NOOTKA, British Columbia -- A bald eagle soared overhead and a curious seal poked its head out of the water, about 20 feet from where I was resting on my surfboard, waiting for the perfect wave. Jeremy Philips, our instructor, was giving my husband a few tips on how to spot a good wave and how to pop up onto his surfboard at the perfect moment.
I was trying to listen, but I admit I was distracted by the views: In front of us was a sprawling beach covered in smooth, round stones that were so polished by the ocean they looked as if they had been crafted with an artist's touch.
Mountains dotted with patches of snow and ice rippled away into the distance and a creek slipped out of the woods -- a dense forest of ancient spruce, cedar, and yew -- and spilled into the ocean. Behind us, there was nothing but thousands of miles of open water.
''Storms brew in New Zealand and Antarctica and create big swells that end up here," Philips said, explaining how and why British Columbia is so blessed with good surf.
We had gone to one of the most rugged and remote areas of the province to learn how to surf: the exposed west coast of Nootka, a small island off the west coast of Vancouver Island. Here, Clay Hunting and Silvi Rautter, owners of Tatchu Adventures, run a wilderness surf camp for beginner to expert surfers, who come from around the world to catch waves and improve their skills.
There is little here except two tree houses, a small lodge, a cedar sauna, and miles of empty coastline. Occasionally, a hiker wanders along the beach (the 22-mile Nootka Trail follows this coast), Hunting's ''neighbor" Pat stops by (her house is in the woods, barely visible, about a quarter of a mile away), or a fishing boat slips past. Otherwise, there isn't another soul on water or land, as far as the eye can see. That's no surprise, since getting here was a real adventure.
We drove from Victoria to Tahsis, a seven-hour trip that took us through picturesque communities along Vancouver Island's east coast and then west through Strathcona Provincial Park -- B.C.'s oldest and largest park, where we saw the Comox Glacier and several bears -- and along a winding dirt logging road that crosses several mountain passes and has grades of up to 15 percent. Eventually, we reached Tahsis, a tucked-away village with 500 residents surrounded by the Rugged Mountain Range.
From Tahsis, Tatchu Adventures took us on a one-hour ride by Zodiac down the fiord-like Tahsis Inlet to the eastern side of Nootka Island. It was another 45-minute drive across the island by four-wheel-drive vehicle to reach the Beano Creek Eco Surf Village.
The surf camp hosts an average of eight, but no more than a dozen, people at once. We happened to be the only surfers when we were there last month.
Tatchu Adventures offers four- to seven-day surf packages about seven months of the year. The best time for beginners is July through early September, when the waves are smaller. Intermediate and advanced surfers should shoot for September and October or April to June, when the surf kicks up and offers more challenging waves.
Tatchu Adventures provides all surf gear, including learner boards and wet suits, plus all meals, snacks, and drinks. We just needed to bring clothes, a towel, sunscreen, and a sleeping bag.
Surfers can stay in the main lodge or one of two tree houses Hunting has built by hand using wood he milled on site from old cedar and spruce trees. Each tree house sleeps up to four people and has double beds, a wood stove for heat, and a big deck with ocean views. Surfers also can sleep in tents on the beach -- our choice.
My husband had never tried surfing. I had been on a surfboard only once in my life, when I took a three-hour lesson at Waikiki Beach in Hawaii. On Oahu, I wore just a bathing suit and shared the beach with dozens and dozens of surfers. On Nootka, I wore a full-length wet suit with a neoprene hood and booties, and I was sharing the surf with only large harbor seals and an instructor who was accustomed to teaching beginners. About 35 percent of the people who come here have little to no experience on a surfboard.
Philips spent the first day teaching us how to hop up onto the board -- a frog jump -- and correctly position our feet for good balance, plus how to time our paddling and pop-ups so we could catch a wave. We practiced for hours and managed to stand for brief moments before belly-flopping into the surf.
When the waves died down, he showed us how to do turtle rolls and duck dives, to get through waves that we weren't going to ride and to avoid getting tumbled around by the surf.
He also explained the different types of waves found in the area, like left-hand reef breaks and wind-protected point breaks, and how to assess how they would break. He explained surf etiquette, such as how to paddle in a lineup and not drop in on someone else's wave. Mostly, though, we just practiced and played, doing our best to stand on our boards for more than a few seconds at a time.
At the end of the day, there was nothing better for easing tired muscles than the sauna, which Hunting had built with 18-inch-wide cedar planks next to a little stream in the woods, in full view of the ocean. We spent hours there, sipping cold drinks and basking in the warmth of the wood stove, followed by a refreshing solar shower and big dinner.
Rautter makes fresh, organic dishes -- over a gas camping stove -- that could rival any found at Vancouver restaurants. We had special muesli and buckwheat pancakes with fruit and organic syrup for breakfast, quesadillas and salmon shish kebabs for lunch, and ''happy chicken" (free-range chicken), vegetable lasagna, or curry for dinner.
When we weren't surfing, sitting in the sauna, or eating, we wandered the empty beaches in search of Japanese glass balls (floats from old Japanese fishing nets, now a treasure along these shores), hiked through old-growth spruce forests, and fished for Pacific salmon.
At night, we had bonfires on the beach, swapped stories, and enjoyed Rautter's fabulous desserts. She even baked a special Austrian chocolate cake and offered us champagne after hearing it was my husband's birthday. Such is their hospitality.
''We're all about the experience and making friends with the people who come here," said Hunting. ''Surfing has become so commercialized, but this is surfing that still has some soul to it. And people really love this environment."
That night, my husband and I slept in a tent on the beach, next to a giant piece of driftwood -- a sitka spruce that measured at least 15 feet in circumference. We fell asleep listening to the sound of the surf rolling the beach stones around like marbles, and we awoke to the sound of a dog sniffing around our tent. When we mentioned this to Rautter the next morning, over our buckwheat pancakes, she said, ''The dogs were with us last night. We don't let them out because of the wolves."
Oh, to be so close to wildlife -- and, sometimes, blessedly, not know it's there.
We spent the next two days practicing our surf moves, finally learning how to stand and ride the waves at least a few feet -- a big accomplishment for me, given the thick wet suit and heavy booties I was wearing.
Then we hopped back into the Zodiac and trolled for salmon as we headed back to Tahsis. As we cruised up the jade-colored inlet, an eagle flew overhead and we had a clear view of the mainland's mountains as they disappeared in the summer haze.
Boston-based Kari J. Bodnarchuk is an adventure and travel writer.