Eric Currie, Brad Fogelman and Geoff Sinclair (left to right) walk across a frozen lake at their secret surf spot. (Photo: Tom Quinn)

Surfing into the student mainstream

Students across Halifax are taking an interest in surfing and the sport is growing with its own Maritime vibe

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Stereotypes associated with surfing usually include sun-bleached beach bums hitting the waves in Southern California or Hawaii. Here in Nova Scotia, however, people are dispelling those myths. Residents and students are braving the Canadian fall and winter seasons by squeezing into wetsuits, diving into the cold Atlantic waters and climbing atop their boards.

They're also bringing a maritime perspective to the surfing tradition.

 

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A surfboard leans against the wall outside the entrance to the Kannon Beach surf shop in East Lawrencetown on a windy winter morning. (Photo: Justin Tan)

Dalhousie Outdoors Society's fall surf trip

Bucky Branscombe is the president of the Dalhousie Outdoors Society and a student at Dal. He has noticed an increase in student interest over the past few years. In late September his group organized a trip for students to go surfing at Lawrencetown Beach, a favourite local spot east of Halifax.

"We run a surfing trip in the fall," Branscombe said. "We can only take 50 people... Within an hour and a half we had filled up all the spots.

"One big change between this year and last year is that a lot of people are asking about renting the surf equipment," he said. They "want to go again on their own".

Surfing is evolving from a niche sport to a mainstream activity around Halifax, as shown by the surge in popularity among the city's large student population.

For the Dalhousie Outdoors Society's successful fall surf trip, they teamed up with Nico Manos, the area's only professional surfer, and Trevor MacLean, who owns Eastern Alternative Shuttle and Transport.

During a car ride out to Lawrencetown on Nov. 20, MacLean said in the past 10 years the scene has really grown. Just five years ago, it was common to talk to people in Halifax who didn't even realize surfing was possible in the surrounding coastlines.

 

A fine line between exposure and overexposure

This year the second annual Canadian Surf Film Festival was held in Halifax between Sept. 29 and Oct. 2. The event brought a lot of national attention to the local surf culture.

However, MacLean said there is a fine line between exposure and overexposure. When the major Californian surf brand, O'Neill, wanted to hold their high profile Cold Water Classic in Halifax this year, they were met with opposition from local surfers and the event ended up relocating.

"The community rose up and said 'no, we don't want it here because it's too much publicity'," said MacLean.

The heart of hurricane season lands between August and September in Nova Scotia, and provides the best surfing conditions. This well-kept secret could lend itself to exploitation if the area were to become the world's destination for surfing.

During the fall season, Lawrencetown Beach, a place with only a few small houses and the occasional store, like the Kannon Beach surf shop, is filled with howling winds that fuel the expansive ocean waves and jarring point breaks.

Although hosting a prominent competition would benefit local businesses and rental shops, MacLean said it is important to have a close-knit group of people working together on a small scale.

 

Student surfers

Fourth year Dal biology student, Sagar Jha, has been surfing since 2008 and tries to go at least once a week. He said his favourite time of year to get in the water is the winter.

"The best time of year for me is February, because it's colder, which means there's less people in the water. The waves are bigger and it's a lot more difficult," said Jha.

Cold water surfing is a huge part of what makes Nova Scotia beaches so distinct. Jha said the extreme conditions make for a strong sense of community and bring out a diverse crowd.

"In Hawaii or Fiji there's a real barrier. You have to be really good," says Jha. He says he was once surfing next to Nico Manos, who is one of the top surfers in all of Canada, and didn't even realize it. Manos was one of the few hardcore people out that winter day and, as Jha put it, "he wasn't a jerk about it".

There are some misconceptions when it comes to the kind of people who engage in, what seems to outsiders to be, a crazy sport. "Down here," Jha said, "we've got lawyers, nine-to-five guys, people trying it for the first time, and students".

Brad Fogelman, who was out at Lawrencetown Beach on Nov. 20, is a Dal student from Toronto. He said surfing has become an integral part of his East Coast experience.

"I'd like to stay out here for at least a year after I graduate. Right now, I would never consider moving back to a place where there isn't an ocean," Fogelman said.

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