There’s no escaping the fact that it’s not summer anymore. That fleeting window of surfing in our damp islands in a mere pair of shorts/bikini has gone. Did you miss it? Hmmm. So did we.(Don’t scoff it DOES happen … occasionally). Luckily as British and Irish folk we are more than used to the loving confines of a rubber suit. Not often you can write that and not be writing for a special interest magazine.
Winter is looming. Boots and gloves are being dusted off. The key to surviving and surfing right through winter is having a plan and the right gear. That a decent attitude and a love of hot beverages. We’ve endured decades of winters so here’s what we’ve learnt on the way…
• Get the best winter wetsuit you can afford. It’s not all about the top of the range most expensive suits, economy models with the right feature set, fit and good seams will see you right through. The fit is key, as a well fitting suit, particularly in the vital neck/head/hood area will power you through until spring. No flushes equals more warmth. So buy from your local shop and try on suits until you find the keeper. You’ll know as it’ll fit you like a glove.
• Have two. Sounds extreme but two winter suits is the way forward. Then there’s one that’s always veering somewhere toward the realm of dryness. There’s nothing more off putting than the thought of wriggling into a near-frozen, piss-stinking, muddy wetsuit that you forgot to take out of the car. Most folk will buy a new winter suit every couple of seasons, and with modern wetsuits being so good that old one should be good as a back-up for those weeks when it’s really pumping.
• If you’re rolling one suit then the pre-warm can be a good solution. Get an old gallon container, like the one your winter screen wash comes in, give it a really good rinse out. Then just before you set off for a surf fill it with hot water. Wrap your suit around it and wing it in your wetsuit bucket (standard DIY bucket from most big supermarkets or DIY stores for the price of a pint) or one of those more tech dry bags. It’ll give your suit a pre-warm then before or as you put it on you can douse the rest to take the chill off. If you take two you can use one a welcome warming post-surf shower too.
• Figure out if you’re a built in hood or not kinda guy/gal when it comes to wetsuits. Some folk love them some prefer the adaptability of a hoodless suit and twat cap. For real deep winter a built in hood that fits right is the go. Same deal, try on different brands and find the one that works. Make sure the neck movement is not chafing. No one wants to look like they’ve been to an aggressive love bite orgy.
• Heat is key. Get good winter gear, it hasn’t got to break the bank. Thermal underwear, yep, long johns and that, are winter essentials, teamed with a micro fleece, down jacket and a waterproof shell and you’re fit to handle anything the UK can throw at you. Decent waterproof boots, hiking or fishing will keep the tootsies toasty. If you stay warm you stay motivated. Beanies and gloves to keep the heat loss areas warm for deep winter are kind of obvious to mention here too.
• Carrying on the heat theory: make your surf checks short and sweet. Call the session on and get going. Don’t wait for set after set and ‘Ooh’ and ‘Aaah’ about it. Make a call. Yes or no. Every minute in near-freezing temperatures saps your willpower to wriggle into a damp suit. Figure out winds and conditions the night before so you’re not faffing.
• Speed: if faced with a cold, damp, frankly evil wetsuit you’ve got to commit. Get it the right way round and dive in. Dilly-dallying will just make things worse. A DryRobe will also be your friend in this situation. They make winter changing a treat. Unless you have a van of course in which case it’s also nice and warm.
• Get a big van: look at getting a small woodburner in there. With a fire slate underneath and a flue it’s not that hard to add an actual fire to your van. Seen them in standard VW transporters and it’s next level for winter. Obviously installation wise make sure it’s up to spec carbon monoxide wise and all that. There are other heating options, like ceramic heaters as used by truckers for the really committed.
• Hot beverages: a flask of tea, soup, or hell, even Irish coffee if you’re not driving, keeps that warm on the inside. As does a good breakfast before a big day. Winter is all about prep. The more prepared you are the longer you’ll last. If you’re doing multiple sessions somewhere remote and there’s driftwood to hand a lunchtime beach fire is also handy. As always be responsible and tidy when beach firing. For mega coffee heads it’s feasible to have a car inverter giving you a standard AC plug and whacking a Nespresso machine in there. We scored one for £25 from the charity shop. Either that or be mates with someone with a van. Or take a little gas burner and kettle for on the go brews.
• Surf: tricky depending on where you live and surf but a simple winter thought is this: avoid the duckdive. Surfing reefs, points or beaches with defined rip channels will keep you in the brine longer than fighting your way through walls of closed out beachbreak.
• Bits: alongside your suit your wettie boots and gloves need careful selection. Some folk like mittens, others gloves, and the mm thickness of your boots will depend on your coast of choice and your hard factor. However you roll make sure they fit good.
• Post session: get the suit and bits rinsed and hung up. A good hanger gives vital space to let the interior air and not get fuggy and you can whack them up anywhere. Sooner its drying the better. Leaving it to stew in the bucket in the back of your car will bite you on the ass next session.
• Obsess about the weather: our weather changes on a dime. Keep track of the long range, mid-range and daily forecast. Target your surfs for maximum quality. Be aware of those late and early sessions before the wind swings. Windows of opportunity are key.
• Dawnie: winter has one benefit … nailing the dawnie is easy. There’s no tearing yourself from that wonderful dream at 4am. No. Winter is your friend. Rock to the beach at 8am and dawny the hell out of it.
• Snow: if you’re looking at proper snowy winter session with extreme weather on the horizon make sure your car has the recommended supplies. Food, water, blanket, sleeping bag, torch etc. You never know when you might get stuck. A car phone charging cable is another essential. We like to have a box with camping gas burner, water, soup, Super Noodles etc so you can get a warm feed if stranded. Who knows one year we might get the Snowpocalypse the press predict every single season.
• Share: winter is more fun with friends. And in the event of it going teats up you can huddle together for warmth.
Words and Photos by Sharpy