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 (www.nicksopczakphotography.com)

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 (www.nicksopczakphotography.com)

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 (www.nicksopczakphotography.com)

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 (www.nicksopczakphotography.com)

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 (www.nicksopczakphotography.com)

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 (www.nicksopczakphotography.com)

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: emily.wavedancer@gmail.com  For more photos by Nick Sopczak visit: www.nicksopczakphotography.com