It’s back to business, only now, she has Cloudbreak under her belt.
Tofino’s Catherine Bruhwiler has returned home after competing in the 2016 Fiji ISA World SUP and Paddleboard Championship.
The event was held at Cloudbreak, one of the most challenging waves in the world. When it goes off, Cloudbreak roars into a fast, barreling left that breaks directly over a shallow reef.
“I didn’t actually have to compete when it was really big,” said Bruhwiler, who placed ninth out of 19 in women’s SUP surfing division.
“But I was there a week early and I did surf some pretty big stuff. It was very exciting. It’s full on,” she said.
“Before the contest it was really crowded. We actually started calling it Crowdbreak for a while. And then it went really flat and we started calling it Cloudlake. I’d say at any given time there’d be anywhere from 20 to 60 people out.”
The event welcomed 244 athletes from 26 nations. Team Canada fielded a team of nine: Jeffrey Spencer, Finn Spencer, Cath Bruhwiler, Mike Darbyshire, Jason Bennett, Ryan Knysh, Lina Augaitis, Rob Kavcic and Alison Wood. Bruhwiler said everyone on Team Canada paid for the trip out of their own pocket.
“There are basically two types of athletes that go to these events. The athletes who don’t work and have tonnes of funding and sponsors and then there’s the working-class athlete. Basically everyone on our team is a working-class athlete,” she said. Despite not receiving any financial assistance, Bruhwiler was happy with Team Canada’s overall performance.
“Our racers are really fast. Especially our female racers. Lina has won international events. Between myself and the Boys [Spencer brothers] surfing we held our own. And I think we did make an impression, actually. Probably a bigger one than Canada has ever made.”
This was the first-time the International Surfing Association (ISA) has held a SUP surf and paddleboard racing contest at Cloudbreak. It was the fifth edition of the ISA World SUP and Paddleboard Championship ever.
Australia handily won the Team Gold Medal in Fiji by more than 1,000 points. Team France took second followed by New Zealand and Hawaii. Team Canada placed a respectable 11th.
Bruhwiler, who organizes the annual Canadian Surf Championships in May and the SUP Surf Championships in October, has seen a surge of supportive parents and mentors that will help nourish Canada’s place on the international stage.
“We are really lucky now because there are so many parents that are supporting their kids to go surfing. It’s not something that has ever really happened before,” she said.
“What I would like to see is the continued support for our youth. I’d really like to see Tofino develop their school and have a surf academy. Make it more of a reality for the kids to get good at surfing here, integrate it more into our every day life. We are on our way for sure.”
Above all, Bruhwiler said fostering love of the sport and love of the ocean is the root that will make everything else happen.