While surfing is generally considered a warm water sport, temperature need not dictate your enjoyment of the ocean. In fact, if you can brave the elements encased in rubber, you’d stand a much better chance of scoring uncrowded perfection. Living in Vancouver Island, British Columbia, I’ve had no choice but to embrace the cold; our only decent swells typically arrive in the winter months – so when the water temperature is 8 degrees Celsius (around 46 degrees Fahrenheit) it’s not as simple as looking out the window and grabbing your board. You need to be prepared. Five mils with hoods, booties, and gloves are the norm here, and anyone with misconceptions about booty-wearers being soft has another thing coming. Add to that the fact that most of the spots aren’t easily accessible and you have all the fixings for a solid adventure. Here are a few tips on how to stay warm, happy, and respected in a cold-water line-up.
1. Don’t cheap out and get a wetsuit that’s too thin. Find out what locals are wearing, and heed their unspoken advice. The last way to earn respect in a rugged locale is to drone on about how cold it is.
2. Eat root vegetables a couple of hours before you head out. Seriously. Aside from being good for you, vegetables like carrots and sweet potatoes are easily digestible and emit the heat needed to keep you warm.
3. Layer up for the pre-session check. Your mum was right when she said layers are warm. Air gets trapped in between them and is warmed by your sweet potato-generated body heat.
4. Stretch. While scouting the lineup, take a couple of minutes to limber up. Stretching stimulates blood flow to your muscles so you’ll be warm when you punt out of that slab. Bonus: you won’t pull your groin and ruin the night’s festivities.
5. While you’re out in the water, keep moving. It seems obvious, but if you paddle around every few minutes in between sets, you’ll increase your water time exponentially.
6. Don’t leave the water when you first feel cold. You’ll regret it later, and it’s almost guaranteed that as soon as you get to the beach, the best set of the day will thunder to shore. If you can still speak normally after a session, you came out too early.
7. When you get out, have something warm and dry to change into. One of my favorite feelings is trying to pull a dry pair of wool socks over my feet with fingers so cold they feel like they’re made of wood. The anticipation of warmth is almost better than the warmth itself.
8. Don’t go out alone. Not for safety reasons, though. Some of my fondest surf memories are during the post-session thaw. Sitting around a fire with all of your buddies, eating, drinking, and bullshitting about the day warms me up more than any root vegetable or spiked coffee ever could.