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Mission Accomplished

Sable Island Nova Scotia

Simon's Final Ride.

A buddy of mine asked me to go surfing with him one day...I say "sure,

I’ve always wanted to try”…well, while I was anxiously waiting for him to pick me up for my first surf trip of a lifetime, I gorged down four pizza pops.  Not a good idea!  That resulted in me throwing all of them back up, after the first two or three waves, plus losing all of my rings and my board attempting to knock me out by ricocheting off the back of my head.  Wonderful!  I didn’t need the rings anyway. 


Despite my memorable surfing experience in the punishing beach break, I was hooked. We flailed around until moonlight that fateful day.  Striving to get “Just one more wave” became an obsessive-compulsive disorder.


Two weeks later, I bought my first suit. I found it in the discount bin at the local scuba shop.  It adopted the name, “Monster Suit”  (consisting of multiple stitches of dental floss, and closely resembling Frankenstein).  My buddy, who introduced me to the first day of the rest of my life, sold me his old beat up 6’3.  Perfect! I was set.


We would get a coffee in Farley (my van), and camp out at the beach on the weekends.  Every night, we would head out after work, even despite the fact there was no swell in the forecast. We’d load up the car and pray for any kind of ripple. If there was the smallest bump, we'd surf it.


At first we would always go to the same spots, Lawrencetown or Cow bay. Eventually, we heard of other spots along the eastern and southern shore. After the winter months, we felt capable enough to venture beyond the common surf spots. We started checking them out. Then I started looking at maps and charts of the land all over Nova Scotia. Immediately my eyes turned toward Sable Island. It was perfectly situated 200 km southeast of Halifax in the open Atlantic. Out of easy reach from the wondering surfer or tourist. A 40 km long south facing beach and a 40 km long north facing beach. I was going to surf it. I didn’t know how I was going to get there, but I knew I'd surf it.


I was cruising through the help wanted ads on the Internet, and there it was. Weather Observation Technician wanted for Environment Canada (Sable Island remote outpost). I applied, although I didn’t have weather or aviation experience.  I thought, why not, I check the weather and wave forecast every day that qualifies. I never actually thought they would consider me.


A few days later, I get a call from Gerry Forbes from Sable Island and he wants to  interview me over the phone. I explain to him that I’m an electronic technician/ carpenters helper/ store manager/ heavy equipment operator/ professional driver/ pizza cook with interests in renewable energy, environment, and anything involving the weather and ocean. I guess that was enough. He offered me the job.




One small problem though, I wasn’t going to just ask if I could bring my board and gear with me. I was worried they'd say no. How was I going to smuggle a six-foot surfboard over there, anyway?  A friend of mine suggested, chop it in two, and fix it when I’m over there. That’s BRILLIANT!!!


I was standing there with the hacksaw blade in my hand. It took me a few minutes before I could actually start cutting. It seemed like it was against my religion or something...cutting Simon the Single Fin in two.  He was my masterpiece. What the hell was I doing? I had to. This was a once in a lifetime experience, my dream, I couldn’t go without him, so I did it...for the greater good. I grabbed the two ends, some resin, hardener, etc., suit, boots and gloves and crammed them into a duffle bag.The bag wouldn’t close so I wrapped it, many times, tightly with duct tape.  Hopefully, not looking too conspicuous. If they had wanted to search our bags, I was hoping that the duct tape would deter them.  They probably would have just asked what I had in there, and I would tell them it was my boots, rain gear, and sleeping bag. Sure, that sounds reasonable.


Five days later, we were in the coast guard hanger at the Shearwater Airport..  I was a little tense as we were getting ready to load the helicopter. I kept thinking that they were going to search our bags, or at least ask if we had anything combustible or toxic onboard...(like resin)…but no. We were clear for take off...Yahoo!


The flight was great, clear skies and warm. As we flew over Cowbay, I could see small sets rolling in and people surfing. About an hour and 15 minutes into the flight, I could see the tiny spec in the horizon that had to be Sable Island.


As we flew closer and closer, it was, …WOW...unbelievable! I can’t explain in words.  It was beautiful.  A sand dune in the middle of the Atlantic, wild horses running free, seals hanging out carefree on the beach, beautiful, blue green water. And Surf. Huge clean wonderful sets rolling in. Offshore winds on the south beach, the surf was firing! It must have been 10-12 foot, and not a surfer to be seen for 120 miles...accept me! I cant believe it, I’m on Sable Island!


The chopper touched down, we unpacked our gear, the chopper took off, they gave us a little tour and put us right to work.


Reality kicks in....oh yeah...I’m here to work for three months.


The population of the Island is approximately three hundred horses, probably 30,000 seals, a few seagulls, 4 humans, and some flies.


My job was excellent. I learned about weather patterns, clouds, climate, pressure zones and tonnes of other interesting things. I worked a split shift, 6am-10am and 6pm-10pm. I’d release weather balloons, take various air quality samples and collect meteorological data. It was good because it gave me most of the daylight to check the surf and do some beach combing. My co-workers were great. The officer in charge was a semi-retired weather expert. There was a maintenance/carpenter guy. These two guys have been working on and off Sable for a number of years. There was also another trainee, like myself.


Time goes on…


        I had lots of time to concentrate on fixing Simon the Single Fin because of our new no overtime policy (only 40 hour work weeks). I found out quickly that I was lacking some important material. I forgot to bring a knife, a razorblade, sandpaper, and wood for the stringer repair. I made due though. I found a 2 inch by 2 inch piece of

60 grit. I took the blade out of one of my razors and wrapped some duct tape around one side. I pulled some wood off an old desk. I used a steak knife to cut the wood for the stringer repair.......that wasn't fun!


Everything was complete and ready for fiberglass. It took me two days to glass it. The toxic smell of resin stuck in the air. I had to put this together in my bedroom, because it was the only safe spot to conceal it. Nobody had any idea what I was up to. I had to sleep downstairs in the living room on the coach for the next week

or so until the smell dissolved and it was safe to sleep in my bedroom.


Everything was good to go, so I cracked open the pint of Crown Royal my girlfriend gave me to celebrate. I took one drink and saved the rest for post wave riding.


Around week three the board was good and ready for the water. I couldn’t just walk to the beach with board in hand when I wanted to go surf. I wasn’t going to get caught in broad daylight before I accomplished my mission, so I waited for a full moonlit night to hike out and bury it on the top of a sand dune until it was time to ride. Everything was set.


It was December 19, 2005. It was my day off. I got up around sunrise. What a wonderful morning for a surf. Clear skies, chest high surf, light offshore winds....Yeehaa! I put my suit, gloves and boots on. I threw a raincoat on, so no one would see what I was up to. It must of looked pretty mischievous, considering there was no rain in the forecast. I dug Simon out of the sand dune and sat on the beach, watching the surf. I was so nervous with a million thoughts running though my head...seals, sharks, currents, what happens if I get hurt…


Living a dream is a scary thing to do.


The locals (seals) were out in the break, watching me watch the surf. It was almost like they were thinking to themselves, “What the hell is he doing? Is he coming in or what?" These same seals have watched me check the surf everyday for 30 days straight. Watching the seals play in the water somehow put me at ease. So, after sitting there for 30 minutes or so, I decided to go. I leashed up and hopped in.


The surf was great.


Five locals quickly turned into 40 (and those were the ones I could see ,who knows how many were swimming below me!) They were getting a little bit too close for comfort, hissing and barking. I could almost smell their breath and I didn’t want them any closer.  I mean, these guys aren’t like the curious, cute little harbour seals that usually stay within 10 meters of you at the point at Lawrencetown. These were Grey seals, about 400-500 pounds and believe me, they weren’t friendly!  They were pissed, so my session was cut a little short. I don’t blame them, it’s their break. Also, it was pupping and mating season. I was in there breeding territory.  No thanks!


I rode two wonderful waves and that perfectly fulfilled my experience at Sable Island.  Mission accomplished. I thanked the locals for my surf and headed back to camp. I went to the weather office and confessed my sins to the officer in charge. He was speechless. I explained the whole story of the board smuggling. I had to.  All of this was a remarkable experience and I wouldn’t feel completely satisfied without those 2 waves.  I will probably never have the second opportunity, (especially after the confession), so I had to take advantage. He realized that this was my dream and took it easy on me. So, once again, I cracked open the Crown Royal and we had a small celebratory drink..........Four hours later I got a helicopter ride off the Island.


Mission Acomplished.......Yahoo.

I have since retired that surfboard (Simon). I dont think I will surf it again.
Peace out
Stephen "stic" Belfield