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Six Tricks to Stay Warm While Coldwater Surfing

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Welcome to Racked's Fitness Week: five days of workout coverage, so that you can start your New Year's resolutions off right.


Surfer Julie Cox steps out in Pacifica; photo by Paul Ferraris Photography

Surfing is a full body workout. You need the upper body strength to paddle out and into waves, push up power to pop to your feet, strong legs to pump and turn, and healthy lungs for the inevitable wipe outs. And as if that's not enough, you need stamina and endurance to rinse and repeat the whole cycle a few times over. It may sound like a lot, but the exhilaration and the sense of accomplishment from a successful surf sesh more than recompense.

And here's the game changer: there's no need to fear the Bay's frigid waters. A few extra steps before and after your surf will keep you protected against the chill. So put aside the anxiety and excuses and paddle out. It's a new year and it's high time to make it about the new surfing you. And on the days that the surf isn't any good (whether too big, too small, or too windy), head over to Aquatic Park for a swim. The same tips apply—even if your wetsuit disqualifies you from joining the Dolphin Club.


Dawn patrol regular Tracey Thompson swears by her hooded wetsuit from the Montara-based brand Isurus; photo by Visus Photography

1. Invest in good neoprene (and lots of it)

To get ahead of the temperature game, a well-fitting, highly functioning wetsuit is a must. But in the world of wetsuits, thicker isn't always better. 5mm neoprene often restricts movement and makes paddling more difficult. For SF waters, the Patagonia R3 front-zip wetsuit works year-round but needs the addition of a hood and booties for the colder months. When it comes to booties, don't skimp on the thickness because the old adage holds true in the ocean: if your feet are cold, you are cold.

2. Change in the car

This step may sound silly (and a little difficult). But changing in the car in a warm micro-climate sets you up for later success. Baring all in the cold weather very easily dampens spirits and leads to a case of the shivers that are hard to shake. Although figuring out the seamless deck change in a reclined passenger seat is tricky to master (it helps to use one of these oversized Pendleton towels), it's one of the most valuable maneuvers in a surfer's game.

3. Pour hot water into your suit before hitting the waves

Cold water that enters a wetsuit takes time to warm up from the body's heat. Eliminate that bone-chilling period by filling your suit in the parking lot with heated water from the Bully's Hot Water Rinse Tank. The insulated tank keeps water warm from your house to the beach and even throughout your surf session (so remember to bring another jug for a post-session warm up).

4. Ride a larger board

Buoyancy is your best friend in cold water situations. The less you are submerged, the less cold water pours into your suit, making you miserable. By riding bigger and thicker boards, you're able to stay afloat and out of the cold stuff (for the most part). It also helps that the bigger boards like longboards are the best kind of surfboard for the beginning surfer.

5. Keep moving

This sounds like a no-brainer but it's amazing how often surfers become sitting ducks in between waves. You may think you're conserving energy but instead you're growing stiffer and inviting in more of the cold. It's best to keep paddling (even if it's in circles) to keep the blood flowing and to keep the water inside the wetsuit warm.

6. Dry hair, won't care

After shredding the gnar, hurry back to the car to begin the lengthy process of peeling off the various layers of neoprene. The first piece to go is the hood. Once it's pulled off, wrap your hair in a super-absorbent towel before taking off the booties and the wetsuit. Cold, wet hair is the quickest and easiest way to invite a chill. Once you're back into your thickest sweats and layers of jackets, jump into the car to blast the heat in lieu of a proper hair dryer. And bask in the success of tackling the cold Pacific without flinching for a second.
· All Fitness Week 2014 posts [Racked SF]