Frosty mornings, ice cold water and hot flasks might not come to mind when first planning a surfing trip, but colder shores are gaining popularity with surfers of all levels. Cold water surfing, defined as plunging with your board into any water below 12°C (53.6°F), is worth the extra effort. Beyond consistent and powerful swells, it all but guarantees empty beaches and pristine nature.
The off-season prices might seem like a nice cherry on top, but whatever savings you’ll make, you’re likely to blow them on a winter wetsuit and accessories such as neoprene gloves and a hood. Luckily, it’s a one-time investment, as a quality wetsuit should last up to a decade.
Once in the water, you quickly forget that you’re covered head to toe in thick rubber, and you’ll be grateful for the much-needed insulation. Pro tip: earplugs will protect you from developing a case of surfer’s ear – a common ailment caused by exposing your ears to water and wind. Pack a fluffy changing robe and a lot of warm clothing to put on after your session, and you’re almost ready to catch your first cold water waves in all of their glory.
Still, it is impossible to deny that surfing in cold conditions is quite demanding on both the body and the mind, and the swells tend to be more brutal. Gaining experience in moderately challenging temperatures (for example hitting Cocoa Beach in February) is great prep before planning a more extreme trip.
Below is a list of some of the world’s best cold water surfing destinations – most of them suitable for an intermediate, but well-prepared, surfer.
Hitting Tofino in the summer is a great way to ease yourself into the world of chillier waters. On the warmest days, the ocean temperature can reach as high as 14°C (57.2°F), but don’t bank on it. In June and August, the waves remain relatively small so these are the perfect months for less experienced surfers to visit Tofino. Fall is when the location is at its best: offshore winds, peaceful beaches, and – in October – over 10 foot swells.
West Coast of Ireland
In winter, Ireland is battered by brutal winds, and surfing there is best left to the pros. However, from September on, great breaks in somewhat milder conditions can be found all along the west coast. Its rugged beauty and remote atmosphere will satisfy your soul’s craving for adventure, while an excellent pub is never far away – and, if you’re lucky, there might even be a roaring fire to warm up the bones after a chilly surfing session.
Aleutian Islands, Alaska
Stretching from Alaska to Russia, the Aleutian Islands are one of the last frontiers of surfing. The notoriously bad weather earned the Aleutians their ominous nickname: The Cradle of Storms. It is not a destination for the faint of heart, plus, exploring this wild corner of the Earth involves planes, boats, and a lot of planning.
A much more accessible cold water surfing destination in Alaska, suitable for surfers of all levels, is Fossil Beach on Kodiak Island.