A Beginner’s Guide to Winter Surfing
Gearing Up and Getting Out
Winter surfing is summer’s finicky cousin, requiring a bit more gear and willingness to get a little chilly for the chance to catch great waves with less crowds. Frigid temperatures, stormy weather, and a chilly exit from the ocean are all part of the experience, but don’t let that scare you off from expanding surfing to a year-round sport.
Lucky for us surfers, wetsuits, boots, and gloves are better than ever. The newest wetsuit technology makes the temperature in the water warmer than the temperature outside the water.
Still interested in giving it a try? Follow along below for a beginner’s guide to winter surfing and all the gear you need to get started.
Before You Go
The first step to winter surfing is the surf check, with a mug of something warm, of course. Be sure to read local surf reports on sites like Magic Seaweed or Surfline to ensure the surf will be appropriate for your skill and experience level. If you haven’t surfed in a specific location before, head to the beach and chat with people coming out of the waves. Gather as much feedback about rips, tides, and obstacles like rocks and reefs as you can. With the added risk of cold water, you want to have a thorough understanding of every area to help you have a safe and fun day out on the water.
Where summer surfing is simple, requiring only a few extra layers (if any), winter surfing necessitates a bit more planning. You’ll want plenty of warm layers for the drive there as well as cozy clothes for after you surf. Warm hats, puffy jackets, raincoats, wool socks, and good footwear are key pieces of your kit to ensure you’ll be warm and cozy as soon as you’re out of the cold water.
You’ll also want a wetsuit that’s warmer (thicker) and that has more full coverage to keep your extremities toasty. Look for one that’s at least 4mm thick, depending on the water temperature (the colder the water, the thicker the wetsuit). Some of our favorite wetsuits are the Rip Curl Dawn Patrol 5/4 Hooded Chest-Zip Wetsuit or O’Neill Psycho Tech 4/3+mm Chest-Zip Full Wetsuit with a Vissla 7 Seas 3mm Hood. You can also call a Backcountry Gearhead at 1-800-409-4502 to find out which wetsuit is best for the surf conditions near you.
Once you’re in your wetsuit you’ll want booties and gloves. In the winter I opt for ones that are 5mm or even 7mm thick to keep my toes and fingers warm. If you’re in California 3mm should do! Some of my favorite booties are the O’Neill Psycho Tech 5mm RT Boot and the Vissla 7 Seas 5mm Claw Glove. Sometimes you can get away without booties and gloves, even in mid-winter but it’s good to have them for those extra cold days and swells.
Next, you’ll need a surfboard, fins, and a leash. Soft top surfboards are a standard choice for beginners because they have give, making it easier to stand up on waves. Longboards are also great for beginners, as they provide a more solid and sturdy foundation to learn how to pop up and ride waves.
If you want something with a longboard with a bit more performance and maneuverability try out a Creative Army JIve + SLX Longboard Surfboard or the Dusty Retro Longboard Surfboard For shortboards, I like the Lib Tech Funnelator Shortboard or Salt Gypsy Shortboard.
I personally prefer surfing with a shortboard as I find it easier to paddle out to the surf at my local beach breaks. Try a few boards to see what you prefer, everyone has different preferences.
Surfing is a lifelong endeavor, and every time you paddle out, you’ll learn something new—from ocean awareness and paddling, to duck diving and catching waves. Just like with any new sport, it’ll take time to learn and perfect, but take the experience as it comes and enjoy the ride.
Pro-tip for after you surf: Fill a Hydro Flask with hot water to dump on your head when you get out for some instant relief from the cold.
Caley Vanular is a surfer, snowboarder, artist, and photographer who hails from British Columbia, Canada. Her roots lay in vast mountainscapes, rich temperate rainforests, and expanses of rugged land bound by deep, sometimes unruly seas. It’s from these natural spaces that she draws much of her inspiration. Find her @caleyvanular or caleyvanular.com