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Boarding Nova Scotia

There aren’t too many places in the world where one can surf and snowboard comfortably on the same day.

By Marijke Nel


There aren’t too many places in the world where one can surf and snowboard comfortably on the same day.

I mean shred a few decent size waves at a choice of quality point breaks – and then “grip it and rip it” in the white stuff, literally only an hour or two later.

But in Nova Scotia you can!

Last weekend, I waxed my boards and set out to prove the point.

There are a host of good surf spots to choose from, all within a hot coffee’s drive of Halifax. One can even be selective about the type of break which you would like to surf, depending on the wind and swell direction – and whether you are a “goofy” or “regular-footer”.

I’m a “regular” who prefers right-breaking waves, so I headed for Lawrencetown, Nova Scotia’s best-known right point break.

Despite this year’s mild winter, the coast lay covered in a soft layer of snow from the night before, reaching right to the water’s edge and giving it an almost arctic appearance. The waves galloped in to shore, shaking their mane in the offshore wind. At 2C, the water temperature was 7 degrees “warmer” than the crisp, clean air. Rows of 6ft sets were beckoning to be ridden, but despite conditions that would make any surfer drool, there were no others in sight.

I paddled out just a few clicks after sunrise and spent a good hour and a half carving blue-green faces on a trusty 9-ft longboard. Time and again as kicked out of another wave, I smiled at the thought that winter surfing in Nova Scotia is still a relatively exclusive privilege.

Although the popularity of surfing in general has grown here significantly in the last few years, the summer surfing population is probably more than quadruple that of the winter warriors. When the wave size drops and the water temperature rises to something more tolerable to the feint-hearted, almost any flotation device is enough to lure people into declaring that they have “taken up surfing”, and persisting for the warmest six weeks of the year.

For many whose association with surfing is limited to bikinis and palm trees, the sheer thought of snow and ice near the beach is enough to put them off.

But honestly, 21st century technology means that with titanium threaded 6mm wetsuits, silicone dual sealed seams and built-in hoodies, one does not have to feel the cold.

Granted, the sex appeal in surfing takes a serious knock with the penguin suit, mitts and booties – and it makes paddling out to backline a lot more laborious than when you’re only in boardies – but riding waves requires the same skill and provides the same thrills as in warmer waters.

As was evident on this day, the rewards of braving the elements include being able to tear up uncrowded point breaks for hours and feasting on the adrenalin rush which boarders pursue all over the globe.

The beauty of today was that I could indulge in doing it some more on another kind of board. When my arms were toast and I had my fill of cutbacks and floaters, I strapped my board to the roof rack and set out for Wentworth.

Within two hours of leaving the water at Lawrencetown, I was ready to hit the slopes. The transition could have been even shorter, had I elected to go to Martock, but with more than enough time available for the journey, and a preference for the longer and broader selection of runs, Wentworth was the answer.

Although the resort has had an unusually short season this year, there was enough snow for 90% of the trails to be open and for many skiers and boarders to be venturing onto the glade trails. Snowboarders were also flying through the terrain park, taking on some of the jumps and rails – and having some spectacular wipe-outs.

General Manager of Ski Wentworth, Leslie Wilson, says the standard of Nova Scotia ski resorts is often underestimated: “People are mostly pleasantly surprised when they discover all we have to offer.” In addition to the alpine trails, which include six black runs, snowboarders can also enjoy the tree trails, the terrain park, a half-pipe and a boarder cross track.

Wilson estimates that about 30-40% of the clientele are snowboarders, who seem quite content that they have their needs catered to.

I caught up with Luke Cyr, an avid 21-year old boarder from Dartmouth, between his runs down the black slopes: “Yeah man, the conditions are good and it’s not too crowded. You definitely have enough stuff here to challenge your limits.”

Generally, a common denominator of those who indulge in board sports, is that they like to shatter comfort zones and don’t need much motivation to push their own boundaries. It seems that both Wentworth and Martock deliver ample opportunity on this level too.

Underscoring this is the fact that Nova Scotia has even produced two snowboard Olympians in the form of Trevor Andrew and Sarah Conrad, as well as Dallas Rourke and Jeremy Page, who both won Halfpipe silver medals at the 2011 Canada Games.

17-year old Taylor McKay, who competed in the Nova Scotia Provincial Snowboarding Championships just a few weeks ago, says: “Anybody can push their limits here, it depends on how much risk you are willing to take.”

He knows what he is talking about. He is one of a rare breed of boarders who has tasted the best of both worlds. He also surfs.

Taylor concedes that sometimes it’s touch to decide whether he should opt for the beach or the slopes. “I usually let the conditions win”, he says, “…so if the surf is firing, I get in the water – but if the swell is too small, it’s a good enough reason to head for the ‘Hill’.”

I could thankfully acknowledge that, after classic surf conditions, it was indeed also a great day to be on the snow in Nova Scotia. The blue runs were enough for me to push my limits – and what a glorious day it was to be doing that. The sun peeked through the clouds at times and there was no wind.

The urge to ride waves definitely has something in common with the urge to charge down a slope. Part of it, I’m sure most boarders would agree, has to do with the freedom of expression, the “signature” which one stamps on the wave or on the slope by making it yours and carving it up in your own, unique style.

Having the privilege of indulging in both on the same day, can apparently only be had in a few select locations worldwide. On Canada’s own west coast, for example, one could surf Tofino and then snowboard at Mt. Washington on the same day, but the drive would take over 4 hours.

California, New Zealand and Chile offer a few options too.

But one would have to go a long way to find more than one option for both surfing and snowboarding within a 2-hour drive – and then match the quality of both experiences which is presented right here.

Boarding Nova Scotia is indeed unique!

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