The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.
That quote by Jacques Cousteau is a story many surfers and other ocean-lovers have told and it’s no different for Prince Rupert’s Leo Rutherford.
“It was love at first sight,” said Rutherford, while warming up with a tea at Cowpuccino’s after more than three hours out on the ocean, and sometimes in the ocean.
Prince Rupert may not be the typical surfing hotspot, without the beaches and warm temperatures often associated with surfing, but for Rutherford and a small surfing community in Rupert, this is paradise.
The 23-year-old, who splits his time between Rupert and Oona River, has a deep love for the sometimes-fierce waves.
“The number one is just being in the water. Around sunset, it can be the most beautiful place and even on the grey days where you can’t even see your boat, I find it a little blissful,” he said.
Rutherford’s surfing days began back in the summer of 2012 on Haida Gwaii. He was working at a tugboat company in Rupert at the time but he took some time off to go over to the island before going to school for engineering in Vancouver in the fall.
“I just went over with my little van and picked up a surfboard and it’s been ruining my life ever since,” he said with a smile.
He calls it an addiction at this point, but a healthy addiction, “other than the hypothermia that sometimes happens.”
Growing up, Rutherford’s dad would take him to Haida Gwaii and he would play in the waves, which led to boogie boarding and surfing just seemed like the next step. That first time, it didn’t take much to grab hold of him forever.
“I was paddling out and I was kind of struggling and balancing and falling off this board but I do remember as soon as a wave caught me, it was that feeling that felt really good,” he said.
Rutherford remembers calling his sister afterwards and telling her surfing was the most fun thing he’s ever done and it’s what he wants to do forever. The six-foot-four surfer hasn’t looked back since. Most of what he has done has involved surfing.
In June, he bought a small boat that he takes to his favourite surfing spots. He just loads up his surf board and off he goes onto the open water, searching for good waves. Around Rupert, he can pretty much surf year round, except for the cold snap that has happened lately with the Arctic Outflow. Before the cold, he was surfing at least four times a week.
Being so invested in the sport led Rutherford to start building surf boards.
“I think it kind of opened up something in me,” he said.
When he was last in Vancouver, he bought a bunch of the material for building a few boards for fun and to possibly save some money. In the future, Rutherford can picture himself owning a little surf company, where he would sell his boards. Then he laughs and says, “I just don’t know if they’re any good. The one I made works.”
Regardless, it fills up the time in between his surfing trips, which is good enough for him.
Hodgeson Reef and West Side Digby are two spots in the area that are Rutherford’s go-to, which he says are near the top of the list of anywhere he’s surfed. But his favourite spot — and favourite surfing memory — is in Tlell, on the east side of Haida Gwaii. He was driving through on his way to North Beach when he noticed a random swell (solid, real waves as opposed to chop created by the wind). The further up the island he got, the waves got even nicer.
“I just pulled over on the side of the road and went in and had this awesome, wedged-style wave to myself,” he said.
That was the time he got barrelled by a wave, which is a surfer’s dream. Because Rutherford is so tall, it takes a bigger wave to go over top of him, but it happened in Tlell, the highlight of his surfing so far.
Although the Rupert surfer doesn’t necessarily have any specific goals with surfing he wants to accomplish, he does know the future holds more waves for him. He just wants to surf, and to do it in as many places as possible.
Despite his love for the ocean, she hasn’t always been kind to him. Once while surfing, he broke his ribs, but it didn’t deter Rutherford. Instead, it reminded him of the incredible power the ocean holds.
“It was a gentle reminder, ‘Hey, I could crush you if I wanted to’ so I find it very humbling.”
It started as just something to try, but has turned into an avid enthusiasm for the sport and a love affair with the Pacific Ocean. It’s just like Cousteau said: Rutherford is held in wonder of the ocean forever.