Catching a wave is worth facing sub-zero temperatures for some Nova Scotian surfers.
In late February, well-known surfing haunt Lawrencetown Beach typically dips to its lowest water temperatures at about -1 to 2°C.
Despite the cold, owner of Halifax Surf School Mark Moore says winter is a welcomed season for experienced surfers because of bigger and better waves, and fewer people in the water.
"From a pure surfing perspective, it's the best conditions of the year," says Moore. "The storms of the Atlantic that makes the waves we surf tend to be a bit more potent, so the conditions tend to be better in the winter."
The ocean water is more bearable with the right gear. Moore says winter wetsuits are typically 5 or 6 mm thick, and with hoods, mitts and booties, only a small part of your face is exposed to the elements.
"The wetsuit technology has improved so much," he says. "Like most extreme sports, if you have the right gear it makes the experience a lot more pleasant than people probably think."
He says the coldest part of winter surfing is changing outdoors before and after.
Moore recommends becoming confident surfing in warm water before heading out in the winter.
"I'm always a proponent of taking lessons and easing your way in, starting with conditions are you comfortable in," he says. "When you are surfing with all that gear on it is definitely prohibitive and a little more work."
When in doubt, don't go out is a philosophy that applies to winter surfing, according to Moore. He says knowing your limits around water is especially important in the winter.
"If you are going out on a day when the waves are a little out of your comfort zone, and you're maybe not to confident that is definitely something you should shy away from," he says.
To mitigate bodily risk during the winter, Moore suggests stretching before heading in the water, changing out of the wind, and going with at least one other person.
Moore says he thinks the pandemic has inspired Nova Scotians to explore and enjoy more of the province's natural attractions and activities, like surfing.
"These days with COVID I think people are digging a littler deeper into what Nova Scotia has to offer," he says. "There is a lot of surf from Yarmouth all the way up to the northern regions of the province, and it is nice that in the summer… we have pretty consistent surf but on the smaller side which is ideal for learning."
Halifax Surf School is open seven days a week from May through October. It rents equipment and runs regular lessons for anyone looking to learn.