How To Enjoy Cold-Water Surfing

Temperature Does Not Dictate Your Enjoyment Of The Ocean

| posted on July 22, 2010

While surfing is generally considered a warm water sport, temperature need not dictate your enjoyment of the ocean. In fact, if you can brave the elements encased in rubber, you’d stand a much better chance of scoring uncrowded perfection. Living in Vancouver Island, British Columbia, I’ve had no choice but to embrace the cold; our only decent swells typically arrive in the winter months – so when the water temperature is 8 degrees Celsius (around 46 degrees Fahrenheit) it’s not as simple as looking out the window and grabbing your board. You need to be prepared. Five mils with hoods, booties, and gloves are the norm here, and anyone with misconceptions about booty-wearers being soft has another thing coming. Add to that the fact that most of the spots aren’t easily accessible and you have all the fixings for a solid adventure. Here are a few tips on how to stay warm, happy, and respected in a cold-water line-up.

1. Don’t cheap out and get a wetsuit that’s too thin. Find out what locals are wearing, and heed their unspoken advice. The last way to earn respect in a rugged locale is to drone on about how cold it is.

2. Eat root vegetables a couple of hours before you head out. Seriously. Aside from being good for you, vegetables like carrots and sweet potatoes are easily digestible and emit the heat needed to keep you warm.

3. Layer up for the pre-session check. Your mum was right when she said layers are warm. Air gets trapped in between them and is warmed by your sweet potato-generated body heat.

4. Stretch. While scouting the lineup, take a couple of minutes to limber up. Stretching stimulates blood flow to your muscles so you’ll be warm when you punt out of that slab. Bonus: you won’t pull your groin and ruin the night’s festivities.

5. While you’re out in the water, keep moving. It seems obvious, but if you paddle around every few minutes in between sets, you’ll increase your water time exponentially.

6. Don’t leave the water when you first feel cold. You’ll regret it later, and it’s almost guaranteed that as soon as you get to the beach, the best set of the day will thunder to shore. If you can still speak normally after a session, you came out too early.

7. When you get out, have something warm and dry to change into. One of my favorite feelings is trying to pull a dry pair of wool socks over my feet with fingers so cold they feel like they’re made of wood. The anticipation of warmth is almost better than the warmth itself.

8. Don’t go out alone. Not for safety reasons, though. Some of my fondest surf memories are during the post-session thaw. Sitting around a fire with all of your buddies, eating, drinking, and bullshitting about the day warms me up more than any root vegetable or spiked coffee ever could.

January 20, 2010 from Michael Sander on Vimeo.

  • http://none jeremy

    I cant wait to try this out. I always wanted to surf in the cold, not to mettion learn how to surf. This will come in handy.

  • Kenny Griffin

    Great article! Try a heated wetsuit sometime! The best versions, can be turned on before you even get out of your car and stay toasty warm…..until the batteries die….then, your’e left on your own. But, for two hours, it’s a HUGE help!

  • http://SToNeYPoiNTsurfspotfb SoCal Erik

    … cold, yah, but if you wanna feel what are possibly THE coldest little waves on earth, you might want to make a short visit to LAKE SUPERIOR’s North Shore…..and Stoney Point in particular.

    Infrequently breaking, never getting as big as the ocean, but it’s Clean Fresh Water, the best in the Great Lakes. Best in the worst Low Pressure Winter Storms, featured in Surfer Mag in ’05, and the ’05 movie ‘UNSALTED’ by Vince Deur. Surfed by pro’s like Joe Curren, Bron Hussenstam, and Greg Long, this rock bottom spot can get and hold 10 foot+ peaks, (locals telling storys of seeing twice that size holding rideable), breaking and spitting each way,….in 33 degree water.

    We wear 6 mil hoodies and eight mil gloves and boots….on colder, windier days, the ice begins to encase your shoulders and head as you sit in the line up….the most unique surfing experience on the planet is below zero cold, offshore breezes, overhead waves and sharing with only six close friends…. the local crew is very small and everyone knows everyone.

    An unusual winter season so far ( ’11/’12) water still 38 degrees, and only one 10′ swell so far….with a couple of head highs too…. Looking forward to more cold energy soon, the Superior Surf Club Crew of Duluth waits…alot…., but, Last season from Jan. to May we enjoyed some 35 surf sessions, from 4′ to 10’……..often she cleans up and gets best just at twilight when its impossible to photograph……

    Other cold water heating tricks include the electric wetsuits and vests, (bummer when the battery dies), Hot water poured into wetsuit before session, Layering up on wetsuits: 5 or 6 mil hoodie, 3/2 spring suit on top, multiple bootie layers, and our transplated favorite, Jalepeno Peppers just before paddling out…..

    its not the size of the wave here, it’s the cold nature challenge…….dig it…

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  • Jim Dixon

    I LOVE my heated wetsuit! It has changed the way I feel about the surfing and kiteboarding in the winter in Mass. Check them out at http://www.HeatedWetsuits.Com

  • ricky10

    yeah i love surfing in winter too, except when you are caught inside, in freezing water, giving you a massive icecream headache! dangerous!

  • Johnny

    I just moved to Hawaii so I could surf without a wetsuit, but I freeze when I go out. I think I need to eat more


    get cold numb feet-calf cramps winter surfing–circulation issues–any tips regarding foot creams-?

  • An Me

    Why would you live in such a place to begin with, much less surf it?

  • TheGadgetPrince

    2mm neoprene socks under your booties is a must for cold footed folks. I use a rain suit for my exit. Tuck the jacket into the pants and the pants into an over sized pair of rubber boots…. Hop in the truck and get undressed in a hot shower.