It was a cold and wet December day, when my feet touched the sand at Sendai Shinko. The sand was blanketed white with fresh snow, the sky grey, the waves perfect, and the line up empty. It should have been a perfect setup, the kind of day a surfer dreams of, but I could barely muster up the enthusiasm to strap on my leash. That December day was last year, it’s fresh in my mind now as the first snows are starting to fall on the mountains around Sendai. Oh well, here we go again.
Being an Australian, growing up in Queensland, I have never had to think about cold. Cold water surfing prior to Japan was wearing a 3mm full suit in winter for the early session for comfort rather than necessity.To say I loath the cold would be an understatement, but there is something to be said for it, and that’s what this article is about.
Anybody can keep stoked on surfing in the tropics, it’s easy. You wake up in the morning in your boardies, scratch your self grab a drink and head to the beach to check the swell. If it’s good you run in paddle out and surf until you get sick of it. If it’s flat, you feel bummed, but figure a swim will probably help you shake of the sleep and get the day underway, like I said, easy. Surfing in a snow covered winter is a whole other story. Your alarm rings, you wake up, it’s dark, and your face is cold. You pull the blanket over your head and tell yourself it’s just a bad dream, eventually one of your buddies who has just gone through the same nightmare, calls you up and tells you to get you ass out of bed.The nightmare continues, you get your wetty out of the bathtub, which is still wet, but now icy cold and stuff it into a bag, fill up a tank with steaming hot water pull on three to four layers of clothes and head out the door to scrape the ice and snow off of the car; it’s still dark by the way.
Once at the beach, the real challenge begins, standing on either ice or snow, with winds pouring off of the snow capped mountains around 50km away, you have to somehow get off you three to four layers and put on your icy cold wet wetty, boots, gloves and hood. Then walk through ankle to knee deep snow down to the shore, and begin the paddle out.
Unlike paddling in summer paddling in winter is like trying to swim while wrapped in a blanket, with oven mitts on. All this isn’t too bad compared to the joys of taking a duck dive under a 2 degree Celsius wall of water, which brings an instant ice cream headache.
While sitting in the line off shore wind blows against your wet hair, if you are like me and cannot stand the claustrophobic feel of a hood while you wait for waves, I only pull my hood up when it hurts to leave it down.The 5mm wet suit feels like an iron suit, with the boots and gloves on I feel like G.I Surfer, my body locked into a permanent posture rigid all movement forced, but then it happens, then one event which seems to make all the misery disappear in an instant, the peak approaches. As you paddle for the wave, icy water bounces off the nose of your board and stings your face and eyes, almost blind you feel for the moment when you know you've got the wave, be it a head high wave or double over the rush is the same, rather than the fear of a pounding, which is usually measured by the size and force of the wave, in these conditions it's the cold that rattles you, any wipeout is going to suck. One such wipeout held me down deep for two waves, I climbed up to my board trying to keep conscious and proceeded to throw up. Your feet hit the deck and you're off, cold gone, though you feel as weak as a kitten and a turn or two can leave you out of breath, but the stoke is the same. Due to cold and fatigue a winter surf usually is under one hour, that when the joints stop bending and the feet are numb, you stumble out of the water and brave the wind on the walk back to the car, once there you begin to strip off the layers of rubber, daunting task as your extremities are totally numb, one time my hands were so numb that as I pulled off my glove my wedding ring came off and I didn't feel it, winter surfing nearly cost me my marriage. Back in the car the heater blasting, toes completely numb, you begin driving home smiling ear to ear, you've made it, nature at it's worst and you were up to the challenge. You truly are a surf warrior!
Just for fun check this video of a guy surfing this mad wave in Alaska!