Over the past number of years I have tended to surf more and more in the winter time. Most of my family and friends who don't surf think I am crazy, going out in such cold weather or big storms, why would I do such a thing when I can sit beside a nice fire with a cup of tea instead!
Living in a city in the UK & Ireland, away from a surfable coastline and trying to get your fix of surfing is not an easy task. Throw in darkness and cold and it becomes even more difficult. You need to have everything planned down to the last detail in order to pull off a quality day's surf trip in the winter!
It is a totally different prospect when compared to living by the coast and enjoying the warm mild winters in the likes of southern Portugal. Let's be honest, waking up early in the cold and dark in somewhere like Dublin or Northern England and staring out the window at the rain trying to motivate yourself ahead of a 2 hour car drive is pretty painful. Imagine living in Lisbon or the Algarve and being able to wander on down to the beach for a surf in relatively warm winter conditions, #notfair!
While we would all like to go on a surf holiday to Portugal every month the reality is it is never going to happen. So how do you satisfy your addiction for surfing in the winter?
For a surfer living in the UK and Ireland surfing in the winter months has two very good advantages:
1. A lot less people in the water
2. Surf conditions are better
And the main disadvantage? Yes you guessed it, its bloody freezing!!! There are however 5 simple steps that can help you make a winter surf so much more rewarding
1. Know your surf spot.
This is essential, in the winter there is no use driving around for hours checking places to surf. With it getting dark by 4.30 you will not have the time to do this. So research the nearest spot to you and get to know the 3 or 4 surf breaks around it. A winter day trip is not about exploring, it is about getting a quick fix, so get to know an area that works for you and keep returning to it.
2. Learn about weather forecasting.
You have to learn when to say yes and when to say no to a surf and the weather will be your guide. The main enemy will be the wind, and this can change quite quickly. You can only really make a call the night before. Once the wind is more than 10mphs it can make things very difficult, and it may not be worth the trip. If it is off-shore then it may be ok but cross-shore or on-shore and anything more than 10mph will make catching a clean wave a real battle.
Check surf forecasting websites for the area near you. Make sure that the conditions suit your ability and are good for the surf spots you want to go to. Also check the Met Office forecasts as they will give you a good indication of the wind patterns.
The surf forecasting sites will also tell you about swell direction and size. If the swell is pointing towards your break then perfect, if not the waves will not be as clean. Swell consistency is usually quite good in winter, but if it is too big it may not work in your spot. A 10-15 seconds gaps between waves will work.
You need all of the below to make a winter surf trip enjoyable, leave them out at your own risk!
- Decent Gloves & Booties. Having the right equipment is of paramount importance. Good gloves and booties are often the most overlooked. Do not buy a cheap pair, it is not worth it. A good 5mm pair of gloves/boots will last you years and help you stay in the water a lot longer.
- Thick fast drying Wetsuit. Again a 5mm or 4mm is necessary. I often use a 4mm with a 1mm rash vest underneath. A quick drying one also helps, especially if you are doing an overnight trip, I would rather eat 100 brussel sprouts in one sitting than get into a wet wetsuit in the cold!
- Surf Changing Robe. Whoever invented this is a genius and I hope they have become a millionaire! Getting out of a wetsuit when you are freezing is horrible, the days of doing this awkwardly with a towel are now over. A slightly cheaper option than buying a van to get changed in!
- Reusable hot gel insoles. These are also amazing. You put them in your boots at the start of your trip and when you arrive at your surf spot your boots are lovely and warm. No better feeling.
- Changing Matt & Box. To help ensure your car doesn't get any dirt or sand in it. Put all your wet gear into the matt, then pull the strings to close and put in a plastic storage box in your car boot. Its ok to have sand in your car in the summer as it is easy to brush off and clean, but winter sand is wet and turns to mud leaving you with a massive cleaning job .
Before you leave the house have a massive bowl of porridge. For the car journey grab some | bananas, apples a chocolate bar and some strong mints (always nice to have after a surf to get rid of the salt water taste that may be in your mouth).
5. Share the journey.
Make sure you and your travel companion both have an open licence so that you can drive any car - this way you can share the drive rather than having just one person drive the entire time. It makes a huge difference and the journey will go a lot faster.
There you have it, 5 easy steps to make the most out of a winter surf day trip, and keep your surf fix satisfied throughout the cold dark months.