I MOVED TO Lawrencetown Beach, N.S., from New Jersey in 1978. The United States was headed toward politically conservative times and it looked like a dismal stretch ahead. So I escaped to Canada to teach and write books, making sure I settled somewhere I could surf. Back then, only a handful of locals surfed here. We wore heavy diving wetsuits that made it hard to paddle and even harder to simply stand up on our boards.

Three decades later, on hot summer days, Lawrencetown becomes Atlantic Canada’s version of Malibu Beach. Roughly 1,000 surfers live in Nova Scotia, and many find their way to Lawrencetown to paddle into the North Atlantic and get stoked on sun, saltwater and surf. In September and October, hard-core addicts fly in from British Columbia and California to ride towering hurricane-spawned waves.

Only 20 kilometres by road up the coast from Halifax, Lawrencetown remained a fairly obscure beach on Nova Scotia’s ignored Eastern Shore until a couple of decades ago. Hyped by movies, television and music, however, surfing is a serious bug when it bites. Today, three nearby surf shops to cater to the ever-growing community and a local surf school offers lessons, primarily to women.

I confess I miss those solo soul sessions I used to savour on blue-sky mornings at my home break, one we call “The Reef.” Having written four books about surfing in Nova Scotia (two of them for teens), I probably did as much as anyone to swell the ranks. And I know why people young and old are attracted to the sport and to Lawrencetown in particular. There’s a magic here that you have to feel to understand.

You stand on the edge of a continent, wetsuit on, surfboard in hand, facing south. It feels like there is nothing but water between you and Antarctica. You paddle out, shocked at how cold the sea can be on such a warm day. You turn and face the grassy sand dunes along the shore. Geese and ducks fly above; a curious seal pops up and watches you with those doleful doggy eyes. You see a wave coming. Your wave. You take a deep breath and paddle like hell. Then you feel the wave beneath you and you’re on your feet. If you’re lucky, you drop down the smooth, steep face of a head-high wave. You make your bottom turn and slide up high into the pocket of one of the most magnificent energy inventions Mother Earth has ever devised.

But be warned: the sea can be flat. No waves at all for weeks at a stretch. At other times, it can be treacherous. Overnight, waves can grow from 15 centimetres to five metres or higher. At least one surfer has drowned here, choosing to surf in particularly difficult waves produced by a Nor’easter.

Lawrencetown Beach is a place of grand beauty and grave danger that I call my home. I write my novels from an office perched above the salt marsh. On a typical foggy morning, I find myself working diligently, my house encased in a salty shroud. But if the wind switches north and the fog suddenly clears, I’ll see there is a swell in the ocean. I watch the wind creating rooster-tails of spray as it blows up the face of incoming waves. At such times, the story is left suspended. I run downstairs, grab my wetsuit, wax my board and give myself over to the pleasures that await me in the North Atlantic.

Rental wetsuits, surfboards and instructions can be found at:
Happy Dudes Surf Emporium; (902) 827-4962
Kannon Beach Surf Shop; (902) 471-0025
Dacane Surf Shop; (902) 431-7873
One Life Surf School; (902) 880-7873