A winter storm whipped up some of the largest waves seen on the west coast of Vancouver Island in a decade – and some say they could be the largest ever.

Waves 9.5 metres in height were recorded at one buoy just west of Tofino, according to Environment Canada, which issued a gale warning for the region.

The District of Tofino announced it was shutting down all of its beaches due to the hazardous conditions and asked observers to maintain a safe distance from shorelines.

The District of Ucluelet also closed several beaches and Pacific Rim National Park issued an extreme wave hazard advisory.

The massive waves combined with high tides to create a spectacular show for hundreds of storm watchers.

"I just heard from Ocean Networks Canada folks, the staff there are saying that it's the largest storm that their models have ever seen," said Karla Robison, Uclulet Environmental and Emergency Service Manager.

Barricades and warning tape were placed along the trail system between Ucluelet and Tofino, trying to keep people away from the waves and out of danger.

That could prove more difficult in the coming days as more people head toward the ocean to watch the show.

There have already been a few close calls with people being caught unaware by storm surges, like one man who ran into difficulties while photographing waves.

storm surge ucluelet

(Photo courtesy Andrew Minter)

"It can be laughed about at the time, but what a lot of visitors don't understand is that 600-pound log that's floating behind them is the real threat," said Randy Mercer, a safety technician with Pacific Rim Park Reserve. "If that knocks you down and the water leaves suddenly, you're under it."

Beaches in the region will be reassessed after high tide on Friday, but remain closed until further notice.