A surfer girl is tanned and toned. A surfer girl is the ultimate laid back, carefree kind of cool. In our mind she glides effortlessly through life in the golden glow of perfection where she resides. You’ll see her two-dimensional bikini clad image in a magazine, usually from an angle that features her ass leading the charge. She is everything any girl could dream of being—except real.
But the surfer girls of Nova Scotia’s Eastern Shore know a thing or two about keeping it real.
I’m playing hooky from work one August morning to meet up with some of these ladies on their home turf. The steam from a half dozen coffee cups warms the noses of a line of eager early morning log riders, all gathered along the seawall, debating the swell of the day. Good mornings are hardly necessary as they pull up to the line. The steady gaze of the group seems to pull the distant beams of sunrise toward us.
As we stand there a pregnant and very groggy Jill Manos pulls up in her surfboard-loaded Subaru in the wake of a 24 hour shift at the local fire hall. She’s exhausted and I can see the thought of a nap is tempting her. Despite this, moments later we’re struggling into damp wetsuits and paddling toward the break.
In no time Manos sees something she likes and rides past me cross-stepping with ease along her board. As her tired face cracks a smile, I wonder if the baby inside her is also enjoying the first free ride of the day.
In East Lawrencetown, where a huge chunk of the 250 or so residents are surfers, it’s not uncommon to see familiar faces at the beach on a workday. Thanks to a texting chain that’s picking up speed on the mainland we’re soon joined by Julie Baldwin and Bridget Turner – otherwise thought of as the stylist and the jewelry maker – a few of the women who have found a way to make a living on the Eastern Shore in order to spend their free time in the curl.
In 2006, a handful of women in the community started an all-female surf school and mentorship program, in a then male-dominated surf scene. Between lessons and competitions, the One Life era was known for outdoor concerts, backyard luaus and pig roasts. It was the era of bliss.
“We were in our mid-twenties and hangovers didn’t affect us so we just surfed all the time,” laughs Beth Amiro, one of the school’s founders.
Most of the regulars – Caralee Murphy, Kim Childs, Shannon MacPhail and Janine Strickland to name a few more – are native to Nova Scotia. Then there are those who have found their way here, like Sonya Hanson, an ER doc who hails from Montreal and now lives just outside Halifax. She hits the highway as often as she can to make a break for the beach.
It’s a tight-knit community, a family joined not by bloodlines, but a fierce passion for the sea. And like any family the years have brought change. Careers have seen turmoil and friendships have faltered. Some of the girls find themselves as new parents, some newly single. They’ve grown up.
In the past decade Amiro has lived all along the Eastern Shore and worked a number of different jobs.
“I had a personal transformation in my life. I became a single parent, and now I’m piecing together an income in the film industry,” she says. “I work and have two kids so I basically get to surf when the stars align.”
For the most part, she surfs on her own now out of convenience. But every so often she sees one of the other ladies’ cars or vans parked near a beach and makes a break from her daily routine.
From small jobs to odd jobs and sometimes no job at all, to starting their own businesses, these women have dug their heels into the Eastern Shore. It was their persistence and passion for the sport over the years that has earned them respect from their male counterparts and solidified their place in the lineup.
Eventually it was decided to let the One Life Surf School go. The business was passed on to Jill and her husband Nico Manos who now run the East Coast Surf School. With the One-Life era come and gone, the number of new female surfers plateaued, even decreased, according to Jill and Nico.
But there’s a few key women who pulled each other out of bed on early mornings when the waves were working and continued to push the female surf scene forward.
It’s been three years since the Eastern Shore girls closed the doors on the One Life Surf School now, and we’re all gathered for a longboard competition. Despite the jerseys it feels more like a family reunion. Surf competitions are less common in Nova Scotia due to fickle and less consistent conditions, so moments where everyone comes together on the beach are prized. Almost all of the Eastern Shore girls have turned up for today, whether to compete or not.
Jill Manos, just out of her heat, is further down the beach in the white wash pushing a young surfer towards shore as she stands up for the first time. The youngster has her feet wide apart on the board and arms straight out on either side. It looks remarkably like a warrior two yoga pose, with sheer glee on her face.
Further up the beach by the coffee stand some of the Eastern Shore girls are sitting on towels with their partners and kids. For the first time in decades, there is an entire generation of young surfers growing up near the beach. Except instead of going at it alone, these groms will have their parents – the surfer girls of the Eastern Shore – to show them the best spots, pull them out of bed on early mornings, and guide them through the whitewash.
Editor’s Note: Since this story was written, Jill and Nico Manos welcomed Otis Manos into the world. You can find more good reads from the author here.