How To Stay Warm this Winter

| posted on December 13, 2011

Although Balaram is used to frigid water in the winter, there are few colder spots than this Canadian right-hander. Photo:

While the surf media has their eyes trained on the sunny, warm waters of Hawaii, dedicated surfers in the North East are busy chipping the ice off their windshields and scraping the frost off their 5/4mm fullsuits. For this week’s installment, we’re paying homage to those of you who won’t be spending December in boardshorts. To help keep you warm, we’ve consulted with New York’s own Balaram Stack to gain some insight into staving off frostbite this winter.

Put Your Suit On Before You Leave Your House. It’s almost like an adventure getting all of your gear on and jumping in the snow and then jumping in the ocean. I love it. It’s crazy to think that we do it for fun. When I can, I’ll put my suit on at my house before I even get to the beach; it can be pretty brutal not surfing near home and changing in the snow. It’s also a good idea to invest in a few different suits. Two to three suits are pretty much necessary. Putting on a wet wetsuit in the snow is no fun.

Keep Moving. When you first hit the water you’ll feel the cold air on your face but the real shock of the temperature comes on the first duck-dive. You’ll feel a really sharp brain freeze right in the middle of your forehead. If you have to duck-dive more than three times in a row, you’ll feel like you’re gonna throw up from the cold. The trick is to start moving and get a couple waves right off the bat so you can get your blood flowing.

You Can’t Afford Not To Invest In A Good Suit. I never really wear anything thicker than a 5/4 with 7mm boots and 5mm gloves. It’s impossible to go in without it. You’ll start feeling the effects of hypothermia and possibly frostbite pretty quick if you don’t have a good suit. A good suit is a must.

Consider Going Thicker And Wider For Your Winter Boards. Some people will get their boards a bit wider and thicker to accommodate all the extra rubber they’re wearing in the winter. I don’t personally change up my dimensions too much because the suits have gotten so good and light. But it’s definitely something to consider.

Know Your Limits. In December, the water can get around 32 degrees and that’s pretty intense. It can be pretty dangerous if you’re not prepared for it. The longest I’ve stayed in the water with those conditions was around three hours, but the waves were pumping and you have to be constantly staying on the move. But no matter what you do when it’s that cold, your hands and feet are going to freeze up and give out on you.

Bring Hot Water To Warm Up. I always try to bring a gallon of hot water with me if I’m not near a hot shower. Otherwise, you’re gotta just sit in the car and blast the heater for about 30 minutes till your hands thaw out and you can actually drive.

  • Ben

    just buy a 6/5/4. its thicker than a 5/4, so its warmer, and its only marginally less flexible. definitely put your suit on at home. i put mine on at home and i drive 30 minutes to the water. wear it back home all the way to the shower just take off the gloves for driving. surf pointbreaks too, beachbreaks is too much duckdiving

  • hoon

    Some definite good advice here. I’d be curious to get Balaram (or others) take on the battery operated warmers from Rip Curl or Quiksilver. I’ve tried the Quik on before, but couldn’t get myself to use it all the time.

  • poon

    pee in your suit! best feeling ever

  • Dave Strongly

    I pee in my suite when I leave my house, that way I keep extra squishy on the drive to the beach and it motivates me to jump in the water… since I’m usually sweeting my ass off.

  • Joe

    In addition to a hood, ear plugs like Doc’s Pro Plugs help out a lot with the duck dive induced ice cream headaches

  • christopher moore

    what’s 32 degrees in proper temperature, i.e centigrade?- I reckon the best thing for winter surfing is having a van to get changed in and a decent suit

    van makes getting changed in the car park a lot sweeter

  • Bart

    Nothing like a Icecream headache puke underwater during a 2 wave hold down!

  • Bob

    High end wetsuits made in the last few years are ridiculously warm compared to what I grew up wearing in the 90’s. The new 4/3’s are as warm as old 5/4’s and much more flexible. Hell, even 5/4’s are fairly flexible now. The water gets down to the low 40’s in the winter where I live. I’ve got an Xcel 3/2 Drylock that I can wear until the water hits about 48 which is crazy compared to what a 3/2 used to get me. My 4/3 will get me to 40F, and it rarely if ever gets below that here. Another secret is the thin Glacier Gloves. Screw those old thick 5mm gloves we used to wear. Get some Glaciers with the wrist straps. If your surf shop doesn’t sell them, buy them online. You can easily wear those down into the low 40’s and they’re only like 2mm maybe, but they’re waterproof. You’ll almost forget you have gloves on, because they’re so much less of a hindrance than the 5mm.

  • bryan

    quiksilver’s heated vest works well… when it works! i’ve had my product fail twice after only 10-15 winter sessions. but quiksilver is good about repairing or replacing it. last winter i did nyc winter w a 4/3 and the heated vest.

  • Bob

    I also forgot, wear a hood. When I was a kid, we never wore hoods. In fact, you were looked at funny if you had one on. No hood led to my ear canal becoming more and more blocked over the years. I had to have the surfer’s ear surgery a few years ago. The doctor basically chisels out extra bone growth in your ear and rebuilds the canal. It’s called a canaloplasty as in plastic surgery for your ear and it sucks. You wake up feeling like you got hit with a brick at the top of your jawline. I hear of people having this surgery multiple times, but I sure as hell don’t want it again.

  • xmlhack

    You laugh but peeing in your wetsuit is actually quite important to staying warm for longer. Any cold weather survival course will tell you that the last thing you want is your body wasting energy keeping a large sack of liquid warm.

    If you get rid of it, your body can use that energy keeping you warm instead of your piss.

  • jk

    I’ve been wearing the O’Neill heat 6/5/4 in nj this winter surfing comfortably