Sitting along Vancouver Island’s rugged west coast, Raph Bruwhiler cuts a generous slab of venison into small chunks. The backstrap is a special treat he’s saved from his last big hunt and his three kids have been eyeing it for weeks. He starts a fire as he surveys their camp that’s nestled between mountains, a steady stream, and the raucous Pacific Ocean.
As one of Canada’s first professional surfers, Raph began exploring the southwestern islands of British Columbia when he was sixteen. While he came here chasing waves, the isolation and rugged nature is what left a lasting impression. From then on, he jumped at surf trips, camping, or guiding jobs — anything to get back up here.
But that kind of untouched wild can’t be found just around the corner. The nearest town is either a two hour boat ride or a seven-hour, backcountry drive — a trip Raph and his family make many times each year, weather and ocean conditions permitting.
there is no dock: just two tree stumps with a rope between them. Gear is lugged off the boat, into the water, onto the shore, and up to the cabin. Over the years, Raph, his wife Joey, and their kids Aqua, Shea, and Dusty have unloaded everything from power tools to basic cooking supplies to vacuums — in addition to their camping gear. Within a few quick minutes, they’re able to accomplish what would be backbreaking work for anyone else. They’re used to it though, as muscling through is what they’ve always done here.
That’s the overall mindset at Camp Bruhwiler: There is no easy route, but it wouldn’t be worth it if it was. They demonstrate this in everything from the way they approach meals (all fished, caught, or hunted from the surrounding land) to how they get to their favorite surf break (a full day commitment with an hour-long water commute).
But the effort to exist out here is well worth the rewards: They eat clams, scallops, and fish that they catch fresh in the morning. They are each other’s only surf competition in an otherwise empty lineup. They explore the surrounding forest, waterfalls, creeks, and challenge each other to jump from the nearby seaside cliffs. It’s the purest kind of playground. And for the kids, it’s all they’ve ever known.
To Raph and Joey, their kids were never “too young” to bring out here. They were simply absorbed into the camping fold. When asked, Raph will say this was by design.
“JOEY AND I KNEW IF WE BROUGHT THE KIDS ALONG ON EVERY TRIP, THEY WERE MUCH MORE LIKELY TO LOVE WHAT WE LOVE. AND THEN WE WOULD NEVER HAVE TO STOP DOING OUR FAVORITE THINGS.”
In many ways, this is exactly what has played out and their camp itself is evidence of that. A handful of structures huddle within the modest amount of land they’ve cleared. A main house for sleeping, a tool shed, a pump house, an outhouse, and even a small sauna — all built through the years by hand and with raw materials sourced from the property. The camp’s evolution is marked by clear and deliberate intention — the very same that saw Raph and Joey bringing tiny tots here many years ago.
With all of that mind, Raph does acknowledge he can’t take all the credit when it comes to his kids’ relationships with the wild.
“YOU CAN PLAN AND TRY TO GUIDE THEM ALL YOU WANT, BUT YOU CAN’T MAKE A KID LOVE SOMETHING, NO MATTER HOW HARD YOU TRY. WE DEFINITELY GOT LUCKY.”
And judging by how none of them have slowed down once since landing, this couldn’t be more apparent. Swimming their bags and surfboards from the boat to the shore, constantly building fires to either warm up post-surf or prepare food on, improvising forgotten silverware from clamshells — it’s nonstop as everyone does their part. Even their favorite way to wind down, a DIY beachfront hot tub , is no walk in the park. It requires expert assembly, man power to dig the tub itself, and hours of building and tending to a fire.
above: Aqua and Shea haul their lunch, boards, and dry gear from the boat to the shoreline of their favorite surfbreak.
ABOVE: Dusty catches and prepares lunch while Shea warms up after an hour in the surf.
When the sun finally begins to set, they all clamber into the hot tub, enjoying their roasted backstrap, some drinks, the view, and a brief moment of rest. But there isn’t a feeling of fatigue or burnout – quite the opposite actually. Because every one of them knows that this is a place where every minute of hard work is worth it.