For some ocean lovers, it’s approaching the time of year where the water temperature has dropped low enough to start thinking about bringing the gloves, boots and affectionately nicknamed “twat caps” out of summer hibernation. Cold water surfing requires a whole new level of loyalty. Surfers who only frequent warm waters fail to understand the dedication required to brave the elements when the water temperature hits rock bottom.
But for those who live on coasts where the best swells come ashore when the water is coldest, consider yourselves part of an exclusive club; not your average surfer, but an elite breed who are prepared to suffer the discomfort of brain-freeze every time you plunge your head underwater. A slightly more determined variety of wave rider–at least, that’s what you’ll keep telling yourself as you change into a freezing cold wetsuit in a damp car park on a gloomy, grey winter day. “Warm water is for wimps,” you mutter to yourself, not entirely convincingly.
To try and alleviate the suffering and make winter sessions a whole lot more bearable (even enjoyable) keep the cold at bay for as long as possible. Here’s how:
1. Stay sealed!
This, of course, is obvious; while slightly leaky neoprene doesn’t really matter in thin summer rubber, the smallest of perforations in a winter suit will let in the ice-cold water, preventing the wetsuit from retaining any heat. Regular winter warriors will probably need a replacement suit every other year. However, if the budget is tight, then invest in some neoprene glue and seal up the holes yourself. Wetsuit glue is readily available and is an easy way to keep the water out. And make sure your gloves and boots are a snug fit. There’s nothing worse than involuntarily acquiring “clown feet”. The water has a nasty way of finding the smallest gaps and filling with water, resulting in a temporary growth in shoe size. You think it’s annoying when you tread on your leash? Try surfing with bigger feet than you’re used too.
2. Take some hot water
Fill a large container with warm water and take it with you to the beach. It’s great for dunking your boots, gloves and hoods into before pulling them on, and it’s amazing for rejuvenating cold extremities when the dreaded claw hand has set in. This is also one of the few occasions where coffee from a thermos actually tastes okay, so pack a flask and enjoy a hot cup of slightly plasticy coffee like never before.
3. Drink plenty
The joys of peeing in your wetsuit are plentiful, but in cold water the pleasure reaches new heights. It’s like being plugged into a warm water drip, the heat slowly spreading out from your core to give your cold body a whole new lease on life. In order to experience this indulgence as often as possible, drink plenty before heading into the water. A word of warning though: if your hood is part of your suit, you may want to consider how desperate you are to warm your ears with your own liquid heat. And probably best to expend all fluids in the first half of the session to allow some flushing out to occur.
4. Change somewhere warm
The aim is to keep the body temperature as high as possible for as long as possible. This means trying to change somewhere warm and dry, not huddled behind the open car door trying to stop the wind from blowing away the small towel protecting your modesty. In the car is an option, although takes practice. Or change at home and drive to the beach in your wetsuit.
5. Stay active in the water
Don’t sit in the line-up shivering. Keep moving. Regular paddling keeps the blood circulating and the body warm. Race to make it over the top of those cleanup sets; keeping your head above the water will retain the warmth stored in your suit, and the increased heart rate keeps the body generating heat.
6. Choose your pre-surf meal carefully
As a general rule, the higher the water content of a food, the cooler it will make your body. Fruits and vegetables are mostly water and are easy for your body to digest, causing your body temperature to drop. Fats, proteins and carbohydrates are much harder for the body to break down resulting in a rise in body temperature. All of which makes a good case for that pre-surf burger (wearing wetsuit optional). Alcohol also has a warming effect, and while it would assist with the process of peeing in your suit, it’s probably best saved for the post session debrief.
Stay warm and enjoy the winter swell.
See more from Tom Keyes on surfingsections.com