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winter surfing

Fun, but cold. Photo: Brian Yurasits//Unsplash

The Inertia

Winter is a special time for surfers everywhere. The summer crowds thin out and the surf starts to get bigger and more consistent. Along with all the stoke that winter surfing brings, winter also means cold. Ranging from chilly to freezing depending on where you’re surfing, the cold is going to hit you pre-surf, mid-session, and post-surf, so it pays to be prepared.

I remember being younger and hating surfing in the winter because it meant tears and the feeling of needles while my feet thawed. The real reason it was so miserable was that I didn’t have the right gear I needed to surf winter waves comfortably. But it doesn’t have to be like that for you. If you want to maximize your wave count this winter, you’ll need to stay as warm as possible. Sometimes cranking the heat in your car just won’t cut it for reheating your frozen digits. If you’re trying to get a quick session in before work or during lunch, or get rid of your excuses about how it’s too cold to surf, you’ll need to be smart about your gear. To help you, I’ve put together a list of some of my personal favorite items to help you stay warm from surf check to your drive home this winter. Here is my list of winter surf essentials.

The Gear

A Warm Wetsuit

We Recommend: Quiksilver Syncro 4/3 Chest Zip ($199)

Unless you’re surfing very close to the equator or are a polar bear, you’re going to need a wetsuit in the winter. How thick of a wetsuit? That depends on how far from the equator you are. I surf Southern California in a 3/2 because I like to only own one of anything and I don’t want to get too hot in the summer, but most people I know reach for a 4/3 come winter. If you’re surfing anywhere colder, you’ll definitely want at least a 4/3 if not something even thicker and warmer. A chest-zip is great for letting in less water, and a hood goes a long way to staying warm and prevents ice-cream headaches when duckdiving.

The Quiksilver 4/3 Syncro Chest Zip is a solid choice if you are looking for a wetsuit that won’t break the bank. This suit offers warmth, comfort, and it stands up to abuse. But depending on where you surf, a 4/3 might not cut it. For your convenience, we tested a handful of the best wetsuits on the market from LA to Tofino, and found that in general you’ll want a 5/4 anywhere north of the Bay Area, where you can generally survive the winter in a 4/3 though you might want a hood to go with it.


Check out the full list of the warmest wetsuits for winter in The Inertia’s Wetsuit Guide.


We Recommend: Quiksilver 3mm Highline+ Split Toe Wetsuit Boots ($60)
When the water gets cold, you’ll want to have a pair of warm booties to keep your feet warm. Nothing is worse than going to pop up on the wave of the day only to slip off your board because your feet feel like they’re frozen solid. The next closest thing is probably the pain of feeling your feet thaw out on the way back to your car. Fortunately, you can skip both of these pains with some surf booties. A great choice are the Quiksilver 3mm Highline Plus Split Toe. These offer warmth, board feel, and durability without stretching your wallet too thin.


If you want the full rundown on the best booties for winter surfing, check out The Inertia’s guide to the Best Wetsuit Booties.

Wet Gear Storage

We Recommend: Patagonia Black Hole Gear Tote 61 Liters ($99)

Winter surfing is synonymous with cold, damp wetsuits. Dealing with bringing a wetsuit every session can turn into a pain in the neck if you aren’t prepared for the extra logistics that come with a wet bundle of neoprene every surf session. Nobody wants to get their car wet and leave it smelling like wet dog nor get their suit extra sandy every time they change. A good wetsuit changing mat fixes the logistical problems of surfing with a wetsuit. A great option in that category is the Patagonia Black Hole Tote. With its water-resistant materials, you won’t have to worry about your wetsuit getting everything in your car wet. Just put your wetty in the bag, and stay worry free. What’s even cooler about this size of bag is that it is big enough to change in and out of while standing in the bag. Keep the extra sand and parking lot grit off of your suit every session. Not only will this make keeping your suit clean easier, but it will help you get the longest life out of your suit which is always a bonus. Plus when summer finally arrives, you can still use the Black Hole Tote for carrying all your other beach toys with you.


Check out these other options in our guide to the best wetsuit changing mats.

Cold Water Wax

We Recommend: Sticky Bumps Original Cold Wax ($3)
It’s winter. You need to change your wax from the summer coat. If you’re lucky enough to live somewhere the water temp stays above 60°F you maybe can get away with cool weather wax. For the rest of us, we’ll need some cold water wax to keep our boards grippy.


We’ve done some extensive research of the best surf wax brands on the market, check out the full review and make sure you are trusting the best to keep you connected to your board this winter.

A Thick Leash

We Recommend: FCS 6′ All Around Essential Leash ($34)

In the summer, you might want the thinnest leash you can find so it won’t slow you down. For winter, you’re going to need a thicker leash. The waves have more power and there’s nothing worse than snapping your leash and having to swim in while chasing your board and hoping it doesn’t encounter a rock (or another surfer). Avoid this fate by investing in a thicker leash for this winter. You may even want an extra one handy so that you don’t have to go home with your tail between your legs from an epic session because you broke your first one and don’t have a leash anymore.


Check out our guide to the best surf leashes here.

A Hot Drink

We Recommend: Yeti Rambler Tumbler 30oz: $35
One of the best things to fight cold weather is a nice hot cup of something to drink. Pre-session coffee does wonders, but it’s the post-session hot beverage that truly warms you up. For most people, getting a hot drink to warm up means swinging by the coffee shop on the way out. With the Yeti Rambler Tumbler, there’s no need to go anywhere else and wait after a surf. You can immediately start thawing yourself out with your drink of choice that will stay warm through your session. This Rambler Tumbler holds 30oz which is enough to have some sips before you paddle out and still leave enough to warm you up when you get out. Plus, the Yeti Rambler will keep any drink warm, or cold during the summer, while you surf to your heart’s content.


jet boil camp stove

Camp Stove

We Recommend: Jetboil Flash Camping Stove ($110)
Because winter means good waves, there’s going to be plenty of surf sessions that last quite a bit longer than intended. So long, perhaps, that your piping hot coffee, no matter how insulated its container, will turn into lukewarm coffee, and there’s nothing more disappointing than taking a sip of a hot drink only to realize it’s gone cold. Rather than bemoan your fate or drink said lukewarm coffee, a camp stove provides a simple and easy solution for making that coffee hot again, as well as heating water for a hot shower or cheffing up a post-surf snack in remote locations.


A Hot Shower

We Recommend: Nemo Helio Pressure Shower ($99)
There’s nothing better than a warm shower after a long surf in cold water. For most of us, this means waiting until after what seems like a long drive home. But, if you never want to have to thaw out in the car again, you can look into the Nemo Helio Pressure Shower. Rinse off wherever you are. The nice thing about this shower is that it has water pressure so you don’t have to rely on finding a place to hang it. The black outside lets you fill the tank up and let the water heat up in the sun. But, if you’re like me, you know that this never works as well as advertised. Fortunately, you can also just skip that step and fill it up with warm water before you leave. Instant, ready-to-go, post-surf thawing machine. Not sold on the price tag? check out this lower-priced post-surf-shower solution, the Insulated Surf Jug.


A Surf Poncho

We Recommend: Slowtide Oso Poncho ($70)
Cold water and wetsuits means changing in and out of your wetsuit. Stop flashing everyone in the parking lot with the Slowtide Oso Poncho. This poncho makes changing in and out of your wetsuit a breeze without having to feel the breeze, and on top of that, it’s thick enough to keep you warm while you shimmy in and out of your suit.


Surf Slippers

We Recommend: Mahabis Classics ($109)Nothing like some warm and fuzzy insulation to cure wet, cold toes. Just be ready for them to get sandy. My favorites are the Mahabis Classics for the neoprene heel grip. They also make an outdoors version with a better tread and more durable upper.


A Warm Hat

We Recommend: Spacecraft Dock Beanie ($18)
For most of us, winter surfing involves plenty of getting out of the car to check conditions before you surf, and recovering from crippling ice cream headaches afterwards. Whether it’s pre- or post-surf, a beanie is a must to keep your noggin warm during any winter day. Spacecraft’s line of Dock Beanies are the perfect headwear to last you through this winter. With a versatile array of inconspicuous colors, a Dock Beanie will easily slide into your daily essentials for staying warm and stylish. One cool part about the Dock Beanie is that its one size fits most heads regardless of how oddly shaped it is (and if you’re like me, your head is a little weirdly shaped). Plus, it can be worn either cuffed or loose, so you’ll be set for a variety of occasions or temperatures with a Spacecraft beanie.


A Warm Flannel

We Recommend: Patagonia Long Sleeved Fjord Flannel Shirt ($89)

Winter surfing and flannels are like peanut butter and jelly. Whether you have a bit of a hike to get to the break or just want something warm to throw on before or after any surf you have, there’s nothing quite like a flannel to get the job done. With heavy cotton and multiple pockets, the Patagonia Long Sleeved Fjord Flannel Shirt offers everything you need to stay stylish, functional, and warm. Every surfer needs a solid flannel in their clothing quiver. Patagonia’s flannel offers a diverse range of styles so you can stay warm while looking good for any occasion.


Something Puffy

We Recommend: Patagonia Diamond Quilted Bomber Hoody ($169)

Sometimes, a flannel just doesn’t cut it. Staying warm while you get ready is essential for staying warm while you’re in the water. When the waves are firing and it’s cold or wet, you need something extra to keep the elements off of you. That is where Patagonia’s Diamond Quilted Bomber Hoody comes in. The Bomber Hoody is great for keeping the elements off you with its water-resistant and insulated shell. The Bomber Hoody does run a little large, but this also means that the jacket is great for layering underneath. It offers the ideal outer layer while you keep yourself warm underneath.

Editor’s Note: For more gear reviews and features on The Inertia, click here.


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