Waves and Skis

“We glided across the snow, looking down at the windless sea on our right. Small waves lured us on...”

Why is it we journey into the cold? The trials we face when seeking cold spots might make them seem out of reach, but embracing the search for cold water surf leaves us richer, and lights a fire inside that burns for many years to come.

As spring draws in we look ahead to the adventures that longer days and warmer climates will bring. But for some, spring is still a world away and the only way to access local swell is on skis. We talk to Jan LaPierre about cold water surf, Canadian style.

There’s a lot about Nova Scotia that defies what people imagine Canada to be like. Surfing is definitely one of those images that stands in contrast to the typical winter scene in Canada. For Bluenosers, (This is what Nova Scotians somewhat affectionately call themselves) winter is the best surf season of the year. The mighty Atlantic ocean dominates this province, we’re surrounded on all sides by ocean and it defines our weather.

Every winter the cold arctic northerly currents bash into the warm southern currents that come all the way from the Caribbean, creating an ideal nursery for consistent storms that bathe our coastline in waves. When a cold snap sets in it can regularly dip to 10 below freezing and beyond.

Nova Scotia has a very temperamental relationship with snow. When winter storms, that would typically bare snow, cross over the ocean where they warm rapidly. Snow sports around here can be fickle, so when the conditions are right, you’ve got to be ready to move.

From the bedroom in the house where I grew up you could hear the waves crash all night. During intense winter storms when visibility was low the fog horn would be activated to help boat traffic coming into our capital harbour, Halifax. But to me the low tuba sounding horn always meant that the next day was going to be fun. It meant it would be a snow day. You can feel the collective excitement spread throughout the province when a good storm is coming that will actually deliver snow. All the better when that same storm brings some decent waves too.

“A decent sets rolls through as the sun backlights the snow. It’s glorious. Not many places offer these kind of snow and surf experiences”

With our eyes on the forecasts, the first real snow storm of the season was bearing down on us in mid January. Wanting to maximize snow and surf time, we planned a session at favourite point break that typically requires a 40min hike down the great trail. Our plan was to strap our boards/suits to a toboggan and pull them behind us as we Nordic skied ourselves to the break. 15-20 cm of snow and 2-3m of swell was promised. Paradise we hoped. I could hear the fog horn all night as it was hopefully a siren of what’s to come.

The sun popped out as we arrived at the trailhead. With the boards bound to the sled we went in search of some surf, snow and a few good snaps for our effort.

Because of the ever changing climate, you sometimes need to work a bit harder for winter fun in Nova Scotia. But today came easy. We glided across the snow, looking down at the windless sea on our right. Small waves lured us on. Every surfer builds up in their mind about how good the swell is going to be the next day, this same attitude applies to the snow too here in Canada. You’re always pulling for that perfect day.

We’re reminded that you can’t always have it all. As we pull our suits on the snow fires up again for a brief shower. A decent sets rolls through as the sun backlights the snow. It’s glorious. Not many places offer these kind of snow and surf experiences. As shifty as they can be, it’s these journeys that we cherish for the rest of year. Mostly, people tell us we’re crazy for doing this kind of thing. Let them talk, we’ve got the waves and skis all to ourselves.

The satisfaction to be had from seeking out these desolate, frozen pockets on the globe where wifi cannot reach is truly like no other. Who knows how long this snowy dream will last, but as long as there are cold isolated waves, snow and remote cabins out there you can guarantee we will be finding them.

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