Surfing in winter : 8 ways to nail winter surfs
Surfing in winter. With another British winter in Cornwall just around the corner, here are some top tips to get your head in the right spot to prepare for the bleak yet beautiful, cold winter of solid swell and cups of tea!
For me, the thought of another winter in Cornwall fills me with a slight pang of dread. After one of the hottest summers we’ve had, it’s hard to release those fond memories of heat for another year. But here we are, face to face with the arrival of icy fresh, autumnal mornings; so it’s about time I stop living in the past and start embracing these cold, yet beautiful autumnal moments.
Long dark evenings are looming closer and the thought of a 5mm wetsuit, boots, gloves and hood fills me with claustrophobic sensations already. However, with winter comes larger swells, an abundance of opportunities to challenge your surfing, maintain your fitness and ultimately, explore secluded spots lit up by winter storm swells.
I’m delving into the brighter side of these darker months.
In mid-September, a crisp wind rapped at my fingertips after leaving the water one evening. The sensation of numbness jolted memories of a frigid winter from the year prior into mind. Fresh as if it were only yesterday. I panicked at the thought of it all. Am I ready for another bleak Cornish winter? Can I really handle another 6 months of piercing cold and storm surges battering the coastlines?
It is a tricky time of year. However, there are certain facets of winter far more enjoyable than others, so I plan to highlight these specifics. I have compiled a list of useful tips and tricks to make winter surfs less of a drag, to help you embrace the early evenings and icy dawnies. It’s all an experience; a journey through the seasons.
After all, you always feel better after a surf…
1. Find a friend who loves a dawnie
If like me, you struggle to wake early in the mornings, then an early rising friend is a must have surfing accessory. Setting all the alarms don’t always (if it ever really does) work (for me, anyway). Having a friend call you, or even better, have a friend to stay in your bed/spare room means you have no way out of it. Once you’re up, there’s no getting out of it. Splash your face and pop the kettle on for a quick cuppa. One of my favourite time-saving freezing-cold-dawnie-tips is to wear my thermals to bed, then just add more clothes on top in the morning. Leaves you feeling like you never left your bed… until you start pulling that wetty on.
2. Be kind to your future self
Being kind to your future self: not leaving your wet wetsuit in a stinking bucket in the car. Or similarly as bad, leaving your wetsuit in a heaped pile in the shower. Rinse your wetty out and hang out to dry. It might be a bit damp in the morning, but at least you’re not pulling on a soaking wet, cold wetsuit first thing!
I try not to pee in my winter suits, but when you’re out there for a couple hours, it can’t always be helped. In desperate times I rinse my wetsuit with warm water and mix in a couple drops of Tea Tree Oil and Lavender Oil. This disinfects, cleans and has your wetsuit smelling super fresh ready for your next surf.
3. It’s all in the wetsuit
Owning a good quality wetsuit for the winter makes all the difference. I’ve had too many winters where I’ve scrimped on forking out for a more expensive wetsuit, resulting in my body paying the ultimate price. Many a surf has been had where my face, hands, feet, legs and arms were completely numb. My lips turned a worrying shade of blue and I found it almost impossible to string a sentence together. It took the rest of the day to regain the warmth lost in my extremities. Even a hot bath later that evening, struggled to warm me up.
Last year I was fortunate enough to be a part of the first Finisterre women’s wetsuit tester programme. Finisterre created a 4mm winter wetsuit with an inbuilt hood. After a long bleak winter, my wetsuit underwent some rigorous testing. It was undoubtedly the best suit I’ve ever had. Even in howling northerly winds, I remained warm and toasty. The women involved in the programme were surfing and testing the suits regularly in Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and the North East; all women repeated similar sentiments. We all agreed it was the warmest 4mm winter suit we’ve ever had. Used in conjunction with good quality boots and gloves in the colder months, this is by far one of the best suits on the market.
4. Eat well
By now, I’m sure you realise surfing is incredible exercise, for both body and mind. Your energy expenditure is vast with the paddling, popping up, duck diving, turns, balance and core strength. All this, with the additional effort of exercising in freezing conditions, results in a higher level of energy expenditure.
Your body will feel more fatigued after a 2 hour surf in the winter than a 2 hour surf in the summer, due to the extra weight of the gear and the colder temperatures. The best way to combat weakness and fatigue? Eat right! Warming and nutritious soups, slow energy releasing and nourishing porridge, vitamin packed smoothies, bone broths and of course, water, are key to keeping your body nourished, balanced and satisfied.
My favourite energy-boosting smoothie:
1 cup of oat milk
1 frozen banana
1/2 cup of frozen berries
Half an avocado
Handful of frozen spinach
1 tpsp cacao nibs
1 tsp maca powder
Blend it all up in the morning with some ice. Alternatively, a good time saving option is to blend the night before and store in the freezer. By the time you get to work or return home, your smoothie should have defrosted.
Alternatively, for a more warming morning option, try this wintery spiced porridge:
1 cup oats
1 cup oat/almond milk
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp chia seeds
Half a grated apple
1 tsp baobab
1 tsp maca
Leave it all to soak overnight in the fridge. Wake up and heat up with some added oat or almond milk. Add a splash of honey or maple syrup to sweeten.
5. Acclimatise your Body // Cold Water Therapy
Popping in for a quick dip in the cold water is the best way to acclimatise your body to the bitter temperatures in the winter months. Cold water therapy. It’s the perfect way to get your ocean fix when the surf is lacking. Finding a partner who is willing to join makes the whole ordeal easier and more enjoyable. It’ll be cold but it’ll be worth it. There are countless benefits to cold water swimming, so much so I will have to write another post on this, as there are too many to state in this. Cold water swims have changed my life and my winters in Cornwall. When I feel low, I reach for the ocean.
Cold water is known to help with depression, SAD and grief. Regular exposure has been shown to improve our resilience to the common cold, boost our immune systems and also metabolism. Read more about it here and here.
For me, I find swimming without a wetsuit to be a more invigorating and refreshing experience. Although incredibly hard to follow through with at times, it has helped me tremendously with long, dark winters. A quick 5-minute dip early before work has me smiling for the rest of the day. It fills me with inspiration and creativity. Be warned: it’s addictive.
6. Hot water bottles // The perfect pre & post surf cuddle
This idea was introduced by my super stoked mate who is always up for a dawnie. Great for keeping you warm and snuggly on the way to the surf and perfect for instant warmth post-surf. A lovely addition to the drive back to wherever you’re heading; helps reduce the time needed to thaw out. Get a hot water bottle!
7. Warm clothes post-surf // Don’t bring jeans!
Warm clothes for the post-surf changeover is an obvious shout. For those who aren’t aware… Jeans are the worst for a post-surf change. Cold, sticky skin makes pulling on a pair of slim fit/skinny jeans unbearable. Opt for merino base layers to go under trousers or jeans. Otherwsie, sweatpants/jogging bottoms are the go to. My favourite post surf attire is my beloved corduroy pants; super soft and warming against cold skin. Topped off with a merino base layer on top, a big hug of a woolly jumper and I’m good to go.
8. Thermos flasks // Game changers
Despite the warmth, a good winter wetsuit brings whilst in the cold water, the fatigue from spending a few hours in the ocean can take its toll. The post-surf wetsuit changeover rigamarole is where the chill can really dig its icy claws deep. Exposure to sharp, numbing winds on the bare skin often sends my body temperature plummeting. Once dressed in the warmest clothing possible, a steamy cup of tea, coffee, hot chocolate (whatever your preferred hot drink of choice is) immediately warms from the inside out. Holding the cup is also a great way to warm numbed fingertips.
For every chilly, winter surf I also fill a water bottle full of warm water from the tap, wrap it in my changing towel and pour it over me once out of the wetsuit. A warm shower and a warm towel… Win-win situation.
For me, winter bears countless opportunities to wholeheartedly embrace the cosiest of trends right now; Hygge. Roast dinners in dimly lit, local Cornish pubs with friends and loved ones. All of us huddled round a table next to an open fire with a pint of Guinness in hand. Proud of ourselves, proud of each other. An unfading sense of achievement for putting your body through its paces in the surging swell and storms prevailing outside.
The line-ups in winter are normally far quieter than in summertime and winter swells mean there are countless opportunities to find yourself popping in the water somewhere along these Cornish shores.
Surfing in the winter is a great way to beat the winter blues… an icy dip in mother ocean cures all worries. Although the dread of the cold still lingers in the back of my mind, as soon as I remind myself of these seasonal treasures; the initial sting of cold no longer seems so harsh.