kakaw̓inminḥ women and girls group perform at first-ever Vancouver Island Longboard Classic surf contest | Ha-Shilth-Sa Newspaper

kakaw̓inminḥ women and girls group perform at first-ever Vancouver Island Longboard Classic surf contest

Ucluelet, BC

Playing barefoot on Wickaninnish Beach in her light green Vancouver Island Longboard Classic t-shirt with the word Witwaak (warrior) on the back, Chenoa McCarthy-Tom is over the moon about watching surfers take on the friendly June 1 swell.

The 10-year-old is part of the kakaw̓inminḥ (many killer whales) Yuułuʔiłʔatḥ girls group that volunteered as beachkeepers during the three-day contest, hosted in partnership with West Coast Shapes, Parks Canada and Yuułuʔiłʔatḥ.

From their basecamp for the day under the Tourism Ucluelet tent, McCarthy-Tom says she’s tried surfing, wants to surf more and might even enter the event next year.

“I saw so many people surf and it looks so fun,” she says. “A lot of people can just be themselves in the ocean. I love how (Wickaninnish) is a big beach and you can just run around.”

On Thursday, May 30 at the West Coast Shapes / Ukee Poke hub, the kakaw̓inminḥ performed the łuučmeʔi Witwaak (Woman Warrior) song to kick off the contest, and then sang once more in front of spectators during the second day of competition.

Yuułuʔiłʔatḥ teen Maxine Clutesi told the Ha-Shilth-Sa the group had only just learned the song a week ago on a special camping weekend at Wickaninnish Beach.

“The people who taught it to us were Anita Charleson-Touchie and Skylene,” said Clutesi. “We were really shy when we started, but for the rest of the night we all just started singing it over and over again. We were non-stop just belting it out.”

Her mom Natica, a big wave surfer who competed in the Wickaninnish Open back in 1992 and also won a contest in Surf City USA, addressed the crowd at the Longboard Classic.

“Our plan is to come and compete next year and we are so excited to,” Natica announced, which was followed by cheers from the audience.

Clutesi took the mic from her mom to add:

“I think it’s so great that the surf event is being held here because this is actually where my mom taught me how to surf.”

Vancouver Island Longboard Classic head organizers David Schiaffino and Jay Rosene expressed their commitment to involving Yuułuʔiłʔatḥ youth from the inception of the event.

"This is exactly what we needed,” said Natica. “We needed room for young people, we needed room for women, and even better, all together as a group. People are really trying to make sure our beaches are safe for Indigenous women and Indigenous girls.”

Schiaffino said the contest really brought everybody together.

“I was very emotional, actually had a couple of tears here and there,” he said. “It brought such joy to see these girls doing their traditional dances and prayers and their land while commemorating this event. This is exactly what we were looking for.”

kakaw̓inminḥ leader Savannah McCarthy noted that the Yuułuʔiłʔatḥ and Tla-o-qui-aht boundary line is drawn at Combers Beach.

“Last week we were out here camping with the women and girls group and we had Gisele Martin come out here and talk about the history about how we agreed to live in peace,” McCarthy said. “It was the first time any of us have camped out here.”

McCarthy-Tom shared a version of the story.

“One time, there was a whale they were hunting. But the whale crossed territory lines. They didn’t want to fight anymore, so they got all the people from both sides and they shared the whale,” regaled the Nuu-chah-nulth youth.

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