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  • Writer's pictureEvan Ruffell

Deep Dive - Sombrio

The sun finally breaks onto the beach, finding gaps along the eastern tree line. Late-night hours of ocean spray evaporate from the thick forest edge and curl up creating god rays down onto campers. The perfection of natural sleep, finally waking up as the first light soaks the tent. A loud zipper marks the start of a fresh day, opening the tent to a new coastal world.

Even before my first cup of coffee finishes brewing, twenty surfers are already past the heavy shore waves and paddling to the three main breaks. Experienced surfers head to the farther spots north or south along the coastline. They’ll be out all day, little black dots silhouetted by crashing waves in the distance. Something to watch as we keep an eye open for whales, play games, and collect firewood.

We wander down the pebbly beach, dodging piles of seaweed and heading to familiar favorites. The summer heat hasn’t quite been around long enough to dry up small rivers disappearing into the sand, so we know waterfall season is still in play. Cliffs push us out onto the pitted rocky shore where long rolling waves fill tidal pools.

As we head into the final bay the wind shifts, fluttering a homemade dreamcatcher hanging nearby. Thick sea fog rolls over the land, filling the air with the strong briny scent of the ocean. The world is soft and misty.

Fortunately, we know the area well and curve up towards a small canyon halfway along the beach. The entrance is obscured by bushes and ferns, only betrayed by a river carving away sand. Three of four quick turns later the brush pulls back, leaving only a moss-covered canyon. The walls inside are dark, most of the ceiling blocked by a large tree, wedged up there who knows how long ago. Further in light pools and reflects off a waterfall, like a pupil in a cat’s eye. Wind mixes with spray to blast down the tunnel, a refreshing mist to cool off in the summer. Hikers scramble down the riverbed, soaking shoes and testing the echo. After a quick soak and a few photos, it’s time to head back to camp.

Heavy sea fog finally clears away just in time for sunset. Flocks of campers take a break from their activities and stretch their legs in the sun. They stroll along the rocky shore, watching crabs scuttle through the tidal pools and building cairns. There’s this moment that happens every evening at Sombrio in the summer. The light starts to dip and the heat of the day falls away. Right at this turning point, everyone collectively starts their evening campfire. The growing popularity of the area means driftwood has become scarcer. This in turn has resulted in people bringing their own, higher-quality firewood. It burns clean except right as the fire begins. The smell of cedar smoke encompasses the area. Wind off the ocean pushes everything back into the woods. If you stroll through the forest at this moment the long soft shadows from sunset combine with this gathered haze. Like mist rising in the morning but bathed in an orange glow.

Even with the light gone, Sombrio doesn’t settle. This has long been a party beach. Away from oversight and restriction. A place more for surfers and friends, rather than families. We stay up late, drinking, feeding the fire, and telling stories. Contained in our bubble of music, light, and warmth, we barely notice the stars come out. This far away from anything, lack of light pollution really makes a difference. The Milky Way stretches up overhead, visible to the naked eye.

Late into the evening, the stories start to die out. Tents and fires alike slowly start to wink out. Everybody spends more time staring into the coals than talking. One by one people drift away and the day comes to a quiet close. One of my absolute favorite spots on Vancouver Island.

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