Cold climates are tough. Way tougher than their warmer brothers. And winter in a cold climate is the pinnacle of difficulty if you happen to call yourself a surfer. I came to the North Atlantic having never experienced this struggle before. At first I was surprised, its not that bad. I could still put flip-flops on after a surf, still wear “cool” coats in the drizzle. But over time I’ve realised; the cold isn’t a head-on assault. No, the cold is a calculated, creeping assassin. It slides under your coat, holds your toes, pinches your face. As a newbie there were days when of course I felt it, but those were bearable, even enjoyable; is that snow on the beach?! It’s taken until my 3rd winter to appreciate the small rituals those who grew up here do religiously. Rituals I would have dismissed in the beginning as unnecessary or overkill. Like I said, the cold here isn’t in your face, it's in your bones.
This is a list I’ve compiled over time that helps me through winter. Items and rituals I’ve acquired and use to maximise my enjoyment. Some of it is really surf oriented and probably obvious if you’re from these parts; but I’m not. I’m still learning. It’s great and I love it.
I’ve been fortunate in my time to be able to ride a myriad of different craft. It's great to work out what you like and what works in certain conditions. Not everyone has access to loads of boards but even swapping with a mate mid-surf can give you invaluable information. It’s fun, keeps things fresh and I find sometimes it's the motivating factor getting me in the water. I took out my hand plane the other day and had way more fun than I would have if I was on a standup. Think outside the box.
There are a ton of different fin combinations and templates out there. Ive always been a thruster man but recently have dabbled in other arrangements. For me thrusters are unbeatable for all out ripping the gnar. Quads are tube monsters and having the two training wheels at the rear give you a bit of extra grip and stability in a fast, hollow wave. Twinnies, single fins and two plus ones are great to re-invigorate your surfing and give you a different feeling unachievable in current performance boards. I think it’s a matter of suiting the fins to the board and then the conditions. Its all about experimenting and finding out what works for you because it’s different for everyone.
Photograph - Chris McClean
The Small Things
Being warm prior to entering the water is an absolute must as far as I’m concerned. For this reason, I always try to have a dry suit ready to go. We’ve got a great drying line setup over the bathtub in my house; it makes all the difference. If I’m on the road, I try to carry a thermos at all times. I’m a coffee enthusiast (addict) so it makes the second surf way more achieveable if I’ve got a hot drink in-between surfs. Another must on the road is the change mat. My wet bag doubles as this for me and makes sure my feet aren’t cold before I get in the water and the car isn’t full of mud after the surf. Speaking of feet, there’s nothing worse than when they’re cold before you even take you shoes off. Its taken me some experimenting living in Ireland but I’ve found a good pair of waterproof boots and thick wool socks is the best combo. Trainers (for obvious reasons) don’t cut it and I find wellies are too cold. Lastly, (and I may get grief for this) the post surf moisturise is really worth it. Leaves you feeling rejuvenated and keeps you from looking like a leather handbag. Honestly, try it.