Winter is Here: Tips for Winter Surfing
Pro Tips for Staying Warm While Winter Surfing
Whenever I post a winter surfing photo on social media the responses are usually “You’re crazy!” or “It’s too cold!” Some of these responses come from friends who have never set foot on a surfboard let alone on a beach in December so they get a pass, but when it comes from someone who calls themselves a surfer, I scratch my head.
As I’ve said before, there is no logical reason to skip the cold water months. If you are surfing only in the warmer seasons you are totally blowing it. Simply stated, winter surfing means perfect surf and minimal crowds because all of the trendy summer surfers have gone snowboarding. Sure it’s cold but the modern wetsuit is lighter, warmer, fits better and as a result, makes winter surfing really comfortable and fun. The modern wetsuit is so warm that I’ve found myself sweating in the lineup during the harshest of winters. With wetsuit technology exploding with new ideas every year there is simply no excuse to miss the best time of year for surf.
But I’m not going to bullshit you, the elements in winter can be tough for the unprepared so if you’re planning on winter surfing (and you should because it’s fun) you’re gonna need to be ready so I’ve created a list for you. See below:
Get Good Gear!
I’ll be blunt, being cold sucks, so when it comes to buying a wetsuit, remember this mantra: COLD IS BAD. WARM IS GOOD.
Wetsuit technology is fantastic and affordable so get yourself into the warmest wetsuit available and don’t skimp on the extras. If you live in a place where the water gets below 50 degrees (Fahrenheit) it only takes a few minutes for your session to turn from fun to freezing so get yourself a hooded wetsuit. During the coldest months from December to April I wear a hooded, blindstitched 5mm wetsuit with all the bells and whistles because the water temps drop into the mid 30’s. Here in the Northeast we often have to walk through snow to get to the ocean but because I have invested in good gear I’m warm and toasty. When it comes to boots and gloves for winters in this region I like 7mm round toe boots and 7mm wetsuit gloves.
Pro Tip 1:
Three and 5 finger gloves don’t really keep your hands as warm during the coldest months so I recommend mittens because they keep your fingers together and therefore warmer.
Pro Tip 2:
Thick boots and gloves are difficult to get on and off so I recommend a little water-based liquid soap, just on the inside at the mouth of the opening. This makes it 100% easier to get on and off, especially when they are a little wet. Don’t put in too much because your hands and feet will slip around inside and be sure to rinse them out thoroughly with cool water because soap acts like a drying agent.
Take Care of your Equipment
So you’ve invested in the best wetsuit and accessories available so don’t leave it in the trunk of the car or in the bottom of the bathtub. Immediately after surfing rinse it thoroughly with cool, fresh water then hang it inside-out in a place where it will get lots of air. Pro Tip: Don’t hang it by the shoulders on the hanger because it’s stretches out the suit and damages the seams, particularly around the shoulders. I hang my suits in half over a bar or a thick hanger and let it drip dry. Keep your wetty out of the sun and away from heat sources or you’ll dry out the neoprene and ruin the seams.
Pro Tip 3:
Because I will be in the water with clients as often as three times a day, I have a trick that I use to speed the drying time of my wetsuit. Immediately after rinsing I place it carefully at the bottom of my washing machine and use the SPIN ONLY setting. Centrifugal force will spin 90% of the water out of the suit. To further quicken the drying process I hang the suit near a fan and a dehumidifier and voila! In less than an hour I have a dry to suit to put on. Don’t forget to turn it logo-side out after the inside of the suit dries. I also have a boot and glove drier that skiers use and it works great.
Remember your wetsuit and accessories are the only things from protecting you from the elements so take the time to care for them.
The immediate concern when winter surfing is staying warm before, during and after your session and this takes a little preparation. Planning ahead. If the forecast calls for epic surf the following day I pack my gear the day before. This includes:
- Wetsuits and accessories. Having to dig around at 6AM for that missing glove is a hassle so I put them together in a bag.
- A cooler (or any other insulated container) and 4 one-gallon jugs. I leave the cooler in my van but leave the jugs near the kitchen sink. In the morning I fill the jugs with very warm water (not hot) and chuck them in the cooler so that I have nice, warm water to pour into my wetty after getting out of the cold ocean. Pro Tip: Make sure the water isn’t too hot or you risk melting the seam tape in your wetsuit or worse, burn your junk. (I’ve burned my balls enough times so test the water before you fill the jugs).
- Surfboards and accessories: This is obvious but make sure the fins are installed and your leash string is in good shape. Having to fiddle with this stuff in the morning is a huge hassle, especially while wearing gloves. I suggest waxing up before you leave the house because spreading frozen wax on an equally frozen surfboard is a time consuming task and further exposes you to the cold.
- Backup leash. A lost or broken leash means that you’ll either A. have to swim in after every wipeout or B. will cut your session short.
- Towels for the car seats and floor. Pro Tip: I found a rad waterproof fleece blanket at CostCo that I use as a seat cover and I use an old, crusty bathmat for the floor of my van to soak up the excess water that drips out of my wetsuit on the way home. Not covering your seats when driving home in your wetsuit means that the next time you drive your car you will end up with a soggy butt.
- Hot beverages and snacks. I chuck a thermos of coffee and a bag of nuts and a blueberry muffin in a ziplock bag in my backpack the night before.
- Coat and beanie. On those super cold mornings I usually wear a beanie and a coat over my wetsuit when I leave the house and I stash it with my gear the night before.
- Easy to put on clothes. I often get invited to breakfast by clients after our sessions so I keep my Ugg boots, sweat pants, clean T-shirt and hooded sweatshirt handy. I prefer clothes that are easy to put on because fiddling with belts and buttons is a huge hassle when the temps are in the single digits.
Don’t Change Outside
The Kook of the Day Instagram page is full of surfers in their wetsuits in weird places. Call me a kook but in the winter I put my wetsuit on and take it off in my house because changing outside is just a another way to get hypothermia. I drive to and from the beach in my wetsuit. I stop and get coffee at 7-11 in my wetsuit. No compromises on this one. I’d rather drive 20 miles in a warm wetsuit then spend 10 minutes struggling out of it in the cold. If you can’t change at home then find a place with a public restroom and change there. Another option is your gym because they usually have hot showers.
The Pros and Cons of Peeing in Your Wetsuit:
Let’s face the facts, we all pee in our wetsuits. Urinating in your wetsuit sounds gross but feels amazing, and after 2 cups of coffee and a bottle of water it’s inevitable but there are some things you should know:
- The modern blindstitched, sealed-seam wetsuit is designed to act as a barrier against water seepage but, by design the suit will slowly allow some water into the suit and it’s actually this thin veneer of water that keeps you warm (the wetsuit acts as an insulator). However with the high-end winter surfing wetsuits, this takes a while so I advise against peeing until some water has gotten into the suit. Trust me on this one.
- If you tinkle before you get in the water you are going to literally sit in undiluted urine for most of your session because there’s nowhere for it to go (except into your left boot) so you’ll be marinating in it until water gets into the suit.
- Inevitably you are going to have to go, so enjoy that moment of extra warmth but when you take off your wetty you are going to smell like a combination of a dirty diaper and the NYC subway on a hot summer day. Rinse your wetsuit thoroughly with cold, fresh water and hang to dry. Also, plan on showering before your hot date or meeting your in-laws.
- Although urine is over 95% water, the byproducts in your pee will eventually degrade the neoprene and seam glue*. Regardless of these facts we all still pee in our suits because on a cold day it feels really good. If you are new to surfing then all of probably sounds weird and gross but it’s inevitable and worth it.
*Rinsing your wetsuit thoroughly will prevent this from become an issue.
I hope this helps and I hope to see you in the water doing some winter surfing.
Coach Robbie Nelson,
*Editor’s Note: Robbie does not endorse the following suggestions. These are suggestions from Wetsuit Wearhouse, not Robbie* For getting into and out of your wetsuit boots, Wetsuit Wearhouse recommends wetsuit socks from WETSOX. For shampooing any odors away, we suggest using wetsuit shampoo to eliminate that nasty odor.