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The Art of the Dawn Patrol

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I felt like puking when the alarm sound screamed me into consciousness. Was it 5am already? I went to bed at 10.30pm so why does it feel like I only slept for 2 hours?

A moment of doubt followed. Should I just give up and go back to sleep? Are the waves going to be any good anyway? In these early hours, my body has a natural bias towards the luxuriously warm bed that I am proposing to leave.

The trick is to sneak up on yourself and not let on, until the last possible moment, that you are trading in that cozy bed for cold north pacific water. Having a decent quality wetsuit, with a hood, boots and gloves to put on is also crucial. Some preparation is needed here. If your wetsuit is wet, hang it up inside to dry the night before!


Going surfing with friends is a great way to stay motivated when its cold and obscenely early. Someone you made a promise to the day before to meet at the beach at this ungodly time adds to the pressure to get out of bed. This is also a great idea as you may be the only ones around to look out for each other. On this morning I was heading out with a talented photographer called Cristina (@cristinagareau). She is on a mission to capture surfing images here in Tofino. Her craft of choice was not a surfboard but a set of swimming fins, and a waterproof case for her SLR Camera.


We were going out at first light, before sunrise. This is what surfers call a dawn patrol. Fortunately for us on this morning, clear skies and a bright moon made for ideal conditions. A soft silver light blanketed the beach and the air was calm. The low tide made the waves look small from a distance but I knew they would have good power as we got amongst them.

I could feel the pull of the current right away as I walked into the water. The waves were churning towards shore in successive walls of foamy, sandy whitewater. Beyond the breaking waves the surface of the water was oily smooth.   

I looked back. The beach glinted with frost. Colours were in motion as moonlight was subtly replaced by the rising sun’s glow. Cristina waded in shallower water behind me, pushing through the currents to stay in position and line-up a good shot.

Waves filled into the beach and unfurled, spinning away into perfect 3ft tall cylinders. We had found what we were looking for and there wasn’t a another surfer in sight. This is what it is like to reap the rewards of a well executed dawn patrol.


For an hour I surfed alone. Empty waves broke all around me. I took great pleasure staring into the whirling vortices of these unridden nuggets. I marvelled at the way they morphed as I waited for my wave.


Drink it in, folks.



The discomfort and almost nauseous feeling that I experienced at the sound of my first alarm that morning had been replaced by a heart-pumping elation.

Not all dawn patrol missions will end up like this. You may get to the beach in a foggy eyed stupor only to be met with harsh and unruly conditions, or worse still, no waves at all. This is always a possibility as ocean conditions are ever changing and unpredictable, even with the forecasting technology that we have at our disposal.

But one thing stays true amidst all the uncertainty that surfing entails. It may help sway your decision if you are fighting that early morning reluctance. That is this: You will never know unless you go!

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