Winter is a time for waves. It’s as though mother nature wants to continue to tempt us surfers out into lineup when the water temperature suggests staying home is the toastier option. She chooses this season to deliver the best waves of the year, and for surfers it is important to be fully prepared.
Winter surfing can be a rewarding experience. Here are a few things to expect and a handful of tips to making sure your own chilly sessions are great ones.
If you have ever surfed in cold water and pondered how these waves seem heavier than those warm water ones, well, you’d be exactly right.
Cold water is more dense than warm water. Add a little heat to things and those molecules start dancing. They create space, and that space makes the water lighter. Remove that heat, such as in winter, and we are left with heavier waves!
However, science is not the only reason the waves feel heavier. We also need to consider the human mind and body. Water conducts heat away from the body 25 times faster than air. What this means for the winter surf is that it can become physically demanding in ways a warm water session might not. It is energy sapping, meaning of course that when the hold downs come, they can feel heightened due to your own levels of tiredness and dipping energy reserves.
With the hold down feeling more intense due to the body’s physicality, the psychological knock-on is clear. You pop up again thinking, ‘Whoa, these waves are seriously heavy!’ Because they are, scientifically, and mentally.
You can counteract this by being prepared. Train the mind and body for winter surfing. Understand that the hold downs might feel more intense, but in reality, it is likely to be partly mind games. And, make sure you don’t push your physical limits. With the body working harder to keep the temperature up, you will tire faster. Think of winter sessions as short bursts of wonderful icy waves where quality surpasses quantity.
Get Out There
Not every winter swell will present perfectly peeling ocean mountains rolling into shore. There will still be plenty of small days where surfing seems off the schedule. The important thing is not to waste the smaller days by sitting on the beach waiting for giants.
Small winter days can deliver punchy, fast-moving waves that are ideal for getting speed into your turns and improving your own ability as a surfer. These are the days to cut your teeth in preparation for the bigger swells. Less psychologically challenging, but still powerful enough to surpass much of what summer delivers, the small winter swell is a perfectly primed training ground.
Hypothermia is a killer that can seep in almost unnoticed – check out our article on Hypothermia signs and treatments here – so it is vital to wear the right gear for winter surfing.
A quality winter suit is critical. A 5/4 or a 6/5/4 is a must if you plan to surf in the cold season. Check the suit prior to paddling out for tears or issues with the seams, look for areas that might be thinning through wear and tear. One of the first things that will stop a winter surf dead in its tracks is a poor wetsuit.
As well as the suit, this is the time to get that hood on, pop some winter boots on your feet and break out the gloves. Warmth is your biggest ally on a cold surfing day and a full suit in great condition with all the accessories is your best friend.
Don’t forget to swap out the warm water surf wax for a cold-water version. Warm water surf wax in cold conditions will make the wax become hard and in turn result in less traction. This is an easily made oversight that can ruin a session and actually put you in danger if you can’t stop slipping from your board.
Coat your board with a quality cold water surf wax and stay gripped!
Don’t Push It
A great surf session does not play to the normal rules of time. Instead, time seems to fly by when the waves are good. However, don’t push your boundaries too much in cold water. Always be aware of how your own body is reacting to the cold. As water conducts heat away, you will eventually feel the cold and when this happens it’s time to head back in.
Enjoy the shorter sessions and consistent waves then get back to the car or get yourself home for a good shot of hot chocolate or warming soup. Winter is a long old season and the waves will be still be there when you are ready to ride another day.
Winter surfing is wonderfully rewarding. Once this becomes a habit, you are primed to surf all year round and your skills in the water only build. Sure, it can be bitterly cold and it can be big, but it can also be an incredible playground where you might just find the most fun you’ve ever had in your surfing life.
Wrap up, be wise, surf hard, and embrace this most beautiful of seasons.