Cold water surfing tips – How to not freeze your tits off!

Cold water surfing is daunting at the best of times. We put together these practical cold water surfing tips to help make the experience all the more magical. Trust us, trying to fix your wetsuit with your gloves on in the surf is A LOT harder than you think!


We got all the cold water surfing tips you will need! With the passing of another winter working as a mountain guide in one of the snowiest places on earth, Hokkaido Japan, we look back on several cold water surfing adventures. Trial and error is probably the best way to describe our approach to surfing in sub-zero temperatures. Should your wetsuit go over the top of your gloves or underneath? How hard will it be to adjust my feet in these 7mm booties? What about paddling in 5.5mm? We just had to get out there and figure it all out.


Building from our experience a year prior, surfing in Hokkaido near the ski resort of Niseko, we kind of knew what to expect. Given more opportunities to get into the frigid waters and snow-covered beaches, we were able to iron out a few of our kooky-kinks. Although our approach was ghetto AF (see yoga mat on snow as changing room!), by springtime, our systems for were getting dialed.


Now it is worth saying first that you are going to need a good wetsuit and that if you are serious about cold water surfing, you really should not scrimp on this important item. We are a huge fan of the Patagonia Yulex suit for the favorable environmental reasons, but also because it is damn warm! We spent the winter in the women’s R4® Yulex® Front-Zip Hooded Full Suit which is 5.5mm on the Torso/thighs and 4.5 on the arms and legs. On our fingers and toes, we wore the women’s R5® Yulex® Round Toe Booties and the R5® Yulex® Mitts.


Cold water surfing Japan snow
Yup, this is where we went surfing in Japan! Crazy? Maybe. Fun? For some people!
Photo Matt Wiseman.


Eat a hearty meal before paddling out

Warm your body with a meal of root vegetables like carrots and sweet potatoes before you paddle out. Aside from being really good for you, they also emit heat so will keep you warm. We stole this tip from Surfer Magazine and their article on how to enjoy cold water surfing.


Warm van to change or yoga mat?

While it’s probably preferable to have some sort of indoor changing area, the Japanese surfers akin to our approach were changing in the snow outside their tiny cars. Get your system dialed. Are your gloves and booties on hand? Is your wax in reach before you have your mitts on? We found a yoga mat to be a life-saver on the feet, doubling up as an unassuming insulated blanket.


Surfing in the snow
Our ghetto surf changing room!


Sort your hair out

If you have long hair, plait it away from your face and tuck any stray hairs away, in your hood before your gloves are on. It’s a real struggle to move that one annoying strand of hair away from your face once your gloves are on.


Wetsuit over the top of gloves and boots

Trial and error have shown less water will make its way into your gloves when the wetsuit is pulled down over the gloves/ boots. Get this right first time as it’s pretty awkward to try to switch round when you’re in the water at a loss of dexterity with your thick gloves on.


Cold water surfing in Japan
Blake enjoying some extra volume in the 31 liters of a MISFIT ‘Beach Burn’. Photo Matt Wiseman



Velcro wrist strap

Adding a Velcro strap around your wrist to keep the wetsuit from rolling up and water seeping in is what all the locals do. ION make these straps. Take your time. Although the waves may be firing and you’re damn cold and just wanna get in, take your time getting your gear sorted. It’s much harder to change anything when your gloves are on and you’re encased in rubber.


Bucket and hot water

Getting out your boots can take a little longer than anticipated when your fingers are frozen! A bucket of hot water to dip your fingers and feet into, makes all the difference. We didn’t have a bucket so I made sure I had a thermos with hot water in it. Tea or coffee also does the job!


Surfing in the snow
Wadding through the deep snow to get back to the car.
Photo Matt Wiseman



It’s cold but the sun and the wind can still hammer your face. Plus it adds a nice barrier between your skin and the elements. Surf Yogis do a great cold water zinc that we highly recommend. Use code STILLSTOKED for 15% off.


Surfing in the snow
Surf Yogis zine keeping our skin safe!


Duck-dive with your head facing down!

To avoid the inevitable and brutal ice cream headache of cold water rushing under your hood, look down towards your toes as you duck dive. This way the water will rush over the back of your neck.


Wax the sides of your surfboard

Gloves are slippery and so it’s the top deck of your board. Add wax to the rails and sides where you will pop up. Rub extra wax into your gloves for additional grip. Don’t worry, no one will call you a kook for putting wax in the wrong spot of your board. This is a cold water surfing thing! Those who know, know!


Surfing in the sunset
Sun set vibes.
Photo Alexa Hohenberg


You’re going to need more volume

More rubber means more weight. More weight means you’re going to want more volume in your surfboard. For us surfing the weak wind swell around The Sea of Japan and Hokkaido, meant that our 5”8 Misfit Beach Burn funboard was the preference over the performance board (a 6”1 DHD Sweet Spot).


Get the right surf wax temperature

To warm and you’ll slip all over the place, too cold and it’ll be so tacky that it’s almost impossible to shuffle your feet when up and riding (harder to do anyway when wearing boots).


Surfer girl life
Surfer girl life. Charlotte staying warm in her board bag post surf!


Expect to shuffle your feet once standing, to be hard

Cold water surfing is not easy. One of the hardest things will be moving in all that rubber. Shuffling your feet in your high-friction, thick-soled booties is one of those challenges. At times we had to crouch down and push the board down with our hands to ‘unstick’ our front foot so it could slide up. Anticipate these challenges.


Anticipate the slow pop-up

Much like the difficulty in shuffling your feet, your pop up will also be slow. If the waves are not steep, there will be less space for your feet and legs to swing through underneath you. Add all that extra rubber and you have a new slow, cumbersome pop-up. Just another challenge in the life of a cold water surfing adventuress.


Arctic surfing, Japan style!
The paddle out. Photo Matt Wiseman.


So there you have it. Our top tips for cold water surfing. We were surfing in Hokkaido, mostly on the Sea of Japan side although we did surf as north as the island of Rishiri just below Russia. The water ranged from 2.8C to 8C. The air anywhere from -20C to 0C. Why do we do it? Because it’s fun. Or we are mad! You can be the judge of that!


arctic surfing
Arctic surfing, Japan style! Photo Alexa Hohenberg



Have you got any additional tips for cold water surfing? Please let us know in the comments below. The more tips the better!

Hiya, I'm Alexa. Always on some sort of adventure! I'm excited to share my stories & introduce you to other rad women, also living the dream. I'm here to inspire you to do the same :-)


  1. I apply a natural body lotion about 2 hours prior to every surf session…that’s how long it takes us to get up to Lake surf. I find it easier to get in/out of my 6/5/4 mm wetsuit. I also wear soft wax earplugs cause the cold water can damage your ear canals…it’s called Surfer’s Ear (Exostosis). I find shaking my head a little after a cold water wipe out helps to ease the ice cream headache and ear pain away faster. And therefore the disorientation too!


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