If you ask a non-surfer what the best season for surfing is, they will probably say summer. If you asked a surfer, however, they will mostly likely reply winter. At least that’s the case in Southern California, where winter storms churn up violent seas in the Aleutian Islands before depositing all that energy on our beaches in the form of surf.
I always liked surfing directly after a big storm when distant winds kick up the swell and local winds switch from onshore to offshore, stinging like a fistful of pebbles fired from a sling shot on the crest of a wave into your skin.
Winter surfing, complete with rows of white water lined up like 31 Flavors icebergs, and unbroken waves that can cause the human heart to migrate north, is difficult after a summer of playful, warm 2-footers incapable of popping a rubber ducky.
Preparation begins for some with cold showers and endless laps in the pool while others merely paddle out, get knocked around and learn to deal with it.
Regardless of your prep routine, most every serious surfer will ditch the trunks and rashguard for wetsuits of various thickness and department store softies for something a little more substantial. Those who plan on riding waves over 15 feet at places like Todos, Mavericks or on the North Shore of Oahu will dust off sleeping big-wave guns or order new ones.
A big-wave gun is longer and narrower than anything needed for waves in Southern California. Those who have been out in big water realize that big waves move fast, catching them can be a chore and sliding down the face while blinded by offshore winds can be quite tricky. So can turning those big boards.
Even assuming you’re like me and don’t relish waves much over 6 feet, you will still be required to make some adjustments in your thinking, your body and your equipment. You may also be like me and satisfied with last year’s equipment.
I have an 8-foot Skip Frye Fish that is in the shop suffering its third round of repairs, and a five-year old Boz full suit. Others will need to visit their local surf shop for updates.
A lot of people swear by wetsuits made with Yamamoto rubber, which my suit is. This wetsuit rubber may feel restrictive the first few times you slide into it, but after that it form-fits to the body, becomes more flexible and retains its durability.
I try to avoid zipperless wetsuits, which tend to be extremely flexible at first and break down quickly. Also, I suggest a wetsuit made by a wetsuit company, rather than a clothing company. While some clothing companies make good wetsuits, those dedicated to wetsuit manufacture alone are, in my opinion, better.
One thing I particularly like about winter surfing is the crowd, or lack of it. Not only are there fewer people competing for more and bigger waves, but most everyone in the water is a repeat customer who, with familiarity, has the potential of becoming a lifelong friend.
Regardless of how you plan on playing it, the agony and the ecstasy of winter is about to arrive, and with it a group of surfers anxious to slide into another challenging season or prove themselves in waves of consequence for the first time.