The following statement is sure to evoke a certain amount of hostility. I’m not bragging. It’s pertinent to the point I’m trying to make, so here goes: I’ve spent the last three years surfing in waters no colder than 79 degrees Fahrenheit (77 at a push), but certainly nothing one would consider “cold.” The only item I’ve required in addition to a pair of boardshorts is a t-shirt to protect against the sun’s intimidating presence, and something to stifle any burgeoning torso rash. There was this one time I had to exit the water as a lightning storm threatened to deliver a bolt of something highly charged to the crown of my head, if that’s any consolation?
Consistently surfing in tropical waters has spoiled me. In fact, I’ve been so spoiled that I’m even beginning to curse the inconvenience of having to liberally apply layers of thick sweat-resistant sun-cream. Life’s a bitch.
Recently I found myself in an altogether different scenario: standing at the water’s-edge in front of a quality head high swell at my home break in the United Kingdom. More accurately: violently shivering and standing at the water’s edge in front of a quality head high swell at my home break in the United Kingdom. Because, as you are probably aware, Britain is not blessed with year round warm water and sunny skies. It’s currently springtime in England, a period when the country wearily lifts itself out of its winter depression. A watery sun starts to peek out from behind the gloom, delivering a much needed hit of vitamin D. It all paints a pretty picture. And for those living by the sea, offers an enticing prospect. The fresh blue skies and tiny slither of sun transport your mind to a warmer place. You kid yourself that the icy waters of the winter are a distant memory and enthusiastically succumb to the lure of the waves, eagerly contorting yourself into your 5 mil’ layer of protective neoprene. As you pull on your wetsuit you realize the fabric itself is cold, slowly sapping the warmth from your body before you’ve even entered the ocean. The water temperature is still low enough to require boots and gloves. A wetsuit cap is not an entirely ridiculous suggestion. Entry to the water begins at a brisk pace and slows down as the cold water rises up around your body. The anticipation of the first duck dive prominently sits at the forefront of your mind. And then the best friend of beach break surfers the world over arrives – a lull in the sets – and all thoughts of the cold weather disappear. Head down. Paddle.
And it was in that instant as I was paddling out, I realized that the months of surfing tropical waters had failed to invigorate me like I was currently being invigorated. Surfing cooler water adds a defining element; the freshness of the ocean was re-hydrating my soul. Cold crystals of beading water permeated my skin, reacquainting me with everything that is stimulating about surfing in chilly water.
Perhaps it’s just a feeling of nostalgia after returning home to memorable waves. Despite my familiarity with Asia I never (partly out of respect) assumed the status of honorary local. Yet, Cornwall is where I learned to surf. Where I became in-tune with the sea.
The atmosphere in the water certainly benefits from the knowledge that those committed enough to venture into the sea are suffering a little for their art. Maybe everyone is conserving their energy in an effort to retain as much warmth as possible, but an unspoken vibe of unity is ever present. A mutual respect exists between all sat in the lineup, regardless of ability.
The euphoria will probably be short lived; a sentimental sensation for surfing at home. Had I spent the winter months willing the howling onshore winds to ease up just enough to allow the waves to at least become visible through the spewing spray, it would probably be a different story. And give me another few surfs in average conditions when there isn’t even the warmth from the fickle April sunshine, and I’ll be yearning for a moped and a pair of boardshorts again. But for now, I’m going to enjoy the simple pleasures of surfing in cold water. If you’ve never hauled yourself into a winter wetsuit, squeezed on a pair of wetsuit boots and experienced the searing ice-cream headache that arrives with each approaching set, then I highly recommend you seek out the cold and embrace it.