Surfer girl’s never ‘board’ of life in Alberni

How does a Cowichan girl who learned how to dance in India and surf in Tofino end up owning a surfboard shop in Port Alberni? Check it out.

Totally Board Surf Company’s Shelly Chester is still ‘hanging ten’ after all these years—and loving it.

Totally Board Surf Company’s Shelly Chester is still ‘hanging ten’ after all these years—and loving it.

So how does a girl from Cowichan who learned how to dance in India and surf in Tofino end up owning a surfboard shop in Port Alberni?

Tracey Chester, 52, grew up in the Cowichan Valley with her parents, two older brothers and one sister.

Her earliest memory of growing up there is distinct.

“I remember collecting clams with my family at Cowichan Bay when I was two years old,” Chester said. “I can still see it clearly.”

Chester went to school in Cowichan and graduated in 1977.

Her favourite subject was writing and her favourite teacher was her creative writing teacher – Mrs. Turner.

“She knew Margaret Atwood and I thought that was impressive,” Chester said.

Not judging or overpraising people is a trait that was honed by her grandmother, whom she counts as her sole role model while growing up.

“She used to say ‘Never put anyone higher than your own head and never rejoice in anyone’s defeat,”” Chester said.

Aspirations aren’t something Chester believes in.

“I was interested in theatre, dance, travel and I’ve done all that,” Chester said.

“If aspirations are what someone wants to be then that’s what they always were.”

Chester travelled throughout North Africa and Europe after she graduated from high school.

Bitten by the surf bug in 1978, she moved to Tofino at the tender age of 18, which was then a small, mellow hippie hamlet.

It was a different place then than it is now. “There was this wild energy there,” Chester said. “It was full of alternate people doing alternate things.”

Five years later Chester moved to Ucluelet, where she would live for the next 25 years. She worked in the service industry, worked with children, did theatre and ran her own business, which was one of the first to retail hemp products.

Chester pulled up stakes again, this time to Port Alberni, where she and her partner Billy Leach operate the Totally Board surf shop on Johnston Road.

The two met back in 1998 when Chester needed someone to do a fibreglass cast of something and was referred to Leach, who did body casting.

These days Chester splits her time minding the shop, riding her horse, working in the service industry and ice skating in the winter.

Chester has danced, travelled, surfed and travelled some more, a testament to the best advice she ever received.

“Better to do the things than regret not doing them—my mother told me that,” Chester said.

The Deer Hunter is Chester’s favourite movie because of the way it portrays the impact of the Vietnam War on ordinary people such as Robert DeNiro’s character.

And Chester is reading books about Hatha Yoga, Dressage and Brother of Tao.

One gets the impression that Chester thinks of time as a precious commodity to be used wisely.

“It’s easy to run out of time,” she said.

reporter@albernivalleynews.com