Surfer/Writer/Burrito Enthusiast
a surfer catches a wave with a snowy mountain behind

Good waves, very cold water. What’s your preference? Photo: Christoffer Engstrom//Unsplash

The Inertia

It’s that special time of year where surfing social media accounts fill up their squares with photos of smiling surfers sporting icicle-caked faces. They appear so happy from their frosty sessions that they are oblivious to the jagged ice dangling centimeters from their faces.

And we, the scrolling public, love it. Surfing in the winter carries with it a glorified mystique of hardy folk braving cold weather and harsh elements to find waves. Look at these hardcore souls defying nature, raising a big middle finger to a nearby snowdrift as they scratch into an icy barrel. They’re so brave! They’re so tough! They’re so strong! And they are so god damn miserable.

By nature, surfers are masochists. We crave pain and suffering. We love bone-crushingly large waves, traveling through powerful cylinders of water over sharp rocks, and snuff films disguised as Wedge edits. We sacrifice our bodies and bank accounts all for the right to mostly just fall off expensive lumps of foam. Becoming a surfer is basically signing yourself up for a life of creative water torture. So, of course we think that surfing in sub-zero temperatures is a good idea.

But surfing’s romantic winter dream is nothing more than an arctic nightmare. Everything you need to do to surf successfully becomes infinitely harder in the winter. Need to duck dive under a wave? Instant ice cream headache. Want to paddle for that cresting peak? Enjoy getting there in time with that thick, soaked wetsuit strapped to your body. Want to feel your extremities for the duration of the session? Hahaha – good luck with that. Nature is hell-bent on tormenting you every step of the way.

In the colder months, you’re also more prone to developing surfer’s ear, or exostosis. For the uninitiated, when exposed to cold water and weather for extended periods of time, your ears will develop a bone growth protecting you from further harm. Your body is so opposed to winter surfing that it has to go out of its way to grow extra bones preventing you from hurting yourself. Also, removal of the bone growth requires taking a power drill to your ear. Delightful!

My own surfing ability suffers during the winter – not like it’s all that impressive to begin with, but I drop a full rung down from “delightfully mediocre” to simply ho-hum “mediocre.” It’s a horrible place for any surfer to be. And it’s because my body is actively fighting against me for throwing it in cold water during wintery conditions. The biting air and chilly seas make my muscles tense up, so all of my surfing becomes belabored – my pop-up is jerky, my body refuses to rotate, and I develop a weird hitch while generating speed (a hitch in my giddy-up, if you will). I move like I am partially frozen, likely because I am. And while simply wearing more neoprene is a potential solution, it’s a fine line to walk, as wearing too much neoprene feels akin to having sex while wearing multiple condoms – stiff, well protected, and unable to feel a thing.

My post-session also carries its own list of maladies – my feet are so numb they feel like two giant clubs, I can barely open my car door because my hands are so cold, I’m breathing like someone that, well, threw themselves into a frigid body of water, and I’m angry at myself for surfing like I have rigor mortis. I cannot say for certain that the feeling I’m experiencing in those moments is “fun.” It feels more like I just finished surfing on the ice planet of Hoth. And if it is cold enough that Han Solo could potentially appear and shove you inside a snow kangaroo for warmth, then it’s probably too cold for human existence.

And yet, despite the threats of mind-numbing cold and potentially having to visit Home Depot for ear surgery, there are many people that enjoy the winter struggle, singing the praises of frigid swells from the supposed comfort of their piss-filled 5/4 hooded suits. The waves in the winter are usually quite good, and some would make the argument that it’s worth the effort to snare a few icy ondas. But if one’s time is spent enduring an onslaught of shivering agony all for the privilege of surfing a few good waves, is it really even worth it? I dunno, man – I’m just a romantic masochist.


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