Local Knowledge – Nova Scotia

 WORDS BY MARK MOORE

Tucked away on Canada’s remote East Coast, is an extraordinary place known as Nova Scotia. As one of Canada’s smaller provinces, Nova Scotia is sculpted by the sea and forms a geographic peninsula. Nowhere in the province requires more than a 67 kilometer drive to reach saltwater. The provincial license plate reads “Canada’s Ocean Playground.” Having traveled to well over 40 countries and experienced some of the best the world has to offer, I can solemnly say this craggy, coastal environment is truly remarkable. Albeit harsh at times, there is something about this place that borders on mystical.

Mark Moore and dream setup. Always empty! Lowe photo

I’m captivated by the quality and density of waves in Nova Scotia. Have a gander on Google Earth and you’ll be stunned by the setups. Like most east coasts, we don’t always have waves, but I wouldn’t classify this place as being inconsistent. If you enjoy sliding on a longboard, you’ll get your fill. Glaciers have carved Nova Scotia into a convoluted and jagged mess of granite, slate and clay drumlins. The clay drumlin headlands create quality cobblestone point breaks and are iconic for this region. Here the land seems to scratch into the sea. There are quite literally hundreds and hundreds of waves around these parts. Point breaks are as common as bikinis at Huntington Beach in July. Part of our coastline is dotted by hundreds of islands that remain protected and untouched by humans. One stretch of this archipelago is aptly named the “Hundred Wild Islands.” You could spend five years trying to dial this zone for surfing and kitesurfing wave potential. Most of our swells come from continental storms that push off the coast of the United States and then move northeasterly, clipping the coast of Nova Scotia. Hence, the predominant swell direction here is southwesterly. However, we get plenty of east swells and even have spots that work on north swells. Our swell window is remarkable for such a small place. This diversity of swell direction adds to the complexity of the region. Think you have a spot dialed on the southwest mid-period swell? You’re almost starting over when an east swell makes an appearance. In autumn, we have a window of swell that originates off the western coast of Africa and the Caribbean and sends long range swell to our house. This is the beloved and fabled hurricane season. 

This spot is world class. Mark Moore kitesurfing is alone – which is a shame. L’Esperence photo

Our local wind is equally complex. In the warmest of summer days, we do get a 12-18 knot sea breeze. But like most far northern reaches, the bulk of our breeze is attributed to passing low pressure systems. We get it from all directions and in all intensities. I’ve used a 14 meter and 5 meter kite in the same day many times. Between a myriad of swell directions and an array of wind sources, one needs a degree in local knowledge to score this place to its fullest potential. 

Head high. Courtesy Mark Moore

In recent times, Nova Scotia has developed a healthy local surf community. At a busy day at one of the popular spots close to town, its possible to share a point break with over 20 other surfers. Seems thick until you realize that you can drive five-to-ten minutes down the road and surf alone. Sounds too good to be true? It’s not. Drive half-an-hour and you’re lost and surfing solo. With 7500 kilometers of coastline, it’s safe to let your mind wander. One of my friends has dedicated nearly ten years of his life to the pursuit of Nova Scotian waves and still yearns for more. You can only dream of being in possession of his surf map. In all honesty, sometimes I drive back towards town to surf with a few other people.

Inside the mouth of Peggyy’s Cove, a tiny fishing harbour. To be able to kite in here was rare. The wind had to be 35 knots plus. Cornick photo

There are probably 50-60 active kiters in this province and most of them frequent two main beaches. I’d guess that there are 500 or more nooks and crannies to investigate. I’ve never been to a place with such potential for variety. We’re bordered by four main bodies of water, each with vastly different characteristics. 

I can go on for hours explaining the subtle nuances that make this place special. The coastal fishing villages are charming and trapped in time. There is plenty of coastal land for sale in the $20,000 price range. Where else can you buy land on the ocean for that price? The economy does have its challenges as most young people flee toward greener financial pastures in the country’s western plains. That being said, it is possible to finagle a living here. What this place lacks for jobs, it makes up for with magic in the ocean. So, that covers a small part of what makes this place sweet. 

Summertime water temperatures typically hover between 12 and 20 degrees Celsius. In the coldest winter months, the ocean temperature can actually drop below freezing. How mental is that? For saltwater to freeze, it has to drop to nearly –3 degrees Celsius. Imagine being submerged in that ice bath when the air temperature is even colder? Ice cream headaches. I don’t kite in that nonsense, but surfing is tolerable. The stand out bitterness of Nova Scotia is weather. Harsh, cold winters and schizophrenic summers can test even the most steadfast of locals. 

I’ve never been to a place that had it all: great waves, perfect wind, local jobs and an affordable cost of living. Indo is perfection for days, but do I really want to live in the jungle and be poor? Or take the earning potential of the United States, but with the average waves and crowds? You get my point. I’m coming to understand that Nova Scotia’s substandard weather is actually part of its charm. A wise man once told me that if things weren’t this way, it would all be ruined.

Originally Published Spring 2016.