By: Jenni Falconer
Cold water surfing is a hugely exciting opportunity to really get in tune with the power of nature, especially if you are lucky enough to catch some surfable waves during a storm – nothing is quite as invigorating as feeling the cold spray hitting you while the wind kicks up challenging swells to navigate. However, there are certain aspects of the sport that makes it a little more tricky for the uninitiated than its warmer climes cousin, meaning that steps must be taken in order to ensure your safety both on the board and in the water.
Many surfers visiting this part of the world are surprised how much of a difference the lower temperatures and different conditions make when adjusting their technique to suit the colder water, and can therefore be knocked off balance mentally. This is why it is so important that you do not underestimate the challenges you will face, and properly prepare for a day’s surf in strange conditions; after all, safety is paramount when braving some of the waves we see at Cold Hawaii Surf Camp!
In warmer climates, the sea temperature can be reasonably relied upon to stay above a certain temperature all year round, which is why beaches like Bondi in Australia and Waikiki in Hawaii are so popular. However, here in Denmark the water temperature can vary from anywhere between freezing and 20 degrees Celsius, so it is important to do a little research into proper attire rather than grabbing any old wetsuit and running straight out. When it is coldest, generally in late February, a 4-6mm wetsuit (or if your wetsuit is particularly snug, a 5/4mm one should suffice), gloves, 5mm neoprene booties and a hood are absolutely essential in keeping your core temperature up. Of course, surfing is a high octane sport which raises the body temperature, but do not be tempted to remove layers or switch to a thinner wetsuit if you feel warm as this could cause your core temperature to drop suddenly – never a desirable experience. Additionally, if you are surfing with friends, it may be an idea to ensure everyone is clued up on the symptoms of hypothermia just as a precautionary measure. In essence, check your warmest wetsuit for perforations or worn patches and keep wrapped up!
Keep a Clear Mind
In recent years, more and more stories have hit the press regarding the lethal combination of drugs and surfing. While many success stories exist, such as those of Anthony Ruffio and other pro-surfers who managed to overcome addiction, tragedies such as the death of Andy Irons serve as lasting reminders of the fact that dabbling with mind-altering substances before catching a wave can have literally fatal consequences. Drugs such as amphetamines and cocaine target areas of the mind which in daily life are used to assess risks and regulate behaviour, meaning that if you choose to surf whilst under the influence you are more likely to indulge in dangerous behaviours or take unnecessary risks. They can also alter your sense of self, therefore throwing off your balance and increasing the chance of taking a bad fall. If you have taken cocaine or a similarly effective mind-altering drug – or even drank alcohol, in fact – you should stay away from the water, period. Surfing has had its fair share of tragedies due to drugs, so please do not make yourself yet another statistic.
Know your Limits
If you are recovering from a recent injury, or have a lasting condition which is exacerbated by colder temperatures, it is important that you recognise this fact and don’t simply push on to “keep up with the herd.” In surfing, you must compare your body to a board – if it looks like it’s in bad shape, you wouldn’t use it. Fractures, lacerations, contusions and muscular strains are some of the most common surfing injuries and can easily happen on a regular basis, so ensuring your body has had time to heal after a particularly bad wipeout is important. After all, if you get back out there too early and an injury occurs again straight away, it may take much longer to heal and open up possibilities such as permanent damage which could take you out of the sport indefinitely.
Otherwise, following your common sense and giving other surfers space, as in warmer water surfing, is a fairly foolproof way to ensure your safety on the waves. By ensuring you are in the best possible condition to surf, you will not just make it back to the beach in one piece but have a much more enjoyable experience to boot.