Say hello to Alexander Haro, from BC. Over the next few weeks he’ll be sharing his thoughts about surfers from Canada. Some you’ll know, some you won’t. We kick off week one with Nova Scotian Nico Manos.
Canada has its fair share of talented surfers, but until a few years ago, they never garnered attention from the rest of the planet as a legitimate force in the surfing world. In the coming weeks, Drift will bring you into the minds of the Canadian guys and girls you know—and some you don’t—for their talent in the water. In a series of interviews we’re calling The Northern Collective, we’re sitting down with some of the most talented surfers and photographers in the Canadian surf biz. And to start things off with a bang, our first interview in the series is with East Coast surfing’s consummate nice guy, Nico Manos. The goofy footer from Nova Scotia rips in all conditions, rides whatever he can get his hands on, and has worked his ass off for the life he’s living. A staple in the Canadian surfing community, Manos has his fingers in just about every surf-related project around, from gotsurf.ca to film festivals. Alexander sat down with the goofy footer from the Right Coast to talk about “the best left point in North America,” the road to a pro surfing career, and his unlikely hatred of fishing. Photos: Scotty Sherin
So Nico, how has the surf been this winter?
This winter has been amazing. It’s been the most consistent winter that I’ve been around for. Nova Scotia would be the best place on Earth if it were a little warmer. It’s been four or five days a week on good point breaks. The wetsuit hasn’t been dry all winter, and my arms are toasted. When there’s a day off, you’re almost glad. The fall and summer were the warmest that anyone can remember, with temps in the mid-30s and water in the 20s. We had a couple of photographers from Surfer and Surfing and Transworld and stuff, and Rob Gilley from Surfer was like “I’ve been shooting surfing all over the world for 30 years, and I’ve never been this hot in my life.” He was packed to come to Canada, so he didn’t pack a pair of shorts. It was like 38 degrees, and he’s standing there in a pair of jeans.
How about crowds? On the West Coast, surfing has really blown up. Is it any different over there?
I think what’s happened is that the actual surf populace has increased quite a bit, but so has their need for adventure. So where we used to have X number of people surfing 30 spots, we now have 5 times X number of people surfing 200 spots. Personally, I don’t think any of the spots where I live are any more crowded than they were five or ten years ago, but that’s not to say there’s not ten times the amount of people. They all just got spread out more. But that being said, the last three winters have been really good, really consistent. I mean, if there’s surf on Saturday, the guy that goes to work during the week is less likely to skip out on work on a Wednesday, especially if another swell is forecasted for the following weekend. So this winter, for example, we surfed what’s usually the most consistent and crowded place alone, just because there was swell on Saturday and Sunday. Everyone surfed their brains out, and you wake up early Monday morning, and it’s head high and perfect and empty, just because no one has bothered to check it.
So have you got a go-to spot that you surf at?
We have two go-to areas. From my house, I can see Lawrencetown Beach. There’s a left point and a right point, and you can see both of those. The left out front is my favourite wave. When it’s on, I would argue that it’s maybe the best left point in North America. Generally, if it’s too big there, or the wind is wrong, I can see if there are guys across this bay where there’s about 15 points and reefs. If we get a strange swell direction that doesn’t get into those spots—we do get a straight east or something sometimes—then we’ll go up to Cape Breton or down to the bottom half of the province, which faces a little bit more east. If we get a real hard north swell, it could be completely flat here. Then we’ll go up to the north shore, which has a really small swell window from the Gulf of St. Lawrence. It’s basically a lake, but you can get surf in the double overhead range if the conditions are right, and that can get you out 15 or 20 times more every year. And for an East Coast surfer, that means a whole heck of a lot.
You ride a lot of different boards, right? Is that because there’s so much variety?
Yeah, definitely. We have a lot of really good pointbreaks, we have some really fun reef breaks as well, and then we have a few slabs, too. At the moment, those are where we’re trying to get to, but a lot of them are really hard to access. They need specific conditions, there’s no road, you have to hike through the woods, or take a jet-ski ride. But I mean, it’s a longboard heaven, it’s really good for fishes and retro-shapes, it’s awesome for shortboarding, there’s heavy waves, there’s long waves. As long as there’s swell, it’s one of the most incredible places on earth to be a surfer.
All those slabs and stuff, how do you find those?
Basically, we have a highway that follows the entire coast, it’s called Marine Drive. So unlike B.C., it’s fairly accessible and we do most of our stuff by road. Most of our travelling is by car and hiking. You can sort of get an idea of the bottom contours with topography maps, too. You know, where the shoals and deep water channels are. Also, looking at one spot that you know is good and comparing it to other spots in the province. Of course, taking swell and wind into account as well. But when you take all the factors together, it’ll generally point you in the right direction. It may not be the epic setup that you’ve been looking for, but when you get out there you can see the headland to your right and left and that may pan out. It’s a lot of trial and error, for sure. You end up going back to the same spot a lot of the time. My friend Neal found this spot that was just incredible on a really particular angle and tide. We thought we were going to surf for the rest of our lives, but in the five years since, we’ve only surfed it once. We didn’t realize that if doesn’t have the perfect conditions, it doesn’t break at all.
Tell me about the gotsurf.ca project, what’s that all about?
It’s basically bringing some of the better Canadian surfers, photographers and artists together with the idea of surf exploration in Canada. They’re working with Coastal BC and SBC. I don’t think their goal is to be in competition, they want to work with everyone and make a really fun project that’s mostly video. It’s good timing, because the surf media is really focused on exploration right now. Canada has a lot of unexplored coast, and it allows everyone to be in the project. If you’re in Quebec, or the West Coast, or Newfoundland or Nova Scotia, you’ve got a lot of really interesting and unique places and people working on the same project.
A short film of yours won Best Short at the Canadian Surf Film Festival this last fall. Do you do a lot of filming and editing?
Yeah, me and my buddy Julian Crick put together a short film. The organizers wanted something local that wasn’t documentary style. Most of the people that went were surfers, and they wanted to see more raw surfing from a local, so we put together some footage that I already had. It worked out really well. It was kind of cool to be on the big screen. I just got one of those hi-def DSLR cameras that takes really good video, and I love editing. It helps my surfing, as well, just watching myself.
What about fishing? I know a lot of East Coasters love fishing.
I hate fishing.
What? Nobody hates fishing!
I have some die-hard fishing friends who’re super into it, and they always question why I hate it. I think a lot of people use it as a relief and relaxation time. Maybe I’m just already relaxed, I don’t know.
So what do you do if you’re not fishing or surfing?
Well, we have a surf school that runs July and August, and that’s pretty full on. I’d say I average 70-hour weeks for July and August, and I won’t take a day off for 60 days. The rest of the year, I surf and travel. But I don’t want people to think that’s how it’s always been. I did work really hard to get to where I am. I know there are a lot of surfers out there who didn’t take that route, but I worked everything from night shift at the gas station, to cleaning gutters in Central America, to call centres, to pizza delivery, just to make enough to go away for the winter months. Things like SBC Surf have really helped for things like exposure and making your sponsors happy.
Are you working on any films or anything right now?
I’m sort of always working on stuff. We’ve been filming all winter for gotsurf.ca. And you always want to have little videos for your sponsors, too. I’m doing a video for Ocean Minded, and you know, just building stock stuff. People always want things yesterday. And I just got a sponsorship with Go-Pro as well, so it’s fun to mess around with different angles and stuff.
Thanks to Malcolm Johnson at SBC Surf for his cooperation in reproducing these stories.