MONTRÉAL, Canada - As winter settles rubber thickens and sessions tend to get shorter. Wetsuit technology has come a long way and continues evolving every single season. New lighter and warmer materials take the spotlight on magazines and videos and people run to spend the well earned $$$ on the new layers. But lets be honest, once it gets cold (not talking about 10°C cold but rather on the minus side of the scale), sometimes even the best technology can only do so much. My father gave me a little advice when moving from tropical Venezuela to all-seasoned winter cold Canada. He said, “cold gets through your feet and heat leaves through your head.” If it is true that wetsuit technology keeps improving every season, companies are leaving aside probably one key accessory which is the surf booties.
Feet are the body part that spends most of the time in the water and probably the one that we move the least. When the body gets cold, it starts reacting by constricting blood flow to keep vital organs at a proper temp. By doing so, hands and feet start getting cold first. A couple of seasons ago Ripcurl and Quiksilver came up with heated vests to try to fight cold. The principle for these gadgets was really simple. Heat pads were located right where the kidneys are with the intention of heating up the blood circulating through them (kidneys are the most exposed organs blood goes through). Pretty effective method. The way a wetsuit works is pretty simple. The rubber absorbs a thin layer of water which the body heats up as we start moving. The more you move the more heat you generate. This stays and acts as an insulation layer. From this point on our goal is to keep this layer as stable as possible and how we manage our energy is crucial. The rubber will try to maintain heat in and cold out. The thicker the layer the longer it will take for temp to drop. Hollow cell neoprene used on the core area in certain wetsuit brands do wonders.
Igor Goni on the shore in Montréal, Canada. | Photo Courtesy: Igor Goni
After surfing for over 10 years on frigid water (literally frigid) I have managed to basket some tricks here and there which have helped me extend my time in the water regardless the season. Some old, some new, I would like to share them and hopefully get new ones from you the readers:
1. Check wetsuit for holes.
Check your wetsuit for rips and tears. Little holes tend to appear after a season or two in certain wetsuits where the panels join. Sometimes imperceptible while not wearing the suit, you will feel them once you hit the water.
2. Choose the proper rubber.
Choose the proper rubber for the conditions. I personally love the Ripcurl Flash Bomb series. Very warm and flexible. It’s always better to be a bit too warm than way too cold (no surprise there), but you don’t want to be wearing a 6/5/4 on a 15°C day. Also, I always bring two wetsuits, two pairs of boots and two pairs of gloves. There’s nothing worse than having to put a wet wetsuit back on, especially if you are not in your hotel room.
For those taking long drives to get to your spots, a good night of sleep is crucial. If you are getting in the water tired already the fight is almost lost before it has even started.
4. Fuel your body.
Try to get carbohydrates to get properly fueled. I find hot chocolate really helps to keep the heart warm ;).
Utilize your car and warm up before braving the cold. | Photo Courtesy: Igor Goni
5. Warm up in the car.
If you have to put a wetsuit on in the car, make sure that once that is done you stay in for a few minutes to get warm. Pay special attention to your hands and feet. If they are getting cold before you get in the water you will get cold really fast.
6. Use a mat.
Use the rubber car mats to get changed outside. This will avoid contact between your feet and snow.
7. Put hot water in booties.
Speaking of booties, one trick that I find really helpful is to put hot water inside your booties before you put them on. This is a game changer. You can apply the same to gloves if you want.
Do a little warm-up and active stretching always before getting in the water specially during winter. You want to make sure your blood is pumping!
Igor Goni knee deep in snow. | Photo Courtesy: Igor Goni
9. Utilize the chin cover!
Some wetsuit hoods cover your chin. Don’t let this little feature go unnoticed. It makes a big difference when it comes to cold weather. You can actually blow hot air into the hood using this little feature.
10. Use vaseline.
Vaseline for your nose and chicks can help but try to resist the need to wipe your face with those gloves… if Vaseline gets on them then is back to shore to rub them on sand so the paddle does not slide.
11. Stay active.
Once in the water stay active. This is key! I personally try to avoid windy days in winter because the cold day gets through every single nook and cranny. For us, constant movement is not much of an issue since just the fact of being standing on the board keeps all our muscles engaged to retain balance. Fingers might get cold fast so keep moving them as much as possible. When my fingers start to get cold I try to paddle a little harder so that my body spreads the heat farther.
Keep active to keep the blood flowing and stay warm! | Photo: Samo Laharnar
12. Avoid falling face-forward!
For the love of god avoid falling face-forward!!!!!!! Getting a cascade of frigid water through the hood into your neck and chest all the way down is not something you will be looking forward to.
13. Be aware of hypothermia.
Be aware of hypothermia and its symptoms. As soon as you start feeling the shivering, it is time to get out of the water.
As a personal tradition of mine since I started surfing, I always rinse, no matter the season. For winter, I have 2 10lts containers full of hot water. There’s nothing better than removing a steaming hot wetsuit, get a blast of cold air and then pour hot water. It will for sure wake anybody up. For flat water paddling I would rather have a properly layered drysuit with a proper pair of 7 or 8mm boots. For surfing it will be a wetsuit no question. Last but not least, for any company out there, please somebody put a little extra effort on boot designs!
Keep moving, stay warm.
To see more from Igor Goni, check out his articles written HERE.