When I called surfer-filmmaker Cyrus Sutton yesterday morning, he was still thawing out from his most recent trip. He had spent two weeks chasing waves along the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia, where the water temperature hung at a snug and cozy 46 degrees. “It was actually 5 to 10 degrees warmer than the last time I was there, which was really nice,” Cyrus assures me. “When we [Keith Malloy, Dane Gudauskas, Trevor Gordon, and Foster Huntington] visited three years ago, the temperature sank to about 39 degrees on the coldest days.” There are few people in the universe who would describe arctic lineups as “nice”, but Cyrus has grown accustomed to- and now prefers- surfing in the most frigid of places. He’s dipped his neoprened-toes (that were most likely hanging stylishly off the nose of his board) in the waters of Novia Scotia, Norway, and Chile– all for the sake of scoring waves, with not a tropical-loving soul in sight. But before he ventured to these hyperborean locales, Cyrus made sure he prepped accordingly. Now follow his lead.
BRING ENOUGH RUBBER
“It's all about the suit. The wetsuit is what's allowed for cold-water surfing. Make sure to buy closed-toe booties. Your feet go numb really easily in the ones where the big toe is separated. You really need to have feeling in your big toe to surf, so don't skimp on good booties. It's best to get a suit that is at least 5 or 6 mm in the chest and back. You can get away with 3mm on the arms, if there's a lining on the inside that helps reflect heat. It's also better to get a wetsuit with a hood built into it to avoid leakage. Jump in the ocean with it before you leave to make sure it's watertight.”
“The first time I was in Russia, I went out for a sunrise session without my booties and my feet started going numb. When I got out, I could barely walk up the beach. At that point, I was getting afraid of hypothermia, because my feet didn't have any blood in then. The woman that was running the camp where we were staying, made a pot of hot water and I put my feet in the hot water. It was the most painful things I have ever experienced in my entire life. It felt like my feet were getting blanched.If your extremities are super cold, don't put them in hot water. Put them in lukewarm water and work your way up. Long story short, don't underestimate the coldness. If you're cold you'll surf really poorly and you'll be in a lot of pain. It's easy to just be like, 'Oh I'm fine, I don't need to bring out the gloves or the booties its not that cold'. Just suit up.”
PACK COCONUT OIL
“Cold places tend to be pretty dry, so I put coconut oil around my face to keep from getting chapped. Some people use Vaseline, but I prefer coconut oil. It also helps your face sting less when you punch under waves. It creates a barrier and repels the water from your face, preventing you from an ice-cream headache. I remember surfing with Dane Gudauskas in Russia three years ago on a really cold day, during a short period windswell. After we duckdived three or four waves, all the blood rushed to our heads and it felt like we were going to throw up. Coconut oil really helps.”
CHOOSE THE RIGHT TIME TO GO
“For this recent trip, we were tracking a few tropical hurricanes that were going east towards the Hawaiian islands and ending up at the Kamchatka Peninsula; we also had our eyes on some typhoon activity spinning up north to Japan. So we pulled the trigger on early September. But if you’re going to the arctic, in general, I’d recommend going during late August or early September. The weather is still really nice, the tropical systems are still sending south swells that way and the first winter swells are starting to show up. But keep in mind that if you go to arctic places, September gets cold really quickly. From September 1st to September 30th the temperature can drop like 25 degrees.”
PLAN OUT YOUR FOOD SITUATION AHEAD OF TIME
“Bring enough food. You spend a lot of energy trying to stay warm, and it really sucks if you don't have enough to sustain you. Sometimes you're eating twice as much just to keep your body temperature up. For previous trips, instead of buying dehydrated backpacking gear, I bought a bunch of Top Ramen or dehydrated lentils, opened them up and poured them all into a zip-lock bag, which was easier to carry and also cheaper than buying pre-packaged meals. Also, go fishing in lieu of paying for some meals. Arctic places are usually filled with salmon or Arctic char. They tend to like lures a lot, so bring small-to-medium sized silver lures. And as cool as fly-fishing is these days, to cast these lures you need to bring a Spincast fishing reel.”
BUY BEAR-REPELLENT STUFF
“A lot of these remote places aren't really developed, so there's going to be wildlife. I usually bring electric bear fencing, which is battery or solar-powered, and you can post it up around your camp. You can purchase a more high-powered fence to keep bears away from anything scented – food, lip balm, lotion, shampoo- which you should always keep out of your tent and at least 100 feet away, downwind. Bears love rubbery stuff, its like chewing gum to them. They looove wetsuits. So keep that in separate behind the high-powered bear fence too. Bear fencing may look really flimsy when you first get it, but it really works. And nobody carries bear spray anywhere. They say if you get that to close to a bear, you're better off not antagonizing it with the spray. You could easily spray yourself or the wind could blow it back in your face. Bear flares are another good option. They're hard to travel with, but it scares the bears away. Either that or just get a shotgun.”
FORGET THE WAX and GET A SATELLITE COMMUNICATOR
“On tropical surf trips you have to worry about your wax always melting off your board, but for cold-water trips you're wearing booties, which grip pretty well already. Usually the wax on your board, plus a couple bars just in case, should do the trick.
Also, be sure to take a CPR class before you go and prep a first-aid kit. Also, buy a DeLorme inReach two-way satellite communication. Cell-phone reception is pretty poor in those colder, remote areas and with those things you can correspond with someone back in town, with texts and stuff.”
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