On the east coast of Canada in the Atlantic-facing province of Nova Scotia, a women’s surf club of humble beginnings is gaining popularity and helping to grow and elevate the local longboard culture.
Friends Sarah Zollinger and Collette Robertson established Trim Collective a few years ago after realising the power of community and connection with other women in surfing – both for progression and for just having a really good time, even in Nova Scotia’s icy winter waters.
I caught up with these two lovely ladies to find out more about the club. And you know what, I felt the Trim Collective buzz even just chatting to them on a video call. I’d have joined myself if it wasn’t for the 4000 miles of ocean between us! Here’s how our conversation went.
Before we get into Trim Collective, what’s the surf like in Nova Scotia?
Collette: Very cold! It gets to minus one in the winter but that’s when we tend to get the most fun waves. The surf community here is still fairly quiet but we have a lot of point breaks that are nice and slow and great for longboarding
Sarah: I’d add that the surf here is inconsistent…we’re in a lull period at the moment so we get lucky if there’s one or two days a month of decent swell. So whilst Collette says that it’s better in the winter, I actually prefer it in the summer when it’s small and we’re in lighter wetsuits!
The longboard culture is fairly new here. When I started surfing Nova Scotia in 2004 I was usually the only longboarder in the water – and there were rarely women surfing at all. Longboarders were seen as beginners and kooks but more and more people are coming to appreciate it, partly because of the inconsistent swell. People are realising that if you want to surf a lot you’ll be happier on a longer board.
So how long have you both been longboarding? Did you start before you moved to Nova Scotia?
Sarah: I’ve always been a longboarder. It was what drew me to surfing in the first place back in 1997, about 25 years ago I think. I don’t really want to do the math [laughs].
Collette: When I first started surfing I had a typical experience where I started off learning on a longer board, then I got my confidence and popped down to a short little thing! I didn’t go to a full-on toothpick shortboard but I had a 5’10” fish and that’s all I surfed for years. I never tried another board and I got stuck in an awful loop…I wasn’t reading the waves well and I was constantly grabbing my rail. Then I moved from the west coast of Canada to Sarah’s neighbourhood here in Nova Scotia. One day she saw me out on an old water-logged longboard (it was one of my boyfriend’s boards that he doesn’t really surf) and she was like, ‘Oh no. We need to get you something better than that. That board is holding you back!’. Sarah lent me one of her boards and, whilst I don’t want to say it was life-changing because that’s pretty cliche, it absolutely changed how I viewed surfing. The style seemed to match my personality and it made me read the waves way better. I’m just really grateful for it because I feel as though I’m actually really learning to surf now. I’ve only gotten it in the last five years.
I completely relate to that, Collette! I felt pretty stuck until I got a longboard too, so I imagine that there are lots of other women that go through the same experience. Is this how and why Trim Collective was born?
Sarah: It was partly that. The board sharing with Collette was just the beginning of our friendship, which then grew and was built on surfing together, sharing equipment and knowledge – which is all of the things that Trim Collective became, 7 years or so later!
Really, it was born out of a lot of conversations and because of the changes that we were noticing in the local surf community – largely that there were more women surfers. The proportion of women surfers here seems to be higher than a lot of other places that I’ve seen. But, probably because of the climate, there’s a lot less mingling. I know that from my own experience, especially in the winter. I get out of the water and I go home because you can’t safely hang out in the parking lot and chat! We wanted to create an opportunity for people to get together and share surfing experiences, so that was the seed of it.
It’s also about that challenge in progression that we all feel. You might be going surfing once or twice a month and plateauing. For some people that’s ok but for us, we were always asking ‘How do we get better? Are there ways that we can help to connect women and also help them to progress their surfing?’.
Eventually the idea of a club was inspired by a surf coach from California that came to visit us, Carla Zamora. She was like ‘There’s no infrastructure here’ – she planted the idea and it started to build from there.
Collette: Yeah, and there were a few other things that we experienced that inspired us to start it up too!
One was from a women’s-only surf that someone organised and we attended. One of the boyfriends or husbands was filming us from the shore and it was the first time I’d seen a video of myself surfing. It was humbling but so helpful. We were saying ‘I wish there were more of these. When are they going to do it again?!’. Then we realised that we had the power to make it a thing – and that inspired us to launch our Solstice Surfs.
Another ‘a-ha’ moment came from a cold water women’s surf retreat on a stormy weekend in November. The amount of women that showed up was incredible, especially given the weather, and we realised the need for somewhere that we could connect regularly, share stories and surf together.
So when did the club start? And what does it look like at the moment?
Collette: We’ve been doing the events since before Covid but we weren’t really calling ourselves anything until a couple of years ago.
Nowadays, our twice yearly Solstice Surfs are the foundation of the club – that’s where we all get together in the water on a day with reasonable conditions, usually clean and no bigger than waist high. Then Sarah and I are on the shore with cameras, filming anyone who wants to join in. It’s a bit of a takeover, which for the most part the community doesn’t seem to mind…although there’s usually one grumpy dude amongst twenty women, which is pretty funny.
We edit the footage and then get together about a month later to watch it, giving everyone the chance to connect again and review their surf. The intention is to give people twice a year check-ins on their progress. It’s a simple way to help a broad group of people and allow them to learn from each other too.
Some of the women come for every session and it’s been so cool to see them improve. That’s been the bread and butter of Trim Collective.
Sarah: We also do an event called the ‘Board Meeting’ regularly. We started this because there’s a lot of great equipment around but nobody ever gets to try it or they’re not getting good information from the shops, or they just don’t know how to ask the right questions. So for the Board Meetings we all bring as much equipment as we can fit in our vehicles and we all hang out on the beach talking and trying out each others’ boards. It’s a really neat opportunity to learn from and talk with other women.
Collette: Yeah, this is a nice way for people to enter in. We talk about fins and stuff as well, not just boards.
Such a good idea! Do you have any other events planned for this year and beyond?
Sarah: We’ve got several ideas that we’ve been bouncing around, like panel discussions or presentations about mentalities, reading forecasts, surfing with children, surfing through pregnancy and so on.
But our big event this year is something we’re planning for the fall: a longboard showcase that we’re calling The Nova Scotia Longboard Classic. There’s not much of a contest scene here but there has been one great longboard contest running. The conditions have been hit or miss so far but there was a run of events where it was firing at the point break and it was so fun to see everyone actually be able to surf their best. That was a bit of inspiration behind our showcase, along with the Duct Tape Invitational, Mexilog Fest, The Single Fin Mingle…all those events that bring together classic longboard culture. Our format is different though. We’re not that interested in competing which is why we’re calling it a ‘showcase’ but we are really excited to see where longboarding has gone in the last few years – and not just for women. We’re making it a co-ed event. Last year was actually supposed to be our first year but there were no good surf days in our holding window so we decided not to do it. We really want the conditions to be such that everyone can surf their best and we can be really stoked about what longboarding is becoming around here.
Will it be a showcase for mixed abilities, or is it more for the top surfers in your area?
Collette: Definitely mixed. Anyone who’s interested in longboarding can come! It was a shame we couldn’t run it last year but it was great to see a really good range of abilities sign up, from excellent longboarders through to people who are quite new to it.
Sarah: I’m excited to see how it can elevate longboarding in Nova Scotia too. I think, in a lot of people’s minds longboarding is still very low in the hierarchy of surfing, especially if you’re a woman. This is an opportunity for us to get together and hype each other up!
Sounds super exciting. How many women are in the club right now?
Sarah: At the moment it’s pretty open but we tend to get fifteen to twenty people coming to our events.
So can people just rock up? They don’t need to sign up?
Sarah: Yes, we might make it a membership model in the future but right now people can just take a look at our events on Instagram and come along if they feel like it.
Has there been anything come out of Trim Collective that’s surprised you?
Collette: We’re still a small community but to see how many women are surfing here now is really cool. It changes the dynamic in the water, lightening things up sometimes. I love seeing the growing appetite for events like the ones we’re offering and hearing stories from other women.
Sarah: For me personally, it’s definitely helped me to feel more engaged. I’m the type of surfer that seeks out the quiet spots – I didn’t used to make friends in the surf! I was always either rushing to waves or rushing to get warm or rushing to get my kid somewhere. But now I recognise more surfers and I’ve got more confidence to say hello to people in the water. I also feel a responsibility as an elder surfer to educate and show people how to be respectful and have good behaviour in the line up, as well as how to get to better! Trim Collective has given me more confidence to do that now as well.
Collette: After every single event we put on, I’m always surprised by just how amazing the feeling is amongst everybody too. We’re all transported into a surf bubble of pure joy, where we forget to take ourselves seriously and we just go out and have fun together and get each other into waves. I often find myself feeling completely refreshed and more positive about my surfing afterwards. It’s pretty incredible.
I love that! What an amazing experience that you’re creating for everyone. Finally, then, what are your hopes for the future of Trim Collective?
Collette: A lot of the women here longboard. It’s a beautiful way to surf and it suits a lot of the personalities here, so we want to help get people to a point where they can nose ride or do whatever they want to do…and not get dominated in the line-up.
And it’s not just about helping individual surfers. It’s about getting everyone together and building our longboard culture, really.
You can find out more about Trim Collective and their upcoming events on Instagram, @trim.collective.