a man winter surfs in a full wetsuit

Winter may be torture at times but it’s when the waves are most often empty. Photo: Brian Yurasits//Unsplash

The Inertia

There is a certain level of masochism that comes with winter surfing. The degrees of suck usually influenced by the relative degrees in ocean temperature.

From the balmy winter waters off Santa Cruz to the ass-puckering ocean temps of the northernmost reaches of Maine and Nova Scotia, any cold-water surfer can attest to the pain that comes with the gain. Just ask the hearty freshwater-surfing souls that ride the Great Lakes.

Watching another perfect left rip down the rocky point in the grey of the frigid pre-dawn air conjures up a strong mixture of emotions for those about to climb into their damp and frozen winter suit. Anyone who’s shoved themselves into a half-dry, five-millimeter (or thicker) at the frigid crack of dawn can attest that the juice is indeed worth the squeeze.

There is something beautiful and terrible about brewing jet-boil after jet-boil of hot water to pour down your frozen wetsuit an hour before sunrise for dawn-patrol. It’s hard not to crack a tortured smile as the spray washes onto your car from over the seawall. All you can do is hastily slurp black coffee from between shivering hands.


Any thick-neoprene-toting individual that has dressed up like the Michelin Man for long enough can tell you that the water hasn’t even begun to get cold yet. It’s only January. Anyone who has planted a turd in the frozen ground in the pre-dawn hours after a night of clandestine car-camping can attest to the facts that wintertime holds the goods, the temperature of the water is mostly in your mind, and that nothing sucks more than having hands too cold to work the key-slot on your car door after a few hours in 30-something-degree water.

Sure, winter surfing has its drawbacks, but almost any thick-skinned, warm-blooded surfer will take it over the crowds of summer and its equally-torturous flat spells. Yes, with a good wetsuit, some heart, and a warm cup of something afterward, Old Man Winter can be a surfer’s best friend.

It is comforting to take solace in the fact that even as the fabric of our society continues to fray and tear around us, with enough scalding water to pour down your wetsuit, and enough black coffee to pour down your gullet, everything will be fine. Just fine.


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