Californian Daniel Fahie is going surfing, but it’s not what you think.
Clad in snug winter wetsuits, Fahie and his 15-year-old daughter Miranda carry two surfboards under their arms towards Nova Scotia’s Lawrencetown Beach and plunge belly-first into the frigid waters of the Atlantic Ocean.
It’s hovering around 1 C at the picturesque beach on the province’s Eastern Shore, renowned for its waves and year-round surfing.
“We woke up this morning and saw snow and said, ‘Let’s go to the ocean!’ That’s what normal people do, right?” said 53-year-old Daniel Fahie, a beginner surfer who is from the Halifax area but has lived in California for two decades.
“It’s fun and it’s great for her to get out and experience what’s it’s like to be in the water in the cold.”
Many assume that surfing is a summer-only activity, but Nova Scotia’s consistent offshore weather during the winter months makes for spectacular waves up to five days a week, surfer Pete Cove says.
“That’s what’s so appealing as a surfer to want to get in the water when it’s -2 C in the water and -20 C in the air,” said Cove, who works with the East Lawrencetown-based East Coast Surf School.
“We have absolutely amazing conditions with a fairly small community of surfers.”
The school – founded by Nova Scotia professional surfer Nico Manos – offers surfing lessons by appointment all year at Lawrencetown Beach Provincial Park, a scenic 30-minute drive from downtown Halifax.
This year, the school is also running a series of group surfing lessons from December through May at White Point Beach Resort in White Point, N.S.
Winter surfing looks a lot like summer surfing, but with more clothing.
The Fahies wore big smiles as they paddled their surfboards straight into the waves and eventually attempted to pop up on their boards. They appeared unphased by the chilly ocean water.
Cove compared surfing on a cold day to skiing or snowboarding on a cold day – the winter wetsuits cover almost your entire body and keep you “quite warm.”
“I don’t think there’s any feeling like catching a wave and having the energy of a wave propel you towards shore on a board,” said Cove, a former professional lifeguard who has been surfing for 13 years.
He warned that absolute beginners face a steep learning curve, but the school has an 80 per cent success rate of students standing on their board during the first lesson.
WATCH: People with disabilities learn how to surf in Nova Scotia
“You don’t have to be a pro to have an absolute blast in the water,” said Cove, standing on a boardwalk under a cold rain as waves crashed into the rugged shoreline.
“Often times our students have a really good time belly riding and if that’s their goal, to just have fun and catch a wave and only ride it on their stomach, then that’s a success for us.”
Cove conceded many people, even locals, are surprised you can surf in Nova Scotia at all, let alone during the province’s harsh winter months.
“We’re a little bit off the beaten path. It’s something that is unique to this area that people don’t expect that you can actually do, and it’s a little more wild,” said Cove.
He said Nova Scotia surfing is “world-class.”
“If you look at the coastline here, it’s pretty spectacular. You don’t have the massive crowds that you have in most places that are really known for surfing. It’s a great spot for learning, but also to grow as a surfer and become an expert-level surfer as well.”
If you go…
East Coast Surf School offers winter surfing lessons and rentals by appointment at Lawrencetown Beach. A one hour beginner lesson with a full day rental costs $75. A surfboard rental is $20, and a wetsuit rental is $20. http://www.ecsurfschool.com.
The school is also running a series of group surfing lessons from December through May at White Point Beach Resort in White Point, N.S. The lesson is $100, or $90 for overnight guests of the resort, and includes a winter wetsuit, surf board, dry-land orientation, two-hour lesson and a post-surf warm up in the pool. To check out dates, visit http://www.whitepoint.com and to reserve your spot, call 1 800 565 5068 ext 1 at least seven days prior to the preferred date.