Winter is coming and winter surfing can fill our boots with trepidation (and very cold water). To ease the dread of layering on thick neoprene and stepping into frosty seas, we’ve gathered together some of our top tips to thrive, rather than just survive, through the winter months.
I’ve found myself in Cornwall for six consecutive winters. Surfing at this time of year can be a turbulent love affair with ice-cream headaches, limited daylight hours and heavy hold downs. However it’s not all cold and misery. Winter also opens us to exploration; hunting for sheltered corners from storm swells, surfing different breaks from the local. It’s also a chance to challenge yourself in some heavier conditions and improve your overall surf fitness.
There’s no denying, this isn’t the easiest time of year to surf. Particularly if you don’t live near the coast and can’t maintain your momentum heading into winter. So with that in mind we’ve put together some practical tips and perspectives that will hopefully change your relationship with winter surfing from survive to thrive. After all, we always feel so much better after a surf.
Embrace the Discomfort
If you’re serious about surfing over winter you can’t escape the cold entirely. I have post surf moments of cupping the car heating guards with my hands, desperately searching for an ounce of sensation. My wetsuit sometimes flushes on wipeouts. There are icy dawnies when it takes all my motivation just to get out there.
I believe the discomfort of cold is a net positive. Allowing yourself to sit with frosty sensations of cold water builds mental resilience and subsequent dips become more manageable. Flushed faces with rosy cheeks feel amazing. The sense of achievement after good winter surfing definitely trumps the satisfaction of summer slides. Embracing the ice will help you to enjoy the experience more.
Get Yourself a Good Winter Wetsuit and all the Trimmings
A good 5/3mm (or 6/4mm if you really feel the cold) will suit you fine for the UK winters. A built in hood or hooded rash vest to wear underneath is vital. I did one winter without a hood and found it limited me to only surfing small waves to avoid the ice cream headaches. Luckily more brands are offering womens wetsuits with built in hoods.
As well as a decent wetsuit, you’ll benefit from a pair of boots and gloves. Keeping your extremities warm will extend your surf time. If you’ve ever tried popping up with numb fingers or feet, you’ll appreciate it usually doesn’t lead to successfully cruising down the line.
If you’re unsure of which wetsuit is best for you check out Surf Girl Magazine‘s comprehensive winter wetsuit guide. They detail tips and tricks for finding the ideal wetsuit for your figure, budget and aesthetic preferences.
You will thank yourself for thinking ahead and planning your surfs. If you’ve eyed up the forecast at the start of the week and a dawnie Thursday morning is looking inviting, put your gear at the door Wednesday night ready to go. This includes your board, wetsuit, changing robe, snacks, warm clothes and a water bottle. In your head you’re already committed so you’ll need energy to psych yourself up when the alarm goes off. Do make sure you wash off and dry your suit straight after your surf ready for the next one. A wet wettie is never nice to put on, especially if you’re already cold.
Get to Grips with the Surf Forecast
Understanding a surf report and improving your knowledge of local spots will help make winter surfing more enjoyable. Get to know your local beaches and the sheltered spots in your area. Also decide how far you’re prepared to travel for waves. When those winter winds hit, knowing you’ve got a go-to sheltered spot will increase your likelihood of getting out.
Forecasting websites like Magicseaweed and Windy are useful tools. If you’re not confident with forecasting, start off with Magicseaweed and have a look at their forecasting tutorial.
We delve into forecasting in depth with our improver surfers on our White to Green courses, check out the course and if you like what you see hop on board next year, you will be all set for Winter ’23!
Keep your Surf Short with Achievable Goals
Do you have those friends who tell you about those five hour surf marathons they regularly smash out? Impressive stuff! Truth is in Winter its completely normal for the duration of your surf sessions to drop, as you get cold more quickly. This is totally ok! Roughly anywhere between 30mins and 2 hours is a good margin to aim for. This will vary from person to person, but as a general recommendation, if you’re freezing and not having fun, it’s time to hop out.
If you’re struggling to get yourself out there in the first place, set yourself a manageable expectation of catching three waves or going for a 30 minutes power session. Who knows you might be loving it and stay in longer .. or not! Set expectations that work for you and don’t worry about what everyone else is up to. Comparison is the thief of joy!
Bring a Warming Drink and Lots of Layers
If you’re heading out in the car and getting changed in car parks, be sure to bring lots of warm clothes – beanies, fluffy socks, tracksuit, fleeces. The winter car park fashion scene gives you full freedom for expression. Birkenstocks with socks, pyjama bottoms and an oversized jacket is the roll out of bed ensemble I enjoy. A hot flask of something nourishing is also highly recommended to warm yourself up post-surf. Or stop in at your favourite cafe for a delectable pastry. Here’s some of our faves in Newquay, Cornwall, UK.
Get Yourself a Surf Buddy
It might be hard to motivate yourself to surf in winter, especially if you’re unsure of the conditions. Therefore, get yourself an accountability buddy and fellow cheerleader. If you’re landlocked and not living near the waves then Facebook groups such as Surf Senioritas and London Surfers are great platforms to link up with other surfers. If you’ve been on one of our courses and met like minded ladies, use these networks and newly found friends to continue sharing surf experiences. Some of the closest friends I have are ones I met through surf trips or surf communities.
So there you have it… Our practical guide to surfing in winter, to help you through the winter months. Embrace the cold, be prepared, be realistic but most of all remember it’s all about having fun. Let us know if you have any other good winter hacks for keeping motivated!
Cover image is Veerle Henson cruising along a chilly Winter wave on our Longboard Clinic – taken by Meg Hemsworth