How to survive a winter surf
Winter is well and truly here in North Cornwall and that can only mean one thing…pumping waves! Less crowded waters in the winter make for unreal rides without the risk of getting dropped in on, as well as being able to go across the line without ploughing into some unsuspecting snorkelers. If you haven’t learnt to surf yet, there’s no better time than when you have the sea all to yourself, so check out our surf lessons in Bude and we’re sure you’ll never look back. Your opportunity to shred should not be restricted by a couple of sub-zero temperatures, so here are a couple of tips to help make winter surfing a whole lot more enjoyable:
We suggest you have all the gear and plenty of idea as you take on the Atlantic Ocean this winter. Buy the best 5mm suit you can afford with liquid-sealed seams and an ideally zip-free structure to minimise flushing. In the off season, wetsuits require more tender love and care and it is vital that any rips or tears which may have gone unnoticed in the summer are repaired immediately. To avoid the dreaded damp wetsuit change in a cold and windy carpark, consider a quick dry lining, the expense will be spared in the form of time and comfort.
The size and fit of your suit needs to be perfect to ensure ultimate warmth. Too loose, and water will be swilling around your suit left, right and centre, which you’ll be sure to feel on every duck dive or wipe-out. Too tight, and your blood flow will be restricted, making you feel the cold a lot quicker. Be aware of any changes in body mass, and if you indulge a little too much over Christmas it may be worth re-evaluating your wetsuit size for the new year.
Stay warm with as little skin on show as possible. The whole kit and caboodle includes a decent pair of boots, gloves and a hood. Sure, it’s not quite the cool strut to the oceans edge as you imagined, in fact you may even be laughing stock of the beach, but you’ll get the last laugh when you emerge without feeling numb. Hoods can also help to prevent the infamous exostosis, because no one want’s a drill to the ear for Christmas.
Start as you mean to go on
Prepare for a session properly by fuelling yourself with a decent dose of complex carbs, protein and water. Travel to your chosen surf spot, we recommend Widemouth Bay, with many layers, blast the car heaters and bring waterproofs for the traditional pre-surf peek at the waves.
Stretch and warm up on the beach before getting into the water, as you would before any physical activity. As soon as you enter the icy water, your body’s natural defence is to prioritise vital organs by reducing your blood flow. Unfortunately, this means your hands and feet are taking one for the team – not ideal considering both play an integral role in surfing. Warming up properly before you get in increases the blood flow from the get go, giving you an extension on how long you can feel your toes for. To read more about how your body reacts to cold water, check out our piece on the Mammalian Dive Reflex.
Moisturiser and Vaseline
Winter surfing can really take its toll on your skin, as it is exposed to icy waters, strong winds and lashings of rain for extended periods of time. Dry lips can be a real killer, so do yourself a favour and be liberal with the amount of moisturiser you use pre-surf. Be sure to put a layer of Vaseline over the top to lock in the moisture and repeat this process after your post-surf shower. A tub of Vaseline should be kept in the car at all times as a surfers’ saviour to dry lips and rash relief alike.
Winter has a reputation for bringing bigger and better waves than a summer swell, which is why it is vital the cold doesn’t stop you having a play. There’s a theory that cold water is denser, heavier and more powerful which when combined with your thicker, less flexible wetsuit means you’re going to need a little extra help to get onto the waves. A slightly bigger board with more volume will help you get stoked out back, rather than dumped in the break. In fact, due to the empty waters winter provides a great time to experiment, so feel free to try out long boards or even paddle boards. You might just discover a hidden talent.
During the session
It’s vital to keep moving, don’t let your latest wipe-out bring you down. The more you move around in the water, the more blood your body will pump around which, with some luck, will reach your hands and feet. Race to make it over the top of killer sets and avoid duck diving where possible.
Whilst sitting out back waiting for a set, there are numerous animal impressions that can keep you warm. Tuck your hands into your armpits to give you wings much like a chicken and keep those fingers warm. Flapping is optional. Alternatively, hold your arms down by your sides with your hands turned out like a penguin, and shrug your shoulders up and down forcing warm blood down into your hands.
Don’t overstay your welcome, surfing is an extremely demanding sport physically and in the winter your body is spending a lot of energy on trying to keep warm. Head in while you still have the energy to make it home. Be sure to always surf with a buddy and keep an eye out for any signs of hypothermia.
The part we’ve all been dreading, for once you’ve squeezed yourself into the black rubber suit, you’ve experienced first-hand the benefits of the warm water swilling around inside and will be reluctant to part ways with it. The thought of exposing your skin to the biting wind is probably more scary than the cold water rising to crotch level, but there are a few things you can do to make it less…hellish.
Fill a big hot water bottle with boiling water, so when you’ve finished your surf the temperature should be more manageable to rinse off any unwanted salt and sand as well as bringing feeling back to your hands and feet. Wrap your hot water bottle in your clothes to wear post-surf for extra cosiness. Try to invest in a foam mat, or camping roll mat, to protect your feet from rock cuts and dirt and keep them slightly warmer.
The post-surf high is an unrivalled feeling that lasts for the rest of the day. Wrap up warm and head to the local pub for some well-deserved grub and a cheeky pint or two. Regale your tales from out back, and be sure the local punters know how good that barrel you had was, before heading back for a good night’s sleep. Wake up, and it’s time to do it all over again.