Chris Nelson

Surfer, travel writer, critically acclaimed author of ‘Cold Water Souls: In Search of Surfing’s Cold Water Pioneers‘ and director of the London Surf/Film Festival (LS/FF)

@LonSurfFilmFest

coldwatersouls.com

All images courtesy of Tim Nunn

Published

December 10th, 2014

‘The surfing scene around here has always been tiny.

Walter Flowers leans on the hood of his 1950’s Jeep and folds his arms.

I’d pulled off the road in White Point, Nova Scotia after seeing the small surf shop sign. It seemed kind of incongruous, shrouded beneath the towering pines; it grabbed my attention. Venturing south into the less populous part of this Atlantic fringed region, I was unsure whether I’d even find another surfer, let alone a surf shop.

‘Four years ago there was maybe five of us surfing. I’m not sure how many there are now, but I have a shop and I wouldn’t be able to keep it going if there were just five or six of us.’

The Search for Kindred Spirits

The art of surfing has always been fuelled by the desire to seek out new places, the search for undiscovered waves, to push beyond established boundaries. It was filmmaker Bruce Brown who brought The Endless Summer to the world, a phrase now synonymous with chasing the perfect ride, a mythical place of sun, sand and surf. For decades a new discovery was always just around the next headland, and each fresh surf magazine offered up a new warm water Nirvana.

Today the once idyllic tropics are filled with surf charter boats and surf camps, the line-ups choked with the very people we all left home to escape. Surfing continues to expand, over half a million people take to the line-ups around the UK, over twenty million worldwide. Scouring the globe for new destinations, surfers are casting their eyes towards the cold blue of remote latitudes. Here in Nova Scotia world class waves reside on epic shorelines, point-breaks peel in splendid isolation watched only by towering cedar forests. This is a place where locals still ring around to find someone to go surfing with.

The art of surfing has always been fuelled by the desire to seek out new places, the search for undiscovered waves, to push beyond established boundaries.

‘Ten years ago you’d do an hour [in the sea] if you were lucky,’ explains Walter. ‘New wetsuit technology helps us stay in longer now, but then there’s still the tricky subject of getting changed in the snow. I was in town one day and I saw this trailer, it was behind a building. I said to the owner, ”What are you doing with that?” and he said ”I’m thinking of selling it.” So now we got The Shack – a trailer with a heater to change in, we can surf all day at minus fourteen and it doesn’t matter. It’s a great rig – rain, wind or snowstorms. A plough on my pick-up truck, ploughing our way to the breaks with The Shack on the back in the middle of a blizzard. No fooling.’

For a surfer raised on UK waves, neoprene wetsuits and cold waters are less of barrier than for some. Having cut my teeth on the frigid reefs of the north east of England where winter water temperatures of 4 degrees forge strong wills, my thoughts were always drawn to colder locales – to the big dark waves of Ireland’s west coast, to the peat stained river-mouth reefs of Scotland’s north shore. There are common bonds between surfers raised in cold places, that reach out like ice crystals across a frozen lake. They come from shared experience, from being in that beachside car park, freezing cold, hands too numb to turn the ignition and get the heater going, but knowing all the time that when the tide turns, you’ll be back out there.

In Hokkaido, Japan’s most northerly prefecture, I’d met Taro Tamai, a snowboard legend turned pioneering surfer. Taro has spent many years scouring the wild and rugged coastline of his home, break locations logged in the memory of a GPS, swell prediction models studied every hour. Here weather is a matter of survival. His tricked out 4×4 is no ‘Chelsea Tractor’, it is an expedition vehicle, a working tool essential in the life threatening winter cold. Hooked up to the back is a skidoo, for when the going gets really tough.

Surfing in Norway still posses a purity of spirit that harks back to a long gone era. One can leave behind the hassles of crowds and competition, find an environment completely devoid of commercialism.

In Iceland I’d surfed in the shadow of snow capped volcanoes, while perfect waves reeled down black boulder points – waves shared with a couple of friendly locals, two of the twenty or so Icelandic souls who brave the waters here.

In Norway, wrestling into my wetsuit I’d been approached by two huge Nordic surfers, clad head to toe in neoprene. Politely but firmly they asked that I keep the location of this particular surf spot secret. “It never gets this good normally,” said one.  I suspected this wasn’t the case, but was happy to respect their wishes, for surfing in Norway still posses a purity of spirit that harks back to a long gone era. Here one can leave behind the hassles of crowds and competition, find an environment completely devoid of the pressures of commercialism.

FURTHER READING

Britain’s Secret Seasides – A short list of the finest beaches you’ve never heard of

Beyond Reykjavik – Five astounding places just outside Iceland’s capital  

Reflections on Algonquin – James Brown seeks a retreat from the modern world