For the rest of us who love to surf but don't like freezing in the line-up, here are some essential items you should have in your winter surf gear.
1) Wetsuit – There are many brands out there like Rip Curl, Body Glove, O'Neill, Quicksilver, 7Till8, and others. My favorite is the Xcel Drylock 4/3 for winter. I mainly like it because they make an XLT size that fits great. Additionally, they work well, and I find they can last at least two seasons, maybe more, where others I have tried just fall apart after daily use.
2) Boots – Since your feet are in the water, about 95% of the time, you find these will freeze on your first. There have been times, just when the water was getting colder when I didn't wear booties. My feet got so cold that I could not feel my feet hit the board when I went to pop up. That's when I know it's time for booties. Again, Body Glove, Rip Curl, XCEL, Billabong, Vissla make great booties. You'll decide on a round toe or split toe and 3-6mm in thickness.
3) Gloves – Some people love wearing gloves, and others refuse no matter how cold it gets. I am one who wears gloves, but I don't like them. The reason I don't want them is that they notoriously get water inside. Neoprene is not waterproof, It insulates the body from the water, and if your wetsuit and booties are tight, you don't feel the water inside. But for me, even the best fitting wetsuit gloves usually get water in the palms. So after paddling, you'll see me squishing my hand together to ring the water out. Body Glove, Billabong, XCEL, BARE, Vissla, all make suitable gloves. You can buy almost everything I mention here online, but if you have an option of going to a surf store for gloves, do so. Trying them on will save you the buy-return-buy process.
4) Hoods & Helmets – There are so many choices here. First, if you have a full wetsuit with a hood, skip this section. Secondly, the familiar names are here: Body Glove, Rip Curl, XCEL, and others. But if you're going to use a helmet because you like hitting yourself in the head with your board, then look at Gath helmets. If you're going to stay with a hood, then you have a choice between a long hood that tucks into the top of your wetsuit or a beanie/shorty that leaves the neck exposed. If I am going to "rubber up," then I'm going to do it thoroughly. I go with a long hood because as soon as you get a cold rush of water down your neck and backside, you'll wish you had one.
5) Poncho or Parka – Now that your session is done, it's time to get changed. Squirming out of your wetsuit when it's cold is not fun. Depending upon the air temperature, I will either use a Surf Poncho changing towel or a WaterParka. The main difference is how warm do you want to be? The Surf Ponchos, which we make, are 100% cotton and big enough to cover all of you and dry you off as you pull your wetsuit off underneath. If it's freezing, you might want a WaterParka. It's a large Lambswool lined changing parka that is perfect for the coldest days and allows you to change out of your wetsuit underneath. Both are also great for riding home.
6) Seat Cover – What? Why is this on the list? We made our waterproof seat cover, especially for winter sessions. First, I usually put my wetsuit on in the garage and then drive to my break. The seat cover protects my seats from the wax on my bum. Secondly, winter breaks can be quirky. If my home break is not working, I'll hop in the van and drive to another break. No way I'm changing, so the cover protects again. Thirdly, sometimes I am so cold that a Poncho or Parka are not going to work, and I'm going to drive home and get changed in the hot shower! Crank up the van heat, and while I'm soaking wet, the seat cover is doing its job.
7) Changing Mat – If you own wetsuits or have researched them, you know they are not cheap. Following the care, instructions are essential for suit longevity but also using common sense. If you're changing in the parking lot, then scraping your suit along the pavement while stepping out of it is horrible for the neoprene. Get a mat and protect your wetsuit from the rough ground.
8) Dry Bag – Now that you've changed, how do you dry your wetsuit? If you're hanging out at the break or going to the office, use one of our DryRacks. Malo'o invented this, and it's the best one out there. But if you're heading somewhere else, you have three options: changing bag, plastic bin, and dry bag. Changing bags are a combo changing mat and bag, and sound great, but I've used about all of them. They are not very thick to protect from the ground, and all allow water to leak out after putting in the car. The plastic bin is simple and works great if you want to smell your wetsuit all day long. A 60L dry bag is what I use. When I change, the wetsuit, boots, gloves, hat all go inside. Roll it up, and it's watertight and won't smell no matter how long it takes to get to where you're rinsing out.
9) Hot Shower – Imagine having a great session, but you're cold and covered in salt and slime. How nice would it be to have hot water rinse in the parking lot as you get changed? It is awesome. I first shower my head with hot water, instantly sending warmth throughout me. Then again, when I have the top part of my suit down. It will give you a whole new changing experience. You'll also see some very envious looks as the stream rises off your head. We recommend and sell RinseKits.
10) Ear Plugs – If you are one of the surfers who refuse to wear a hood, you should consider earplugs. There are several basic versions of earplugs: Surfears, Mack's, Doc's, and others. I use Westone earplugs when not wearing a hood. They are fitted to your ears and work great. In the winter, we usually also get a breeze, so protecting your ears can prevent earaches and reduce the chance of surfers' ear.
These essentials, along with a thermos of piping hot coffee, will make your winter sessions much more comfortable. In SoCal, some of our best breaks are in the winter, so anything that allows me to spend more time in the water and less time freezing afterward is incredible!