Northern Latitude, Tropical Attitude

emily (8 of 8)

Written by Emily Ballard (ISN) – Photographs by Nick Nick Sopczak (ISN)

May 5, 2013, (ISN) – I’d paint you a picture, but Nick has already done that for me. It’s now my job to explain to you the feeling of waking up in a temperate rainforest, pulling on a 6 millimeter wetsuit, and jumping into the frigid North Pacific Ocean in the middle of the winter. There truly is, nothing like it.

This hasn’t always been my life; in fact, I was afraid of the ocean until I turned 18 and decided to learn how to surf. A bad experience at summer camp as a child tore me away from swimming in the sea. I originally come from the East Coast of Vancouver Island, the sheltered, surf-less side of the island. I spent my whole life on an island being thrashed by waves all year round on the West Coast, never realizing the potential to live in a surfer’s paradise.

emily (1 of 8)
Photograph by Nick Sopczak (

It wasn’t until I heard the song “Surfin’ in Tofino” by the Planet Smashers, that I wanted the life of a surfer. I moved out to Tofino a week after hearing that song. Two days later I managed to get the courage, a friends gear, and walked into the ocean. I’ve barely been on land since. That was 8 years ago now.

emily (2 of 8)
Photograph by Nick Sopczak (

Starting from an 8’6 board, I soon moved up to a 10′ within my first 2 years of surfing. Something about the big boards intrigued me. To be knee paddling over rolling waves, wind at my back, watching the sets coming closer; it was, and still is a favourite feeling of being on the water.

emily (3 of 8)
Photograph by Nick Sopczak (

I also come from a background of serious dancing. I started ballet, along with a few other styles, when I was 3 years old, and was a performer for many years. Being on stage in front of a huge crowd is such a rush, and the way I get that feeling now is gliding down the face of a wave. Being a natural performer, I wanted to compete in surfing as soon as I felt comfortable riding a clean wave.

emily (4 of 8)
Photograph by Nick Sopczak (

The first contest I took part in was the Ripcurl Stew (Now the Ripcurl Pro) here in Tofino. The category was mixed longboard and I was up against some incredibly talented males and a couple other brave girls. There was no hope for me but I didn’t care. It’s not often you get to surf in many places with only a few other people. Contest surfing is a great chance to do that!

emily (5 of 8)
Photograph by Nick Sopczak (

My competitive nature has made me surf in many contests, ranking in the top 3 at quite a few now and recently winning at the 2012 Cape Kiwanda Longboard Classic down in Pacific City, Oregon. Back in 2009 I had the crazy notion to head down to California and be the first Canadian to compete in an ASP sanctioned Longboard Qualifying Series event.

Photograph by Nick Sopczak (

Most of Vancouver Island is logged now but there are a few intact old-growth forests left. Some of them lie right next to some perfect rock points on the south west coast of the island. I lived down there for a short while, but total lack of jobs forced me back to Tofino. I sometimes wish the island was just like California, with boardwalks on all of the beaches, and easy access to all the locations. And then I think, “No, the island is perfect just the way it is.” Not too many people can live with the 10 feet plus rain we get yearly either. I love it!

Emily can be reached at:  For more photos by Nick Sopczak visit: