Winter is here, and for surfers who don’t live in Hawaii, that means hanging up their boards and surfer apparel until the water warms up again in the spring. The water may be chillier, but fall and winter are actually some of the best times to surf--not only will there be fewer crowds at home, but plane tickets tend to be less expensive during the colder months for those who prefer to travel. If you’re thinking about getting into the water this winter, here are some cold water surfing tips from the original Johnnie-O himself.
Buy the Right Surfer Apparel
There’s no way around it: if you want to cold water surf, high-quality rubber surfer apparel is a necessity. While you might be able to get away with a standard wetsuit in warmer areas like Southern California and Mexico, you’ll need a 5mm wetsuit pretty much anywhere else. Liquid-sealed hems are key, and if purchasing secondhand, repair any tears before getting in the water. If you’re spending some time on location before hopping in the water, ask the locals what they’re wearing and buy/rent whatever they recommend. As for accessories, consider adding a neoprene hood, gloves, and boots to the mix.
One of the worst parts of cold water surfing is standing naked in a windy, cold asphalt parking lot. If you have the option of putting your surfer apparel on indoors, do it. Worst case scenario, change in the car--it’ll still be cold, but nowhere near as cold as standing outside in the elements. If changing indoors isn’t possible, fill a big water bottle with boiling water before you leave the house; by the time you’re done, the water will be a comfortable temperature, and you can use it to rinse off. Lastly, organize your towel and a change of clothes before heading into the water. This means you can change as soon as you get to your car instead of scrambling around for your clothes.
Surf with a Friend
Even with the best surf apparel, cold water surfing still carries an element of danger, especially for first-timers. Not only is there safety in numbers, but your friends will hold you accountable and keep you in the water for longer. Make sure you and your friends drink enough water before the session, and don’t stay out too long--surfing in cold water is very tiring, as your body uses a lot of energy to stay warm. Before heading into the water, familiarize yourself with the signs and symptoms of hypothermia. Most beaches don’t have lifeguards in the winter, so you’ll be your friend’s only defense against the elements.
Invest in a Box Fan
Wetsuits and wet surfer clothing may dry out in a few hours during the warm summer months, but drying out a wetsuit requires a little extra effort on your part during the winter. You can get a box fan for super cheap at a thrift store, and it could mean the difference between a dry, clean suit and a suit that smells so bad it makes you nauseous. After you’re done surfing, carefully remove your wetsuit, gloves, boots, and other surfer apparel, and hang them in front of the box fan. If you’re heading out of town, most hotels and Airbnb's should be able to provide you a fan upon request.
Don’t Forget the Moisturizer
All sports come with the risk of injury, and one of the most obvious risks of cold water surfing is the damage it can wreak on your skin. Fortunately, protecting yourself from dry, damaged skin is easy. Simply add moisturizer and Vaseline to your surf kit and put a thick layer of both on your face, hands, and other exposed areas of your skin before and after your time in the water. If you’re able to find water resistant or heavy-duty moisturizer, even better. Trust us, the last souvenir you want to bring back from your cold water surfing adventure is flaky skin and chapped lips.
With enough care and preparation, surfing in the winter can be rewarding. Make the most of your post-surf high by indulging in some creature comforts. Whether you build a fire with your friends, take a piping hot bath, indulge in a hot cup of coffee, or go on a surfer clothing shopping spree at Johnnie-O, everything feels a little better after a cold water surf session. Planning a cold water surfing trip but not sure where to go? Check out The Best Beaches for Winter Surfing.