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In Nuu-chah-nulth territory, sport helps people commune with the ocean, the land and their ancestors in a modern way

The vast curl of Long Beach peels southward down the peninsula toward Ucluelet on Vancouver Island, B.C. Tiny, near perfect waves roll into the beach as a dozen or so Nuu-chah-nulth youth wade into the breakers carrying bright blue surfboards.

Dating back to ancient Polynesia, the sport of surfing is now being used to connect Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations youth back to the land and ocean of their traditional territories and their ancestors.

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Nuu-chah-nulth youth KC Hale, top, and Lillian Yallup, below, head to the beach before a mułaa surf session.

The Mułaa surf team, translated to Rising Tide in the Tla-o-qui-aht language, was founded in 2019 and uses surfing as a conduit to support local youth, and connect them with the outdoors and ocean at their doorstep.

“The program began because there was a youth forum for Tla-o-qui-aht youth, at which they were asked what do they want to do? What do they want to learn?” explained Alyssa Fleishman, one of the co-founders of Mułaa. “Some of the things that came out of it were culture, language and surfing. A lot of the kids around here don’t have a lot of opportunity to get in the water, even though they have amazing surf breaks right out front.”

Nuu-chah-nulth youth, instructors and elders gather on the beach for a language lesson before the surf session.
KC Hale paddles out from the sands of Long Beach on unceeded Tla-o-qui-aht territory near Tofino, B.C.
Steps from their backdoors, Nuu-chah-nulth youth are gaining new skills and using them to facilitate a deeper connection to the island lands and waters.

For millennia, the Nuu-chah-nulth and other Nations have called the coasts, islands and beaches of Vancouver Island home – fishing, whaling and travelling via the ocean. Connecting the youth to those traditions is an important pillar of the Mułaa program.

“For the Nuu-chah-nulth people, they have a special connection to the ocean, they are stewards of these lands and waters. They are whaling people, they are salmon people. So, we are really trying to create a setting and a space where they can access that part of wellness,” said Rachel Dickens, the other Mułaa co-founder.

“Surfing is a way to access some of that traditional knowledge, in a modern way,” said Ms. Fleishman.

Rachel Dickens, a mułaa co-founder, says the program aims to create a space for wellness and connection.
Raven August paddles to catch a wave during a mułaa surfing session.

Representation is also an essential part of the program. Tofino is an international destination for surfing, yet as Ms. Fleishman explained: “In the water there isn’t a lot of representation of Indigenous people, and Indigenous territory isn’t just the land, it is the water. And so, for these youth to feel comfortable surfing, it’s important to see other people out there like themselves.”

Surrounded by bobbing surfboards, and laughing surfers, you can see just that. Steps from their backdoors, youth are carving out a space, fostering new skills and a deeper connection to these island lands and waters.

Mary Jane Amos laughs with fellow surfers during a surf session on Long Beach.

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