The unrelenting winds gnawed at me, trying to pilfer the air from my lungs through the down jacket I layered atop my 6mm wetsuit. This was the first time I had ever done a rock-walk to a lineup so arctic the boulders themselves were crusted in frozen seawater, lingering from the previous high tide. I hopped my way across a frosted marshmallow pillow line, trying to suppress my excitement that would no doubt lead to a misstep. I glanced over at Waggy, his eyes fixated below with a grim, concentrated look spread across his face. I imagined what he must have been thinking. Something along the lines of: “Why the hell did I agree to such a trip in February?”
What the hell were we doing here? Nova Scotia in February is cold enough to coerce most into holing themselves up in their homes with no desire whatsoever to set foot outside, let alone don a neoprene suit and frolic about with surfboards in an ocean that mirrors the consistency of a slushy. Regardless of that, both Noah “Waggy” Wegrich from Santa Cruz, CA, and Hanna Scott, a Vancouver Island native, made the pilgrimage east, along with cinematographer Nate Laverty and photographer Marcus Paladino.
Nate and I had been working on the continuation of a film project we hatched together last year titled Transition, and after of few weeks of less-than-spectacular surf in British Columbia, we realized the right coast could produce exactly the kind of conditions we needed to round out our Canadian section of the film: roping point breaks in a blizzard.
Arriving in the darkness of the previous evening, we had no idea what the sea would have in store for us. We awoke to an angry ocean, alive with a fresh, raw swell. It wasn’t lacking in the size department, but it certainly could have made improvement as far as cleanliness was concerned. Nevertheless, there were waves—and in this notoriously fickle-natured corner of the country, that in itself was a win. Couple in the fact that there was a wedging left ramp in front of the house with a fresh breeze blowing into it, and Californian native Wegrich was already pulling his wetsuit on excitedly. I was slightly slower to the punch, still clinging to a warm mug of Anchored coffee.
After some dragging of the feet, I finally made my way into the chilly lineup and my suspicions were confirmed: Waggy surfs really really well in waves like this. The following couple of hours were spent watching, mostly from out the back, as Noah flung his tail high and rotated into the flats, stomping a few mind-bending rotators and (unknowingly, at the time) collecting what would turn out to be the best clips of the entire trip.
That first session provided not only a shock to the system, but also such a stark contrast to my previous Nova Scotian sojourn. I had spent the majority of September there, driving around the province in pursuit of hurricane perfection, all while being wrapped by nothing more than three mms of neoprene in balmy autumn air. This trip, however, was clearly going to be the polar opposite.
It always strikes me how warm and gracious the Nova Scotian surf community is, in contrast to the cold harshness they so often endure. Even the gruffest and most surly-looking locals greeted us in high spirits, and as long as respect is shown, it’s the kind of place that you’ll be given the same in return.
There was even one point as I was sitting out the back, mind likely lost in a daydream of someplace warmer and waiting for a set to come, that a fella offered me a tale in his trademark Maritime twang. “Apparently Seany there from Bedford came in one day like this with his hands so cold that he couldn’t turn his car key to open the door,” he started. “After tryin’ for ages, he decided to start walkin’ to his buddy’s place, over an hour away. By the time he got there, he had frostbite on his fingers and a mild case o’ hypothermia.” Suddenly this session didn’t feel so grim at all.
Although Waggy hails from our southern neighbour, I’m still afforded the luxury of surfing alongside him often. And he constantly blows my mind in the water. Noah seems to step up his level almost weekly, and with the ink barely dry from his freshly signed deal with O’Neill, he was surfing like a man with something to prove.
The days that followed seemed to summarize the majority of my time spent chasing swells on the east coast: staring incessantly at computer screens, analyzing forecasts and hoping the numbers would translate into real-life scores. We surfed a lot, but always in short spurts, breaking in favour of the warmth of the house, before icy appendages and numb faces took hold. “Hopefully tomorrow is bigger,” we’d say. But it seemed to stay just about the same, and the day’s highlights usually took place as we made our way through the snow, sliding like penguins on their bellies towards the edge of an iceberg, or huddling in the car post-surf with the heater blasting.
At least in this instance, we managed to avoid the trademark lengthy road trips, scouring the coast for a protected nook, spending hours in the car sustained by Tim Horton’s coffee and donuts. This time, we were given the benefit of having our outpost atop the most consistent right-hand point in the area, and with a half-dozen or so breaks immediately neighbouring it, we never had to drive more than five minutes to surf. Living in the lap of sub-zero luxury.
Comfort and convenience was about all we had to show, and as the Atlantic sputtered and failed to deliver, the clutches of cabin fever began to strengthen their grip. Yet we fought! We skated the indoor bowl, we went to escape rooms, we sipped endless cups of Anchored coffee and scarfed pizza at YeahYeahs, local surfer Dean Petty’s delicious new business venture. We even took in a film. But eventually, when the swell we were anticipating on the charts continued to fizzle, we succumbed to the fact that it would not come at all, throwing in the proverbial towel with changed flights and early departures.
Never is this the outcome one hopes for, but in Nova Scotia it seems almost fitting. You’re shown a glimpse of magic, flickering briefly between shifting winds and dissipating swell, before being snuffed out. Not quite enough to scratch the itch, but just enough to keep you coming back, chasing the dragon year after year. If you’re lucky and timely enough to be present for the rare occasions in which the elements do align, you’ll need no reminder of why you scampered across the icy, pillow-lined points, or endured the Timbit-riddled kilometres, searching for something special.