Cold Water Surfing (The Definitive Guide)

cold water surfing guide

Frosty mornings and thick rubber wetsuits aren’t the first things people think of when it comes to surfing.

But for lots of the world’s surfing population, their only option to catch waves is to submerge themselves in a chilly ocean.

Let’s take a deep dive into cold water surfing so you’re fully prepared for your next surf trip to colder shores.

cold water surfing guide

What is cold water surfing?

Cold water surfing is defined as carrying out the sport in any water temperature under 12°C or 53.6°F.

You’ll need a full-length wetsuit at the very least and in most cases, a wetsuit boot and gloves.

Surfers in places like Nova Scotia, Canada will tackle surf with snow on the ground and below-zero air temperatures.

Is surfing in cold water more challenging?

Yes, surfing in cold water will use considerably more energy (calories) than surfing in warmer climates.

Believe it or not, water is actually 25x more effective at conducting warmth away from the body.

This means you’ll burn energy just staying warm in the water and when you add on the extra weight and restriction of wetsuits and accessories, paddling and catching waves becomes much, much harder.

Add to this the mental fortitude required to submerge yourself in freezing water and you can quickly see that cold water surfing has its own unique set of challenges.

But all these barriers to entry do have a silver lining. The number of humans willing to put themselves through the ordeal required to surf freezing waves means that crowds are much less likely.

In mid-winter, it can often be quite a pleasure to surf with others, especially if you live in a remote or hard-to-access area like Norway’s rugged coast or Denmark’s lesser-travelled Faroe Islands.

*Helpful reading – Get the full picture of calories burnt surfing.

Everything you need to know to enjoy surfing in cold water

If you like the idea of snow-lined shores and quiet surf spots then you’re in the perfect place.

Let’s take a look at everything we’ve learned from years of surfing in cold water, with tips and guidance from expert surfers.

Get the right wetsuit

I literally can’t emphasise this enough. If you’re not wearing the right wetsuit and accessories, you’re going to have a bad time.

The first thing you should do is check the water temp where you’re going to be surfing.

Now use our handy chart to work out how much neoprene you need to wear to stay toasty in the waves.

Wetsuit TypeThickness (mm)Temperature Range (°F)
Fullsuit3/2 mm60-65
Fullsuit4/3 mm55-60
Fullsuit5/4/3 mm50-55
Wetsuit Boots3 mm+-50
Wetsuit Gloves3 mm+-50

This is just a guide and if you’re not sure you can always keep an eye out for what other surfers are wearing in the lineup.

Stay flexy

Surfing when you’re cold is an easy way to give yourself a surfing injury. Tweaks like meniscus tears and ACLs are commonplace in surfing, and cold water makes your muscles just that little bit tighter.

Stretching before you enter the ocean is the easiest way to keep your muscles limber, you don’t need to go crazy but spending a few minutes pre-surf could save you a nasty injury that ruins you’re whole surf trip.

Add volume to your surfboard

Your wetsuit, gloves, boots and hood all add additional weight, you’re previously floaty shortboard can seem, slow boggy and out of sorts when you first try surfing with additional rubber.

Get an extra litre added to your board or try out an epoxy surfboard for a more float to compensate. Just don’t forget that epoxy boards aren’t great when it gets windy.

Their light construction can lead to a chattery feeling as you travel down the face of the wave and gust of wind can lift the board mid turn making for some pretty wild wipeouts.

Bring a thermos or a flask

This tip has two possible routes and for the ultimate in comfort I suggest you follow both.

  1. Fill up a thermos with hot coffee or tea, it’s an absolute lifesaver when you’re trying to get your frozen fingers working again.
  2. Fill up a flask with hot water, when you come to get changed after your surf you can pour the hot water into the bottom of your wetsuit bucket, making for a lovely warm foot bath.

Wear earplugs

Popping in some earplugs before you paddle out may seem a bit counterintuitive but it’s actually an important step to preventing one of surfing’s most unpleasant health issues.

Surfers ear is a nasty condition when the bone inside your ear canal starts to grow in size as a natural defence against the cold water in your ears.

Get a changing robe

When you’re trying to hold a small towel around your waist in gale force winds you might ask yourself, is their a better way?

A changing robe or changing towel is amazing when it’s raining, windy or just miserable. A hood keeps you nice and dry and the long length keeps your modesty in even the strongest of gusts.

Be prepared, surf early

Dawn surf checks in the depths of mid winter can challenge even the most committed shredders.

You’re cars iced up and low on fuel, the wetsuit you forgot to rinse is sitting in an icy pile in the boot of the car and you haven’t got any wax.

Obviously this is a bit extreme but you get the idea. Staying on top of your surfing gear and your transport is key if you want to score hassle free waves in the winter.

Is surfing in cold water good for you?

Once you’ve got past the initial discomfort you’ll quickly realise that cold water surfing has a whole heap of benefits.

The health benefits of surfing are well known but cold water specifically can do some amazing things to your body.

Some of the good stuff you’ll benefit from includes:

  • A reduction in muscle pain post surf
  • Less inflammation
  • Reduce your risk of cardiovascular issues
  • Keep your cholesterol level stable

Source: Bupa Health


If you like the sound of surfing in some of the planet’s coldest locations then this handy guide will make sure you’re all set for your cold water adventure.

Don’t miss our other handy guides written by seasoned surfers ready to share their experiences riding waves.