There’s something liberating about winter surfing: trotting through newly fallen snow—a surfboard wedged underarm—straight into frigid shallows. The life-affirming cold creeping in as you stroke out through glassy crests toward the swells, a steel-grey sky stretching for miles overhead as snowflakes cascade onto a sparse lineup.
After, you slip on a wool sweater and set up next to a fire to thaw your hardened muscles and relive your session with friends.
Except that isn’t really what winter surfing is like. The reality is you’re more consumed by and concerned about getting blood back in your toes and the stench of your rancid wetsuit out of your hatchback.
Of course “winter” is a relative term for the world, since some ocean temps don’t change much with the seasons. True winter surfing is experienced in the U.S. along the East Coast—from North Carolina through the Canadian Maritimes—where the mercury drops to the low 30s and wind chills can dip into the negatives. In the Pacific Northwest, the ocean drops to between 45-55 degrees, but there’s much less of a swing between seasons.
Still want to get your feet wet? Consider this your blueprint. Here are seven practical tips and tricks for safe (and enjoyable) winter surfing.