The Art of Surviving Winter Surfing:
Guide to getting the most from your new wetsuit…
So these days I’m blessed to live and surf mostly in Southern California, which in reality shouldn’t qualify me to talk about wetsuits and surviving the winter cold in the slightest.
However, despite having turned into a complete warm water softy, I did grow up in the UK, back when winters were real winters (grumbled like an old salty seadog).
Most of my surfing there took place in terrible – average conditions, thick and inflexible rubber, and generally pushing our froth levels into early onset of hypothermia.
So over the years, I have managed to pick up a few tips that will not only help you choosing the right suit, but also making sure you’re stoked, frothing and putting it to use in all conditions.
Even if you have the perfect suit and are happy with your purchase, then check out my tips below to get the most from your sessions, including a pre surf warm up routine, to get you powered up and prepared to rip.
Firstly, the most important thing I learned was get the right fit!
Sounds obvious, but seriously, you’d be surprised at how many will forego a perfect match for the same brand suit as their hero, a cooler design or color or just to save some cash for their next warm water adventure.
But, believe me, if you want to squeeze every last second of surf time out of your performance, then you’re gonna have to try a few suits on to get it right.
And by try them on, I mean really get into it. In fact the more embarrassing you can make the experience for both yourself and the shop staff, the better. Squat, twist, turn, writhe, paddle your arms, heck, even perform a few pop ups and pig dog rail grabs if you feel.
Don’t worry that you’re now sweating like…(insert your own inappropriate simile here)… you’ll thank yourself next surf session, when your suit goes with you, as you paddle unrestricted and feel fluid through your Pilates powered turns. Now, I’m pretty sure your pink neon number didn’t let you do that!
So now your suit fits, enjoy the rash free, abundant motion of your new skin.
It’s also going to help you stay warmer too. If it’s too loose, well, be ready to breathe like the Ice Man, Wim Hoff, as your neck flushes on every duck dive. If it’s too tight, that neoprene will be stretched and thinned, thus drawing your session to an early finish.
So now you know your size, which suit do you opt for and how thick do you need?
It’s not as simple as one rule fits all. We all react differently to water temps and we all approach our surfing in a different way.
In the past I liked to sit. Sit, talk, paddle around, catch a few, job done. These days with kids, work and Pilates workouts to post on the Fluid Life YouTube channel, I’m on a limited time budget. That makes me the annoying frother variety of surfer.
Yes, I’m gonna go all guns blazing and try to grab as many waves as I can, even if this means taking the inside small ones, or paddling like a crazed grom to get into the line up. I’m not trying to prove anything, so if you see me, please don’t be offended, I’m just on the clock and I know I’m in a heap of trouble with the long haired general, if I come back late.
So this means less rubber is fine for me. Besides, as I mentioned, I’m from the UK, so really, nothing can be classed as cold in SoCal.
Your competitive surfers are most likely going to feel the same way. Something thinner, with more range of movement and a lighter feel.
If you’re a waiting for the ultimate ride kinda player, then, thicker may help you out, likewise if you’re intending on spending a few hours battling the elements. You’ll also no doubt benefit from the right kind of accessory here too. We’ll look at these later.
You may even want to consider the type of waves you surf. Long period swells and long lulls, may mean more sitting around than a short frequency wind-chop session. Same with bigger crowds.
Logo, or No-go?:
As for the brand, type etc, I’m not going to make any suggestions here. It ultimately comes down to what you want the suit to deliver and how much you’ve got to spend on it. Maybe even which shop was most accommodating with your size trial writhe session on their shop floor.
These days the low end suits are all of a pretty high standard, and as long as the fit is good, they all move and stretch pretty well.
I’ve also found that some brands just don’t go with my body type. Simple as that. No judgment. I just have ‘monkey long arms, tree trunk legs and a big chin that sucks with hoods. It’s ok. I’m ok being me.
Anyways, there’s a bunch of good suits to choose from out there. With more and more high performance eco versions too maybe you want to consider spending a little more and giving a little back to Huey and Mother Nature.
Re-use / Recycle:
So you’ve got your new suit, but what happens now to your old one?
Charity store may be a nice option, but reuse can work wonders too. Wetsuit repair is cheap as these days. As long as it’s not in pieces, you may find that an older, colder suit fits the bill perfectly on those in between weather or season days.
For you lucky, lucky few who can grab two sessions in a day, well, having a back up suit that’s dry and toasty may be better than flinching into a wet, frosty one.
A great use can also be to remove the legs for an interim shorty next Spring. Just be careful not to cut too high. The last time I tried that I miscalculated and ended up with hot pants. I like to think I totally pulled them off too!
Commit to something!:
I used to work for a Pilates studio where that was the moto. A little cheesy, but, motivationally bang on. Commit to it.
In my experience, the more you think about it and wait, the less the stoke stays high.
If you’re going, go! Grab your suit, leap out your car into the cold and just do it. All that time with half a suit on debating between boards, or boots will lose body heat fast. You’ll also lose that eye of the tiger attitude, which means less energy in your session.
To help with the motivation, pump up some tunes (headphones please) and get psyched!
Use a changing mat too. Loads of heat escapes from the feet, so a special pad, or an old car mat can work wonders. A friend of mine uses a piece of astro turf, which is also perfect for a few gold swings should the waves not be up to it.
These changing pads will also keep the dirt and stones away from your suit, which means lasting longer and saving the environment from one more lump of neoprene in a landfill.
Boots, gloves hats and thermos?:
How cold does it really get? What’s the bottom made out of? Maybe some boots will prevent the ice block feet syndrome and alleviate those embarrassing take offs where both feet end up perfectly placed on the tail pad.
Hats are a good idea too. Even when it’s still warm enough for no boots or gloves. You lose most heat from your head, so having something you can pull on for the paddle out will give you some additional lasting power, and make your between wave waits more comfortable.
They’re also great for pretending you can’t hear anything, which allows you to ignore that guy that just won’t shut up about his 10 second glory tube claim, or when your mate paddles up to tell you it’s time for work.
Gloves or mitts, well that’s a debate for the ages. Go with what works. I’ve tried a few, including the inflatable rubber glove idea, and well, none of them worked for me. Why do you think I moved to the sunshine? However, get something that grips and doesn’t leak. This way your paddles will be lighter and the board shouldn’t smack you in the face as it slips through the fingers on every duck dive.
Finally, grab a thermos. Yes, a little warm water, pre, or post surf can feel like a slice of heaven poured over a half frozen suit or frost bitten toes.
Note that I said warm, not hot. That’s an important point.
Hey, this is a Pilates blog right, so I’m not going to just right about wetsuits without dropping some movement in there…
A warm up is called a warm up for a good reason. Don’t get caught up in the pre surf hype and miss out on preparing the body. A few well performed exercises, will get you feeling lose, ready and start the blood flowing to the extremities to help keep the cold at bay.
And I don’t mean static stretching. That’s not going to help. You’ve got to move, connect with your core, mobilize joints (especially shoulders and hips) and kick start the respiratory system. Especially if the air temp is cold.
Check out this link, for my pre surf warm up.
These 5 minutes will have you frothing, focused and ready to paddle with power, turn with control and maximize your session.
Have a great winter!