Nova Scotia

Surfing group breaking barriers for black Nova Scotians

The Surf Association of Nova Scotia has been holding surf lessons at Martinique and Lawrencetown beaches this summer in an effort to reduce historical barriers to water sports for black people.

'I grew up being aware of the barriers that black people had to swimming and going to the beach'

Ma’Siah Joyce relaxing on a surfboard with his sister, Tamia. (Portia Clark/CBC)

When filmmaker Floyd Kane wrote that the main character of the CBC legal drama Diggstown loved to surf, he didn't realize this would pose an unexpected problem.

When it came to finding a body double for surfing scenes involving character Marcie Diggs, Kane said he was hard pressed to find black surfers.

A shortage of black surfers in Nova Scotia has its roots in lack of access to proper gear, a history of segregated beaches and even fear of water.

This summer, the Surf Association of Nova Scotia (SANS) has been holding surf lessons at Martinique and Lawrencetown beaches to reduce barriers to water sports for black people.

SANS president Beth Amiro heard about Kane's struggle and discovered a history of black people being excluded from water activities.

Surf Association of Nova Scotia president Beth Amiro, left, and Evelyn White. (Portia Clark/CBC)

"It was something that I couldn't look away from, and I just felt compelled in my position as the president of SANS to do something about it," she said.

Author Evelyn White was one of the new surfers on the beach.

"Water has often had a negative connotation for us," she said.

"I grew up being aware of the barriers that black people had to swimming and going to the beach, and being involved in anything having to do with water… our history of being removed from Africa on slave ships."

Dartmouth native Durrell Borden is one of the program's volunteers. He's a former competitive swimmer who started surfing eight years ago.

"What grabbed me was really just that I was not good at it, at all, and that drew me in to just continue trying," he said.

"As a black surfer, you kind of always feel alone in a way, but it's so rewarding when you catch that wave… it's a blast."

Kids and adults alike have been enjoying the surfing lessons. Ma'Siah Joyce has been attending sessions all summer with his little sister, Tamia.

Author Evelyn White, left, and CBC Information Morning host Portia Clark participate in the Surf to Swim program at Martinique Beach. (Portia Clark/CBC)

"I don't 'like' surfing, I 'love' surfing," he said enthusiastically.

"It helps you learn how to keep your balance on stuff, and it's just fun to be out in the water on hot days."

Amiro said it's been inspiring to watch participants build their skills over the course of the summer.

"I think we've probably seen a few people fall in love with surfing and will probably do it for their whole life now," she said.

With files from CBC's Information Morning

now