You’ve noticed it with each morning surf. It’s getting harder and harder to stay in the waves as your hands struggle to grip your board and your feet seem to float above the wax, the feeling in your toes all but washed away with each passing wave. The drastic drop in temperature is not always conducive to good surfing.
You needn’t fly south just yet. There is an awesome range of winter surfing gear out there to help you continue to enjoy a day out in the water during the colder months.
A wetsuit designed specifically for winter surfing is naturally thicker around the torso and slightly thinner around the arms and legs so as to allow for a full range of motion. It can be confusing when reading wetsuit specifications, but it is really quite simple once you know the system. The first number (usually the larger number) represents the thickness of the material in millimetres around the torso. The second number separated from the first by either a forward slash or a colon will refer to the thickness of the material around the arms and legs.
Wetsuits with a thickness of 4/3 around the torso will usually provide enough warmth for winter surfing, except in extremely cold climates where it is common to bump it up to a 5/3.
Chat to your retailer to find out what thickness is right for you and the conditions you are surfing.
Your hands are often the first part of your body to really feel the cold due to the fact that they are so much further from your core. It takes longer for blood to pump to your hands, and they quickly become numb in cold surf. Mittens are perfect for cold weather as they are often designed to be thicker than the rest of your wetsuit to account for this and help keep your whole body at an even temperature. Keeping your fingers pressed against one another aids insulation and the paddle shape might just give you that extra boost to catch those big winter breaks.
In really cold climates it is essential that you insulate your head. They say that you lose a large portion of your body heat through the top of your head, and a wetsuit hood will only help to keep some of that heat in your noggin keeping your mind sharp for longer.
Your feet are just like your hands and your head in that they are going to feel the cold first. You’ll quickly lose board feel along with the loss of feeling in your toes. Wrap your feet in a pair of thick booties which are often designed with slightly thinner soles so you can still get good board feel without sacrificing your limbs to the surf gods altogether.
You might like to consider trying other board options with the change in seasons. The chill wind often brings with it serious waves generated by deep ocean swell and big offshore storm systems. Progressing to a slightly shorter surfboard might just help you to conquer those winter waves as it will afford greater board control and have more aggressive turning capabilities.
Pre and post-surf
Sometimes it’s not until you’ve left the water and felt the bite of a harsh southerly that you realise just how cold it is. Be sure to get dry quickly with a decent towel and change into warm thermal clothing to help retain what heat you have left and to keep your core temp up while you’re sussing out where you’re going to dive in beforehand.
Make sure you have a good thermos filled with your choice of hot drink (coffee, rooibos, etc.) to warm you from the inside out after your session.
Easily overlooked when it’s cold, it is important to regularly drink water when surfing in winter. Stay hydrated and improve the performance of your muscles and you will soon learn to enjoy getting out there when you would normally think the conditions are too nasty to even bother.