They grew up “off the grid” and “on the water” – part of the family who are the sole year-round residents on Wickaninnish Island, across from Tofino.  Their parents are artists and environmental activists: Suzanne Hare and Steve Lawson were instrumental to the success of the 1984 Meares Island blockades, leading to the island’s establishment as a tribal park.  They played on the island’s beaches and in its old growth forest, nurturing a keen sense of their surroundings and gaining intimate knowledge of the marine and land-based wildlife that thrives around Tofino.  Meet Misty and Oren Lawson, two of the captains at Ocean Outfitters.
MitlaNova, Misty’s full name, is an extension of “Mitla”, one of the 22 words for “rain” in the native Nuu-chah-nulth language.  She continues to commute to Tofino by boat, now from nearby Beck Island with husband Jason (with whom she owns Atleo River Air Services) and children Mila and Jett.  Misty’s especially fond of harvesting her own seafood by fishing, diving or digging.  Sea urchins, available locally year-round, and also a staple of the sea otter diet, are her favourite treat.  She recalls a particularly memorable whale watching tour where she found her boat surrounded by two pods of approximately 50 orcas, a whale which is only transient to the waters off Tofino.  Misty had to turn off the motor and wait for the natural phenomenon to swim away, while the usually talkative guide tried to summon up words to explain the rare sighting to her passengers.
Oren is the youngest of the four Lawson siblings, who have all guided with Ocean Outfitters at some point.  He has been driving boats on his own since the age of eight, and will soon live next door to Misty, so to speak, on Stone Island. Misty and Oren laugh that they want to convince older sister Cosy (Quoashinis) and brother Matt (Matahil) to live on neighbouring islands as well. He is a “fishaholic” in Misty’s words, eager for what is being announced as a banner year for sockeye salmon.  Oren is still moved today by what he calls an “underwater hug” from a Humpback whale who swam up to his tour boat, wrapping it with its pectoral fins.  The whale also happened to be eye level to the boat passengers.  Just imagine looking into a whale’s eyes.  That trip, says Oren, was physically and emotionally exhausting, and shows how even after growing up on the waters of Clayoquot Sound, you never know what type of natural encounters you’ll have on a whale watching excursion.