Joshua Chaffee
Joshua Chaffee

Apr 10. 3 mins

Cold Water Surfing — What It’s Like and How to Enjoy it

As much as we would all love to be diving in crystal-clear 27°C (80°F) water, that just isn’t the case for all of us. Our diving waters are diverse, and that includes the temperature. For those of us located in less-than-tropical areas, some outdoor sports seem a bit more difficult — but they aren’t impossible.

Whether you live in a frigid climate or you are vacationing there, cold water surfing can give you the rush you are looking for.

How it Feels to Surf Icy Waters

When I say cold, I don’t mean 20°C (68°F), I’m talking bone-chilling temperatures from 0°C (32°F) – 10°C (50°F).

If you frequently dive in cold water, you might have an idea of the tingly feeling and numb extremities associated with cold water surfing. Unfortunately, you don’t have the luxury of wearing a super-thick drysuit when you surf; you have to be more flexible. You can’t gear up as heavily as you can in an icy dive.

The sensation of gliding along a wave in such a cold environment is described by many cold water surfers as a sublime exhilaration

It’s a huge change of pace if you are used to tropical waters, but nothing is as invigorating as catching a semi-frozen wave and riding it to the bitter end.

In all honesty, many would say it’s quite unpleasant — and even dangerous — if you aren’t properly prepared. Even the most prepared cold surfer would tell you that numb fingers and toes are part of the game.

Intense shivers at the end of a day are normal. If your foot isn’t a frozen brick by th
e time you get out, you got out too early.

How to Prepare Yourself For Cold Water

If you want to enjoy yourself, preparation is key. The secret to having a good time in icy water is one part attitude, one part gear, and one part experience. You have to be really pumped up to go out cold water surfing. If you complain at 20°C (68°F), then real cold water probably isn’t up your alley.

Gear Up
As mentioned earlier, you can’t exactly wear the same level of gear as you can on a dive since you need to stay limber. A thick wetsuit is absolutely necessary on any cold surf outing.
You will find that a 5 or 6mm wetsuit is best for the torso, you can usually get away with a little thinner on the arms. Don’t skip out on quality, though. More expensive wetsuits typically deliver a more limber, higher-quality, product.

Booties and hoods are important if you want to stave off hypothermia and keep your body warm for as long as possible. Keeping the feeling in your foot, and especially your big toe is important when it comes to keeping control of your board.

Surfer film-maker Cyrus Sutton talks about what it’s like in cold water without booties in an interview with surfer.com: “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…”. He continues, “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…Just suit up.”

Diet Focused for Warmth

Believe it or not, what you eat can have a huge effect on how warm you stay all day long. Of course, physical activity usually does a good job of keeping you warm, but combined with icy water, it just isn’t enough.

Vegetables like carrots and sweet potatoes are great “warm” foods that provide your body with heat as they are digested. Peanuts are also great for speeding up the metabolism and providing heat to your cold body.

Other recommended foods include coconut oil, cayenne pepper, brown rice, fresh ginger, and even ice water. Drinking some icy water before you get out of the warmth of your car can be a great way to turn up the heat. Your body’s natural response to the extreme cold is to turn up the heat on your internal furnace. Eating the right foods and eating well can make a huge difference.

Other Tips

  • It’s important to stretch before you get into the water. This not only allows blood to flow to your extremities, but it could keep you from getting hurt.
  • Keep moving. Even though there is a lot of movement already associated with surfing, you know there are a lot of slow times. While you are waiting to catch the next wave, move as much as you can. Don’t keep your hands in the water, either, tuck them under your armpits to keep them as warm as possible.
  • Keep warm while changing clothes. Don’t strip off your upper layer of clothes while you start putting your feet into your wetsuit. You will stay a lot warmer in a sweater than you will with the icy wind against your bare chest. Also, when you are done surfing, you need to have dry clothes waiting for you. If your vehicle allows for it, it might even be best to change inside your car with the heater blasting. The less time the frigid air has to sting your wet skin the better.

Give Cold Water Surfing a Try

If you’ve never done it before, it’s worth a shot. Prepare yourself diligently and you will have a great time. There are a lot of amazing cold water spots to choose from. Take a look at this surfer from Nova Scotia, Canada taking on the frigid waters near his home. Hopefully, seeing it will be enough to convince you to take a crack at cold water surfing for yourself.

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