Queen of the Dirt Palace: Marie-France Roy Talks Northwest Surfing and Living Simply

Words by Matthew Vanatta
Photos by Kyler Vos & Graeme Owsianski

Before relocating to Ucluelet on British Columbia’s Vancouver Island, Marie-France Roy made a name for herself as one of the most prolific snowboarders of all time. As a Whistler local, Marie or MFR as she is commonly referred to became synonymous with the BC backcountry. Riding spine-tingling lines with an eloquent and powerful style, she set the snowboard world on fire. As an avid outdoorswoman and ambassador of the Pacific Northwest, Marie-France continues to be a pivotal role model for anyone who is inspired by outdoor adventure. As an activist and environmental steward Marie has used her platform to spread awareness about sustainability, through a love of both mountain and sea.

After filming a number of award winning video parts, MFR started looking for new adventures. And while she is still one the best snowboarders in the world, her passion for surfing has allowed her to find a new and exciting outlet in the outdoors. A woman who is truly wild at heart, she has thrown herself into surfing the often-frigid waters of the Northwest with the same vigor she applied to the mountains. We caught up with Marie to talk about her love of surfing, her sustainable house dubbed the “Dirt Palace” and what she brings with her on every surf mission. MFR has spent over a decade finding new ways to create and explore in the wilderness and if the past is evident of the future, she won’t be slowing down anytime soon.

Photo: Graeme Owsianski

What kind of magical BC fungi were you on when you decided to build the Dirt Palace?

(Laughs) On the Magical West Coast Reishi! I have made my own tea and tinctures out of those, so maybe that is what gave me those inspirations. Honestly, the idea to build my home came to me right after I broke my neck in 2010. Even though it may seem like a scary experience, I believe it was a blessing in disguise. The time needed to heal allowed me to reconnect with the passions that had been missing in my life. I have always been interested in sustainability, ecology, and building things.

A friend showed me a book about these hand sculpted cob homes and I instantly fell in love. Another friend told me about this one week workshop on Salt Spring Island with this group of awesome women called The Mudgirls who teach sustainable building techniques. It was such a rad learning environment and it only took those five days of basic knowledge to convince me I really wanted to build my own.

It seems like a magical place, what inspired you to build an environmentally friendly home?

My dad and two older brothers are all builders and contractors. I’ve always been inspired by them and their ability to build amazing things with their hands. I didn’t get all the incredible skill and knowledge that they have to build things, but I have always found so much peace of mind and satisfaction in more simple projects such as making clothes, gardening, arts and crafts, and making jewelry. The beauty of working with cob is you don’t need to be that handy, it is quite simple and allows for so much creativity and personality.

Cob is a mix of sand, clay, and straw, mixed by foot with water on tarps. It takes a long time but it is 100% natural, it is a great workout, and the result is very rewarding. I was lucky to have my brother, many friends, and my dad around to help me with the more complicated parts of the construction for sure, but it is a much easier, more affordable, and sustainable and way to build. This is not a new way of building, as people have been building these homes all over the world for centuries, they can last hundreds of years if built right.

Photo: Graeme Owsianski

Are we finally at this intersection where design and sustainability are combining to make really cool and environmentally friendly products?

I think there is an awakening for sure and I wish everyone could appreciate the importance of prioritizing sustainability when it comes to all aspects of life: economics, politics, and health. It’s mandatory if we wish to keep a good quality of life for all living species on Earth

Your snowboarding feats are legendary, but you are a dedicated surfer as well, how did you fall in love with the sea?

I have always been in love with the sea! Even before I knew her, she had been calling my name for as long as I can remember. I grew up in Quebec, so the sea was far, but I did grow up on the St-Lawrence River, which was a doorway to my salty lover. Some of my favorite memories from being a child are the days we spent at the beach, swimming, playing in the mud and sand or watching Beluga whales from shore. I always dreamt of learning how to surf but didn’t think I would ever get the chance since we lived so far away from any waves.

The second coolest thing that was accessible was snowboarding and that turned out to be quite fun. Fast forward 10 years: I moved to Whistler and started snowboarding for a living. After a few years living there, we started going to Tofino one weekend a year in the summer. We camped out at the landfill, rented foamies and always had the best time. Five years after that I decided I wanted to spend more time in the water, so I bought a little property and a shitty used board, and my love for it hasn’t stopped growing since.

Photo: Kyler Vos

With adverse weather and fickle conditions, surfing in the North Pacific can be a challenge. How do you stay motivated?

Iceland was the first place I ever surfed. I used an old wetsuit full of holes that was way too big for me, so maybe my standards were pretty low from the start. I love surfing in Canada so much. It is hard for me to explain why. I love the beauty of the place so much. The power and beauty of the landscapes here blows me away every single day. The wildlife is unreal: bears, wolves, bald eagles, porpoises, orcas, and salmon. It is absolutely breathtaking.

The surf isn’t always good, but when you live here you get your good days. Just being in the water is what really matters. It’s my meditation. And if it was warm water this place would be way too busy. The cold keeps only the truly motivated coming. People are friendly in the water, and even though it’s mainly beach breaks, I prefer surfing a shittier wave with good vibes over a world class point break with an agro crowd.

Photo: Kyler Vos

While living in Washington, I had to learn to just appreciate the surroundings and accept that the surf won’t always be working. Is every surf in Canada an adventure, regardless of the actual surfing?

I think so. There is so much to explore around here, there is not enough time to see it all. The surfing itself is just a bonus.

What’s the bear situation like, do you just tuck the bear spray into your wetsuit?

No way! I love bears and have never been scared of them. There are a lot of wolves here, too. I’m not scared of those either, but I am scared of cougars for sure!

Obviously Tofino is the well known spot in BC, but there are many waves that take a pretty serious effort on the approach, have you undertaken any crazy adventures just to access a spot?

There are some spots that require more adventuring for sure, and a lot of them I haven’t had the chance to experience yet. I can say that hiking in the forest in the pissing rain not knowing if you’ll get waves isn’t that uncommon around here in the fall and winter months.

Surfing in the Northwest takes a lot of patience and resilience, but it also requires some gear to stay comfortable. What do you take on every session?

I usually take a hooded Patagonia Wetsuit. Usually 4 mil in the summer, and a 5 or 6 mil for fall and winter. Booties, gloves, and thermoses full of hot water are key for getting out of the water in the cold months.

Photo: Kyler Vos

So as a mountain and ocean enthusiast, do you take the perfect powder day or a day of perfect waves?

Don’t tell anyone, but I think I’d take the waves!

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