Resident Vancouver Island surfing queen Leah Oke feels like a fish. A big fish in a small pond, that is.
Oke, whose last taste of competition was the World Surfing Games in Playa Venao, Panama in July where she placed 25th out of 75, hasn’t surfed in two months—and that’s not by choice.
“I think (this area) is not really the best spot for me because all the time in the summer I don’t surf for two months. It kinda makes my surfing go backwards a bit, you know.”
Learning to ride the waves at the age of six off Sombrio Beach where she grew up, Oke later moved to Port Renfrew where she lived until last week when she hopped on a plane back to Panama.
“There’s lots of competitions (there) and more girls surfing, and other bigger contests in the area and surrounding countries too,” said Oke. “There’s really good waves, there’s really good people and I absolutely love it there.”
Flying there on a one-way ticket, she doesn’t have concrete plans other than to get her surfing legs back and learn some Spanish.
“Right now my main goal is to get back in the water and surf as much as possible. I cannot deal with not surfing for months at a time—it is my passion in life and I cannot go without it for any longer.”
Prime local surfing at Jordan River and Sombrio is from fall to spring. That’s just not enough for Oke who still has aspirations of turning pro. Now 26, she admitted it’s a little late to make the jump but looked to world surfing champion Kelly Slater for inspiration. At 39, he has won the title 10 times since he was 20 years old. She is confident that being in a competitive environment like Panama will guide her in the right direction.
“If I can surf all year, I’m sure my surfing skills will skyrocket in many different ways.”
The talent is clearly there—prior to the world games in June, Oke took first at the Rip Curl Stew tournament in Tofino for the second consecutive year. But having so much success has also been her downfall, because being at the top of the local scene means she hasn’t had to be as hungry to win.
“I struggled in (Panama) with not having much contest experience and not knowing much about heat strategy, etc.”
Not one to be without a backup plan, the Oke said even if a professional career doesn’t pan out, there are other opportunities available like opening up a surf school or surf shop. But for now, the fiery blue-eyed redhead has only has one goal.
“My main focus at the moment is to get back into the water and do what I love.”