Tofino hosts a slew of surf events each year but the district is considering charging a fee for using the community’s backdrop.

Tofino could end free ride for surf competitions

Council is considering event fees for companies wanting to use Tofino's backdrop.

Tofino will host a longboard surf competition in May but the district is thinking about charging a fee to companies wanting to host similar events in the future.

The Joel Tudor Duct Tape Invitational will be held at Cox Bay from May 7-8 and will see seven heats featuring 16 international male surfers and one local ‘wildcard’ participant.

The 11-year-old event is sponsored by Vans and organized by the Vans Surf Team.

Tofino’s municipal council recently approved the competition’s special events permit application but raised several concerns, most notably the absence of revenue.

Coun. Cathy Thicke was unimpressed that only one local would be competing and said the event would take a toll on local infrastructure and staff time.

She said the district should investigate guidelines, including a fee structure, for future events.

“This is a very big company, Vans, and they stand to gain quite a lot with this event in terms of promotion, social media and all of that,” Thicke said.

“These companies are making a lot; they might not be making hard cash but they’re using this venue as a way to promote their business, let’s be honest with that…I see little community benefit, lots of gain for them. Yes, we have economic spinoffs from this I agree, but there’s not going to be a lot of young kids or local talent being showcased in this event.”

She said the district is trying to raise funds for various projects, like a $1.8 million indoor recreation space, and could benefit from companies paying to play in Tofino.

“The fact is, our staff are spending considerable time organizing these things, organizing the public works to clean the washrooms and all of this and I just feel like there’s got to be a time where we as a community somehow put this money back into the things that we feel are really important,” she said.

“I don’t know how others feel but I’m just, sort of, putting a red flag out there that we need a better understanding of policy.”

Coun. Duncan McMaster agreed.

“These special events put a lot of stress on the infrastructure, staff time and district property,” he said.

“We charge film companies when they utilize the beach and I think we should be looking at a reasonable fee schedule for when private concerns utilize the beach for their marketing.”

Coun. Dorothy Baert expressed disappointment that the Duct Tape Invitational was only open to men.

“We do have a strong female surf culture as well,” she said.

Coun. Greg Blanchette said council’s Public Property Use Bylaw, which houses special event permits, needs tweaking.

The bylaw stipulates that any gathering of 12 or more people in a public place, like a beach or park, must obtain a permit from the district.

“We have weddings, we have cars and vans full of people coming up, at what point does it become an event,” he asked.

“Do I gather that every busload of elementary school kids that comes over from Port Alberni or Nanaimo to have a beach barbecue or whatever is an event that should be applying for a permit? I think we might need to clarify what all that means.”

Council agreed to review the bylaw though no timeline was put in place.

District CAO Bob MacPherson noted Tofino’s staff is paid through Resort Municipality Initiative (RMI) coffers when working on events.

“The direction that staff has been taking so far is to use RMI money to, kind of, fund the staff time so that we can use events to continue to grow our brand here…It’s a distinction I’m sometimes loathe to make but we’re using those dollars that are collected as hotel tax from the tourism industry to try to support that industry,” he said.

“The idea of charging a fee is something that I think we should give some consideration to but there is a rationale why we’re not charging a fee now, which is the event business in Tofino, and events like this, are really in their incubation stage and we’re trying to, as a municipality using provincial money, support that right now.”