalai Lama says, “Pride causes suffering”, and local pride has certainly caused its share.  Had I inflicted any sign of damage on Clay I would have certainly felt I won the fight but he was a hard-nosed, stone-faced kid two years my senior and with a busted nose, two black eyes and a cast on my hand I didn’t have much to say.  We never fought again and like any small town BC kids, when we were finished battling each other we all hated the kids in the next bigger town, the next richer province and well, most anyone who came to visit from anywhere else…especially if their licence plates were that obnoxious 80’s Albertan yellow, aka “Gorbies”.  Years later I was pouring concrete at a summer job between semesters at university and one morning when the cement truck showed up…Clay was truck driver.  He had never left town and I suspect he never has.  Born and bred…womb to tomb, burst to earth…BC local.

Fast forward five years, two majors and still no degree, and the ’91/92 El Nino winter off in Fernie under my belt, I pulled into an Arizona Anasazi ruin somewhere west of the Rio Grande Gorge on the way back from a walk over the bridge from Texas to Juarez, Mexico, and stopped short of telling a tall cowboy to pick up the Miller bottles he had been dropping along the trail.  He turned in the sunset to grope his girlfriend, a big Boa hissed and slithered under an ancient brick wall and I saw a silver six shooter pushed in the back in his Wranglers.  Don’t mess with Texas.  Yes…I walked away.

Earlier that day, the US Customs officer in El Paso looked at my passport on the walk back over the bridge to the USA (I was walking because…”you can’t be thinkin’ you all are gonna drive that Acura down there Mister…”, insert Texan accent).  “Canadian, huh?”, he handed back the passport and nodded his head to keep walking past the waves of Mexicans waiting inside behind the dark sliding doors, and so the story goes…I know one thing, I know exactly how it feels to NOT be the local:

The Black Nugget, Sparwood, BC, broken nose…again…after my cousin told a local he danced like Michael Jackson.  (The local RCMP didn’t break up the brawl in the parking lot but instead waited until we were all piled in our Malibu wagon to stop us to make sure we weren’t drinking and driving.)  Waikiki, local punks hold us under water for swimming out to the breakers to jump off the giant concrete walls when the waves hit..and honestly, before I go on, insert just about any local beach in Hawaii, So-Cal or Mexico for that matter and I’ve been given a taste of being a gringo-haole, and yes, the part you’ve been waiting for, while I’m at it, you can damn well toss in any town with a hockey rink and a team in the playoffs (you know what I’m talking about Vancouver) and any BC town afraid they might lose their identity in the all enveloping wave of global brands in trying times.

Meanwhile, back at the shop in Whistler watching the Billabong Pro online…imagine the irony when I found out the same company who makes the, “Whistler is that way”, F-ck you finger sticker is the same one who makes my other favorite, “Think fast hippy”, a sticker with an image of a logger with a chainsaw.  Oh the irony!  Like Steven Threndyle says in his story in the Pique, if we look back to the 60’s Whistler and Tofino were two divided visions of the same dream…and that dream rages on in surf vs snow culture to this day.

It all takes me back to the Whiskey 3 days and their old “Whistler Sucks” T-shirt I picked up at Evolution in 97, or was it 98?  Maybe it doesn’t suck after all…maybe that was the point.  Now where are those WB stickers that said, “life is a mountain, not a beach”…    



3 thoughts on “Whistler vs Tofino: Two towns, two dreams, two fights…growing up local in BC

  1. Love the post! As a Tofitian, British Columbian, Canadian, Citizen of the World, I think the rivalries between various small towns borders on the ridiculous, and as you mention, unnecessarily violent. I love small-town exploring when I travel specifically because they are all so different and posess unique cultures. Whistler and Tofino are both adored on a global scale for their own distinct and good reasons!

    • Thank you Claire. I’ve often thought in business and sport that the people most like myself are inevitably the ones I challenge AND respect. An ocean and a dream away our homes are closer than they sometimes care to admit.

      Hope to be in your backyard soon.

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