Okay okay – I know, it would be much nicer to live in the tropics where you never have to put on a wetsuit. But if all that’s standing in the way of your catching a tube is a wetsuit, then get out there and buy the best one you can afford.
There are a few other things you can do too of course, but a good wetsuit is the first one. Check with your local surf shop or on line for size, style and thickness recommendations. Suits come in different thicknesses designed for different water temperatures, but ultimately it’s you who knows your body temperature and what sort of suit you require. And once you’ve got it – look after it. Always rinse it and allow it to dry between sessions, hanging on a hanger so it keeps its shape.
Your core temperature is the next most important thing. You’ve got to be warm before you go into the icy water.
The wind chill factor is probably the most dangerous element you have to face, so keep out of the wind if possible. Sit in your car when watching the surf or find some shelter from the wind and, until you get into the water, wear as many warm clothes as possible, and definitely keep your head covered. The moral here is to stay as warm as you possibly can out of the water, especially if it’s windy.
The next most important thing is to keep yourself warm from the inside out. Eat some high fat food like nuts or peanut butter sandwiches and energy bars to give you some slow release energy which you can draw on later. Chocolate should be saved for quick hits when needed.
And, most importantly, never hit the beach without a thermos or two of something hot. It is amazing how quickly a hot drink can warm you up. Also, dehydration makes it easier for hypothermia to develop, so drink up.
One final step, you need to remain active in the water. You must have your head in the right place. Don’t look at an icy paddle-out as a chore, think of it as an exercise to keep warm which will ultimately allow you the exhilaration of riding another wave. If you have to wait for the right wave, paddle around, just keep moving. We have an amazing ability to keep our bodies warm by burning our own energy source through exercise so all those high octane foods you ate earlier can now be put to good use.
A final precaution. You could try using a rash guard underneath your wet suit for a little extra warmth. Layers can work wonders.
Finally, if you start feeling your internal temperature drop you must stop surfing. Involuntary teeth chattering or shivering are signs that your body has already become too cold. Even when mild hypothermia starts to set in, we begin to perform below capacity and can do something stupid. The sea is not the place to be when you have poor judgement. Get out and have a hot drink. Accept the fact that the day is over, go home and have a shower.
Cold weather does not need to mean the end of surfing for 6 months. Just take some precautions and enjoy the challenge – as this guy in the following video from seattletimesdotcom does!