Road To The Olympic Games

Summer Sports·Profile

Meet the godfather of Canadian surfing

With surfing set to join the Olympics in 2020, Canada's Dom Domic has seen his sport come a long way since the waves first pulled him in.

Dom Domic has ridden the wave from local beaches to the Olympics

Dom Domic, left, with Canadian pro surfer Noah Cohen, has seen his sport come a long way since it first pulled him in. (Dom Domic/Surf Canada)

Tofino, B.C., is a small place where the Pacific Ocean sweeps over the bristling rainforest of Vancouver Island's south coast. It's an often caliginous blend of ancient cedars, coastal mountains and drenched shore.

This is where a teenaged Dom Domic made the discovery that has coloured much of his existence since then. His obsession will likely shape the future of competitive surfing in Canada as the sport prepares to enter the Olympic Games for the first time. 

Today, Domic is the president of Surf Canada, but he took a meandering path to the job.

Every holiday when he was a kid, Dom's parents took him and his sister aboard a southbound airplane from wintery Calgary to the sunny beaches of Hawaii, Mexico or Southern California.

While everyone else in his family is either averse or indifferent to water, the waves were transformative for young Dom, who immediately felt "at home" in the water. He began with a boogie board, then graduated to surfing at age 12.

"The energy of the ocean resonated somewhere deep in my core," he says.

Domic admits that having the waves snatched away from him at every vacation's end only inflamed his desire for the water.

"It's very alluring," he says. "Something that's mysterious and you want to be a part of and you can't."

Open water

By the age of 16, Domic would lay out maps to plot trips to the next enticing swells in nearby places like Tofino and Westport, Wash.

As he remembers, Tofino in 1986 was "a hardcore resource extraction town" with only a handful of motels and restaurants.

"It was not tourist friendly," he says.

Over an August long weekend, Domic and a buddy got a car and found Long Beach, now one of Tofino's busiest breaks.

"There was literally no one there," he says. "It was like a brand-new discovery."

Domic was by no means the first to find Tofino. Tiny pockets of diehards had been surfing there since the 1960s, and at first they weren't welcoming.

"It was a completely different vibe when you came here. Everyone was still kind of in the '70s — black wetsuits, white boards," says Domic, whose California-inspired neon style clashed with the locals.

"We got educated on the local way pretty quickly."

Domic had found his home break.

Domic has been drawn to the waves from a young age. (Dom Domic/Surf Canada)

Why not here?

In 1987, Domic began attending the University of Victoria and working at Westbeach, a board shop.

While the beaches of Tofino would become the canvas for his trail-blazing work, he found his inspiration on TV in the winter of 1987. A re-broadcast of the 1986 surfing world championships featured a 14-year-old Kelly Slater, who's now a legend in the sport.

But it wasn't who was involved that really caught Domic's attention. It was the location — Fistral Beach, England.

"They have a world championships in England?" Domic thought. "We can do a contest here for sure."

He proposed the idea to the people at Westbeach, and they supported it. In 1988, the Westbeach Summer Surf Jam went off low key at Long Beach with a tent, some chairs and  about 30 young surfers. The next year it grew much larger.

"Suddenly there were hundreds of people on the beach," Domic says. "It was sunny, a beautiful day, and it was like, oh my god, what did we do?"

Olympic 'roller-coaster'

Today, nearly 30 years after Domic's unlikely conception, the contest has evolved to become the Rip Curl Pro Tofino.

In the early 2000s, it helped foster a future in pro surfing for local talents like Raph Bruhwiler and Pete Devries, all while Tofino accepted it's own transformation into a surf tourism destination. 

By producing the contest, Domic has become the steward of competitive surfing in Canada. And he has been a witness to the decades-long "roller-coaster ride of getting surfing into the Olympics."

In 2015 it was announced that surfing would be included in the 2019 Pan American Games in Lima, Peru. Last year, the International Olympic Committee added the sport, with four others, to the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo.

The challenge now, Domic says, is qualifying Canadian surfers for the Olympics. This year Surf Canada officially became a national sport federation, and Domic is searching the world to recruit new national team members.

Tofino's Pete Devries, 34, is an example. In 2009 he won the O'Neill Cold Water Classic, one iteration of Domic's contest. The six-star pro event was held at Chesterman Beach, where Devries learned to surf. 

Today, Devries is Canada's team captain and a potential Olympian for 2020. He credits Domic with keeping competitive surfing alive in Canada.

"He's basically done it all himself, I would say," says Devries. "He's just completely obsessed with competition and surfing and he just loves it."

The next step for Canada's surfers is this week's Pan Am qualification event in Peru. Domic says the Olympic selection criteria are expected from the IOC in early 2018.

Whatever happens next, Domic doesn't need to justify his obsession with surfing.

"It's always been legit. You can't tell me that it's not if I care that much for it."


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