REEF CANADA + FIRST NATION: MEETING OF THE MINDS


The weekend has arrived and as usual, it’s rainy and dreary; common Tofino climate for this time of year. The ocean water is choppy and it’s getting pretty windy, so surf’s out for the day. REEF might be known as a surf brand, but we like to think of ourselves as much more than that. While we may be slicing waves from country to country, from the beach to the city, we like to experience different cultures around the world and take the time to meet the locals. Wherever we go, we try to create lasting bonds with the communities we visit, respect the environment and take care of it as much as possible. 

Today, REEF Canada has the privilege and honor of being invited into Levi Martin’s home, a Tla-o-qui- aht First Nation Elder. Known as one the strongest nations on the West Coast of Vancouver Island, the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation respectfully live, work and celebrate in unison. It is the home of skilled fisherman, master carvers, talented artists, and gifted singers and dancers. Among their greatest gifts are the Elders, who protect, teach and guide the members of their community. So today, we have the priceless opportunity to receive their precious wisdom. 

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We are welcomed by a bright-eyed, smiley Levi and his family. After greeting everyone, we cozy up in the living room and slowly let our bodies and minds settle into the space. To open the ceremony, Levi blesses our coming together with a traditional chanted prayer. We then go around, introducing each other: who we are, what we do, what we are grateful for. It’s nice to see such a diverse, but harmonious group of people. Both men and women, some young, some older, all from different cultural backgrounds. Yet, as the Tla-o-qui-aht would say “his-shuk-nish-tsa-waak”, meaning We Are All One.

We spend the evening exploring various subjects. Levi, his brother Moses and son Dwayne, recount tales of their upbringing. They share stories of struggles and difficult times, yet see positivity in everything and are grateful for all that life has to offer. They talk about their number one law: Respect, and how their ancestors, as whalers, had a strong connection with the ocean.

“Our ancestors would sit quietly, observe and listen to the ocean. Then, they would receive messages.”

Levi Martin, Tla-o-qui-aht Elder & Traditional Healer 

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Something REEF has in common with the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation is our admiration and respect for the ocean. So, the conversation shifts and we begin to share stories of how we fell in love with it and how we transitioned to surfing. One person says that surfing kept him and his friends out of trouble when they were growing up. Another explains how surf isn’t just about the act of surfing, but rather everything that happens in and out of the water. It’s about family time, play time, building connections, being one with nature. The beach brings people together. We are all in agreement that the ocean fills us with an immense sense of freedom; one that we wish to share with everyone.

“I fell in love with the beach. Surf was just an added benefit.”

Shannon Campbell Brown, Professional Surfer & Surf Coach

As the conversation evolves, we are told that dinner is served. Our new friends were kind enough to prepare some traditional meals for us. Before we eat, Levi chants another prayer to bless the food and closes the ceremony. Grateful, we all grab a plate and enjoy some fresh crab, smoked salmon, mussels, fish chowder, baked potatoes, and a wonderful variety of delicious dishes. The mood is light and cheery. It all feels good. While we eat, we talk about potential future collaborations. The idea to start an all-ages surf club comes up. The proposal suggests a reinforcement of the already existing Tofino-based surf community by adding free surf lessons, ocean education, beach clean-ups, as well as various beach activities. This would require time and manpower, but it’s the beginning of an exciting adventure. All in all, we feel blessed to have had the opportunity to converse with such a beautiful group of people and hope to have more conversations and fun-filled activities with them in the near future. Together, we wish to build a bigger and brighter circle of ocean lovers. 

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Note: Special thanks to Carla Moss, co-owner of Clayoquot Wild, who helped make this unique gathering possible.

Levi Martin, Tla-o-qui-aht Elder, Traditional Healer, Artist & Carver, Leading Language Teacher of Nuu-chah-nulth Moses Martin, Tla-o-qui-aht Elder & Former elected chief, Co-owner of Clayoquot Wild, Commercial Fisherman James Martin, Tla-o-qui-aht youth, Co-owner & Guide at Clayoquot Wild, Photographer, Commercial Fisherman Dwayne Martin, Tla-o-qui-aht Artist & Carver, Cook, Wild Foods Harvester

Carla Moss, Co-owner & Office Manager at Clayoquot Wild, Wife of Moses Martin & Mother of James Martin