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Tom surfs and protects

Nova Scotian beaches are increasingly locked off to the public. One of the world's best known surfers wants to do something about it.

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One of the world's best surfers worries that the Nova Scotian coast is in danger.

Three-time world champion surf legend Tom Curren is in town today and tomorrow to raise funds for the Coastal Access Committee, a group of surfers fighting to keep beach access open for all Nova Scotians.

He'll be playing Friday with his three-piece band, The Noahs, at the Marquee.

Curren, who learned to surf in Hawaii at the age of six, but gained efficiency and power in California, has fond childhood memories of "an ocean lifestyle. I grew up near the beach and my dad was a surfer in the '50s, and my mom used to take me up and down the coast."

He retired from professional surfing over a decade ago, but continues to surf at every opportunity and is concerned others are being denied the opportunity to hit the waves.

"There are people who want to buy real estate beachfront property, and all that is fine, but a lot of times they restrict access from the public," Curren says.

The same patterns of beachfront development and restricted access are found from California to Panama, where Curren's wife was born.

"We go to Panama regularly and every year there are new developments going on, construction at such a fast rate with no regulations and beaches close for new private developments. I usually know someone who can get us past the gate, but most people don't have that representation."

This is his first trip to Nova Scotia, and Curren says he's stoked. "I always wanted to go over there to check it out and surf. I heard there were some good waves there, and when I met Yazzy in Norway he said to come surf, play a show."

Yazzy Hilal is a Nova Scotian surfer and photographer who is organizing the benefit show at the Marquee. "Tom's a role model and if he says Nova Scotia has some good waves that should be protected, people will listen," he says.

Hilal says surfers have noticed a disturbing privatization of beaches across Nova Scotia.

"In Lunenburg there is a now private road where wealthy Americans have built half-million dollar houses," he says.

The problem is ironically exacerbated by the increasing popularity of the sport.

"Nova Scotia is experiencing a boom in surfing similar to California in the '60s," Hilal explains. "Before it might have been a couple surfers crossing a farmer's property and the farmer wouldn't mind, but now we have over a thousand surfers in the HRM."

Hilal says the tourist board has failed to recognize that surf spots are "like a ski hill" in terms of attracting tourism revenue, but "with no operational costs and a lower impact on the environment." He would like to see the provincial government protect beaches with a coastal management plan.

Curren agrees. "It's really important that local governments get involved---public access is something that needs to be defended," he says.

That, and his love of music, are reason enough to travel cross-continent to play a benefit. "I wouldn't categorize music as important as surfing for me," Curren concedes, "but when the music's working and everything's sounding good I really enjoy it." Though music is a side gig, and he mostly plays to support environmental causes, Curren is working on his second album and one reviewer compared him to guitar heroMark Knopfler.

Hilal is certain the money is going to a good cause. Though just five years old, the Coastal Access Committee "mediates issues between landowners, surfers and other beach-goers," and can already boast of the key role it played at Cow Bay in Eastern Passage. "The developer wanted to close it up but now it's a surf park with garbage cans; it's cleaned regularly and tourists use it," Hilal says.

The organization, which is seeking charitable status, is working to create similar surf parks on provincial land around Eastern Passage, and participates in an annual spring beach clean-up.

For Curren, offering his support is a no-brainer. "It takes a lot of time and dedication to make it in the music industry," he explains. "But if we are able to get out and play and help different causes, it's an honour."

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