This may be one of the most cliché blogs to come out this time of year but a very important one never the less. All the blogs I’ve read encourage planning yet we all know as surfers to plan isn’t always easy and if you’re like me it just doesn’t happen, so scratch that.
If you’re like me and surf through the real depths of winter when the temperatures are in the minuses and you have to scrape ice off the windscreen before you’ve even checked the surf. Then there’s no point in lying to you, you will get cold. However, there are a few things that can make this experience a little more bearable meaning you surf twice as much.
Before I start I think it’s important to mention the safety factors. Surfing in the winter adds an extra risk that is undeniable. Now to most people, it is fine and there’s nothing to worry about so don’t use that as a reason not to get in there. However, there are factors you do need to consider whilst in cold climates and whilst you’re wet. Hyperthermia can soon kick in and other health problems can soon grab hold so please be careful. The easiest way to prevent this is to know the symptoms of hyperthermia. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/hypothermia/ if you’re unsure on what it is or how to spot it. Click the link and read away. That information is not going to hurt. Please note however there are different forms of hyperthermia and the majority of cases you can treat yourself, by simply warming yourself up. Please don’t read this and be put off. You just have to be aware of what can go wrong, this is simply the worst-case scenario and it’s better to be prepared and know what’s happening. All the points I give in this blog are mine or a general opinion so if they don’t work for you please don’t blame me, this is merely just meant to make your surfing experience that little more comfortable.
I’ll start this blog in order, from preparation to dashing out the sea to get warm I’ll be giving you tips the whole way through to get you out there. Each little tip won’t do much but put them all together and suddenly you have a session that’s enjoyable regardless of the temperature.
1.Get a good wetsuit
Firstly it goes without saying; obviously, buy yourself a decent winter wetsuit. It doesn’t have to be top of the range and ridiculously expensive but a nice thick wetsuit will massively stop that heat loss (5/4mm). You can grab yourself a decent wetsuit that does the job from eBay for around £100. I wouldn’t spend any less just because if you get one that lets in any water at all, that will very soon put you off surfing in winter. Boots, gloves and a hood is also a must when the temperature starts to drop. With constant brain freezes and claw hands, that become inoperable, isn’t fun for anyone. A personal tip from me (not sure how useful, it’s just a theory.) is to not put gloves and a hood on until as late as possible in winter. I often see people out there very early in the winter fully suited and booted but my thought behind this is when it drops an extra 5 degrees at least I have another bit of neoprene to put on. Regardless of the actual difference it makes, it does help psychologically. Saying that don’t push yourself through the pain of the cold to the point it’s not enjoyable, as that soon stops motivation very abruptly. Stay warm but just try to hold off sticking that hood/gloves on, especially if you are already in the sea for 2 hours before you get cold. Basically what I’m trying to say is just keep yourself comfortable in terms of your body temperature.
2. Keeping motivated
So getting that suit on and getting yourself motivated for the cold water. The best piece of advice I can offer you is to drive down to the beach if you’re lucky enough to be local; board in the back and heating wacked on full. Look at the surf with the most optimistic outlook you can and use the drive of that wave you just mind surfed to fuel how quickly you get your suit on. If you’re serious about surfing through the winter regardless of your ability you have to get used to getting changed in small cramped spaces. Whether that’s in your car or if you’re lucky at your house. That brisk air and those cold winds have all the power to persuade anyone to turn around without getting in. Keeping a positive mindset is the biggest thing that’ll get you motivated to get in. Remember the reasons why you surf and remember regardless how bad your surf is, there’s always that one wave that makes the session special.
3.The best way to put on a wet wetsuit
Now all of this is all well and good when the surf is pumping and our wetsuits are dry as a bone, but we all know how often that happens over the winter, so the key thing is, is to find a place in your house where you can hang your wet wetsuit, ideally near a radiator of some sort (probably not the best for the suit but it’s warm.) to get it as dry as possible (we use our bathroom). If possible get changed at your house at least halfway, this way you’re more likely to get in the water when you get there and it’s more comfortable. If you do have to drive a bit and your wetsuit is still soaking, that’s when you put your heater on as powerful as it goes and just bears through the discomfort of the wet cold wetsuit touching your warm dry skin. If the wetsuit is that bad and you can’t bear it, don’t panic I still have solutions. Firstly you can get it on in the shower (this works so well) or bring a bucket of warm water to the beach so it’s not cold, just simply wet. The other way is to just get on with it and do it as fast as possible.
4. Preparation and the aftermath
Now we’ve got in our warm suits we’re on the way to getting cold very quickly so that is why it’s important to have all your board prepared beforehand. This way you can grab it out, lock up your car and start running to the beach. The minute you step outside your car is the minute you give time to question what you are doing, so stay in your car (if possible) until you are ready to make a dart for it. If you are getting dropped off for a surf or surfing with friends make sure you have access to a car or building as soon as you get out. The worst thing when you’re cold is to be waiting and getting colder, so go get warm. A car will do just perfectly. Invest in some waterproof seat covers and get used to half the beach ending up in the footwell of your car. There’s not a much better feeling than jumping in your car and driving straight to a nice warm shower. Knowing you can get warm again quickly after your surf is one of the most comforting feeling that will give you more reason to just go for it. If you’re not so lucky to have a shower within driving distance of the beach then start up your car and get changed as quickly as possible. Take your top half off and then layer up… That’s everything you own, 3 t-shirts and 2 jumpers will just about do it. I find the bottom half of my body is nowhere near as sensitive to the cold so you can take a little more time with that. Apart from my feet, stick your heating on your piggies and give it some time for the feeling to come back before you start to drive with the blocks of ice.
5.Shorten your sessions
It’s not summer, so don’t expect to spend 3 hours out there. You have a thicker wetsuit which makes each paddle out a lot more tiring and you have the factor that it’s cold. Movement is key and I can’t say that enough. Go out there and catch a wave as soon as you can. Aim to catch a wave within the first 5 minutes of surfing. This gives all your muscles a good work out and gets the whole body moving. Not only that, but it also helps massively mentally. Suddenly you’ve remembered why you’re out there and even if it’s a bad wave at least it’s taken your mind off the cold. Don’t slow down though. Really push yourself to catch more waves more often. This will help massively with literally everything. From your paddle power to your surfing ability the more waves you catch the more practice you get and funny enough the warmer you get too. I’ve had surfs in minus conditions but because I’ve kept my work rate up I’ve been sweating coming out the sea. Sitting there with your arms folded and not wanting to catch a wave in case you go under is not the way to go about winter surfing. Just catch waves… and lots of them. Try and push yourself to go out in not so good conditions, obviously don’t be stupid if it’s dangerous or above your ability don’t push it, however, if it’s looking just a bit poor and tricky, give it a go, trust me you’ll be surprised how much better you get the more you surf in poor conditions and how fun those sessions can be.
6.Go with a friend
Lastly, I think it’s worth a mention to try and go with a friend or a group. I’m not sure why but coming up after a pounding with a massive brain freeze is so much more relieving when you look next to you and your friend is in the same pain. You can motivate each other and it’s just a lot nicer travelling to meet someone then getting cold on your own.
To conclude, it’s all about having fun out there and keeping positive. Try and get out there as much as you can and see the difference it makes to your surfing. The more you get out there the less you will feel the bitter coldness and it becomes more of just a simple discomfort rather than something that puts you off for the whole of winter. Failing all of this at least try and get in as much as you can. Enjoy what you do and just go for it.