The Northern Collective. #3: Raph Bruhwiler

Posted Červen 15th, 2011 by Billabongboardshortscloths

A staple of the Canadian surf scene since his mid-teens, Raph Bruhwiler shoulders much of the responsibility for raising the Canadian professional surfing bar to where it is now. Raph has cemented himself as one of the hardest charging surfers in the cold water scene, gaining international acclaim for his style, his attitude, and interminable passion for surfing off our rugged coast.

In the third chapter of “The Northern Collective,” we talk with Raph about his rise from a small-town surf kid into a justifiable surf legend, his infatuation with big waves and his love for exploring the Canadian coastline. Photo: Jeremy Koreski.

How was it to be the first Canadian to get a major sponsor?

I forget who my first was. Shoot, I don’t want to get it wrong! I think it was O’Neill. It was just getting free gear, not a paycheque. That was…oh man, I don’t know when that was. I must’ve been 17 or 18. When you’re young like that, you’re just stoked to be getting free gear and staying warm. That was my first sponsor. After that, I rode for Rip Curl, then Quiksilver and Arson, and Westbeach too. There were a lot of companies I rode for, but I’ve been riding for Quiksilver for about eight years now. Also Oakley for about four years and Ocean Minded shoes for three years. They’ve been supporting me and my family and I’m grateful for that.

You were kind of the big name in Tofino for a long time. Did anything change when you first got a sponsor?

Nothing changed. I mean, not with me. It might’ve pushed some people to surf a bit harder, the level might’ve risen a bit. But I was just stoked to be getting free gear and surfing. I don’t think anyone really thought of it being that great, it was just when you’re a kid and you’re getting free gear, that’s pretty cool. Everyone else might’ve seen that, and it might’ve pushed them a little bit more. The thing is, back then, the surf industry in Canada was really small. They were just helping me out by giving me free gear. I never thought it was going to be as big as it is, and actually make a living out of it. I mean, I always wanted to make a living out of surfing, because I love surfing so much and that’s all I wanted to do. I was going to try, but you never really know when you’re a kid. You’re just stoked on the gear and being able to surf. And back then, it was a pretty small crew on Chesterman’s Beach where we grew up. There was basically me and my brothers, and also a bunch of our friends we grew up with and few older guys.

Who did you get influenced by? The older guys?

There was Jack Gillie, and Jack Bauer. There were the Buckle brothers and some other guys like John Hailey. Some of those guys don’t surf anymore, but Jack Gillie and Jack Bauer, they’re still surfing. Those guys would take me out once in a while, and I’d look up them. I guess at some point I kind of surpassed their level, but they still rip. Then we started watching more videos, and that pushed us more. After a while, my brothers and some of the other guys, we all kind of caught up to each other. Now there’s a few of us, and we all still try and push each other. For me, it started mostly on videos. The first Taylor Steele one was a big one, Momentum. We’d watch it ten times a day, then go out and surf all day. That was the best surfing we’d seen, and we were amazed by it. We’d just go out and try what they were doing.

I know you used to be pretty into tow surfing, especially on Vancouver Island. Not a lot of guys do that here. Are you still doing that?

No, not really. [Laughs.] It was kind of a fad. Oakley got me a jet ski when I first signed with them, and I did a few contests in Oregon, and I was pretty into it. But then the ski got written off, and I just wasn’t really into it anymore. It was fun, but I get way more of a thrill paddling with my own arms into waves. I mean, towing is great, and there’s lots of waves you can’t paddle into, and there’s lots of waves that you can have a lot more fun towing, but I get way more satisfaction paddling into a wave.

Are there a lot of towable waves on Vancouver Island?

There are a few big wave spots. There a couple that we checked out, but we never really got them that good. We still tow big beachbreaks once in a while. My brother has a ski, so we go tow with our regular boards, just to screw around. You get a lot more waves. But for the big wave stuff, they are there, we just kind of lost interest in it for now i guess. That’s what it comes down to. We’re still looking for good waves, just lately more paddle waves. I would still love to surf and tow some of those bigger waves and one day you’ll see it.

How do you find waves? Do you have a boat that you trek along the coast in?

Yeah, I have a boat, and my brother has a ski. We have our spots, and we try and go back. We try to time it with the weather and surf those waves when we can. I’m sure there’s a lot more to be discovered, it just takes a lot of time and money and risk. You have to know what the weather’s doing, because they’re all further away. Sometimes you hear from fishermen or kayakers, or other surfers or sometimes you see pictures from people that don’t even surf, like hikers. You ask them where it is, and it can end up being a good wave. On the coast here, the access is hard. It’s awesome to find new waves and explore, but you have to put a lot of time and effort into it. Which is good—that’s what surfing is about up here. Just getting to the waves is an adventure. That’s surfing to me—not just the act of wave riding, it’s everything else that’s involved with it as well. That’s the reason I surf.

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