Coldwater surfing has isn’t for the faint of heart, it requires grit and early starts in the darkness. But, what it lacks in warmth it makes up for in other ways. Quieter spots and more waves? Sure, but there is something more than that. Coldwater surfing for all of its edges can make you feel alive in a way that few other experiences can. Our surfing roots are in the North of England, where the sea is often bitter but tight-knit groups of warriors make the pilgrimage to the beach to paddle out.
We spoke to some of our Riders and Ambassadors to find out what it is about coldwater surfing that’s so exhilarating, their early coldwater memories, and tips for anyone braving it this winter for the love of surfing.
Peter Conroy: My first experience surfing was in cold water on the west coast of Ireland. Back about 1995, back then we had two-piece o’Neill wetsuits that would keep you semi-warm for about 30mins and then you started to get very very cold haha.
Emily Grimes: My very first experience was in New Hampshire in the northeast of America during their summer, so although it does get really cold there in the winter I do believe that was actually in a bikini. I then moved on to Australia where I properly got into it, and although the south coast along the great ocean road (where I first started) can be a little chilly, relative to the northeast of England it was pretty warm. I actually found I improved far more rapidly when I moved back home to the North Sea in the middle of winter. I was so determined not to be put off by the cold I ended up surfing way more.
Ashley Braunton: I don’t remember my first cold water surf, in the UK many of your surfs are in cold water. One session I do remember was as a teenager; myself and a couple of friends got a bus to a town above a now well-known secret spot as it was as far a bus went in the winter. We walked down the footpath and surfed most of the day with 3 or 4 pairs of socks under homemade boots, homemade gloves, and old hooded wetsuit tops over our holey winter suits. At the end of the day, we had to carry our wet gear and boards back up the footpath to get the last bus home. It was a mammoth task but to get pumping waves almost to ourselves it’s just what we did. If you’ve done the walk up you’ll know what I mean!
Sandy Kerr: My earliest memory was when my parents got me a surfboard for Christmas when I was around 5-6, so that very day I wanted to test it out. It was a typical North East December day. Wet and very cold! I remember being so cold and my dad being just as cold but both loving just being in the sea. There’s a cool picture of me with a little wetsuit and with boots and gloves that must have been adult sizes because they are huge!
Emily: If it’s firing the only real difference is some mild discomfort pulling on a cold, wet wetsuit, but once you’re in there the cold really doesn’t matter at all. Admittedly motivating yourself to surf sub-par waves is far less arduous when in the tropics. However, although the build-up may be less pleasant when the water is cold, sometimes the pleasant surprise of a fun little grovel can be all the more satisfying.
Peter: The biggest difference is the freedom while paddling. Without a wetsuit, you have less material on your body so it’s easier to paddle. On the downside, you have less protection against hitting the reef and getting stung by jellyfish. Also, the float that wetsuits give you. Helps you get back up to the surface easier. While without a wetsuit you have to work to get back up.
Ashley: It’s a balance between plenty of swell but a lot of effort. Nowadays wetsuits are so good it’s easy to forget what it used to be like in the cold but I find the hardest part is motivation. When it’s wet, cold, and windy it’s so easy to not bother whereas on a warm summer’s day who doesn’t want to be in the sea!
Emily: Don’t let the cold put you off. If the waves are decent it’s always worth it, and even if it’s not – your hands and feet get cold and you don’t have the best time in the world, you’ll get over it.
If you think you might struggle to motivate yourself when you see it on a borderline day, chuck your wetsuit on before you leave the house. You’re far less likely to bail that way. Conversely, if you’re tired, it’s cold and crappy, don’t force yourself. There’s plenty of opportunities to surf in the winter, so don’t beat yourself up if the cold does put you off one morning.
Peter: Don’t skimp on cheap gear. Paying that little bit more will help your surf for longer and they will last longer. Don’t stay out too long. We always say one more wave, but you can get cold quite fast. Keep busy In the water, keep warm by paddling around. Keep an eye on each other and most of all, have fun!
Ashley: Get a second wetsuit, even if it’s a 4/3mm or an older suit which only allows you to stay warm for an hour or 2. Putting a wet wetsuit on adds to the lack of motivation and will reduce your core temperature before you’ve even got in the sea.
Sandy: Preparing is the biggest one for me. Make sure you don’t leave your wet-wetsuit in the cold car overnight. Have all your gear sorted so you’re not messing around turning the wetsuit the right way round and messing with fins etc in the cold. Have a flask so you can get warm right after a surf. For longer sessions, I often leave my Beach Basha on the reef with a flask and some food so I can get out get warm and go back in refueled. Another big one is to start off warm, in warm clothes so you stay warm.
Emily: Sometimes crap, mostly average, occasionally world-class. It’s always better than nothing and not having perfect waves on tap keeps the Stoke level high. You’ve got to work for those magic moments which makes them even tastier. All in all, we’ve got it pretty damn good.
Peter: Surfing my local spots is great. I get to see friends I haven’t seen in a while and I get to just relax and enjoy myself.
Ashley: My local spot is busy, warm or cold. The best time for me is when it’s over head-high as that starts to thin the crowds. Solid onshore days can be the best days, but I don’t mind if people would rather leave it!
Sandy: I love it, but I’m totally used to it now. It’s funny when I get friends from overseas to come here they either think it’s crazy and too cold or love the novelty of wearing boots and gloves etc, and the bonus is the cold keeps the crowds away!
Do you surf in cold water? Let us know your cold-water surf stories!