So you started to catch some waves on your SUP board this summer and want to keep the stoke during wintertime. Winter SUP surfing is a whole different game and you should be prepared to avoid some unnecessary risks. Here are few tips to enjoy the winter SUP surf season and to stay safe and warm.
1. Stay warm – Winter is a cold and rainy season, but it is also the best season to catch perfect waves. It’s important to stay warm to avoid hypothermia, injuries or cramps and to have fun. The water and air temperature are much lower, so get yourself some good rubber. During summertime, depending on where you are, you can SUP with board shorts (or bikinis), short john wetsuits or 3mm/2mm long johns. But now, you will need a warmer wetsuit, probably a 4/3 or a 5/4. SUPing with neoprene booties, gloves and hoodies is also a good idea for cold waters or cold breezes. Also, wear warm and comfortable clothes during your SUP sessions, so that your body always stays warm. You can also get a poncho to avoid getting cold while changing the wetsuit. Another trick I like to do is to fill a 5 liters plastic bottle with hot water before leaving the house to surf; when I get out of the ocean the water is still hot and I can use it for a shower. And last but not least do a good warm up exercise. Warming up will also help to prevent injuries and cramps.
2. Keep in shape – Your SUP water time will decrease drastically during winter time, so it’s a good idea to exercise during the week to keep your body fit. That way you can have longer SUP sessions during the weekend and also prevent unnecessary injuries.
3. Check the forecast – The weather and ocean conditions change rapidly during winter. Check surf forecasts like Windguru and Magicseaweed to plan your next SUP session and not be surprised by the elements. You can also check your local webcams and information about tides, wave period, buoys and winds.
4. Choose the right spot – Your regular summer spot will probably be too big or messy to SUP. So find more sheltered spots to surf. You can still surf shoulder high waves when other spots are maxing out. Discover where those spots are. Ask around or search on the Internet or in a surf guide. Here in Portugal we have several surf spots with small but really fun waves even when Garrett MacNamara is chasing water mountains in Nazaré.
5. Observe before you get out – It’s very important that you carefully observe the ocean before you get on the water. It may look calm or small but once you get out you can be surprised by more dangerous conditions than you thought. Since winter swells usually have longer periods than summer swells, you might think that the waves are small during one of the set lulls; so take your time, wait for a few sets, remember what the forecast was for that day (wave height, swell building in, tide rising, long period, etc). If the waves are big and you have enough experience, time the sets and see if they are getting bigger or smaller, so you won’t be surprised once in the water. Also, observe what other surfers and SUPers are doing: are they having difficulty in catching waves, where are they waiting for them, how do they get in and out of the water, where do they paddle out, where are the currents, rocks, reefs, jetties and other hazards, etc. You can also ask people getting in how the surf was.
6. Don’t go out in waves you are not comfortable with – In doubt don´t go. You may find yourself in a difficult situation. It’s better if you slowly get used to bigger waves, gaining more experience and confidence to handle bigger stuff.
7. Don’t go out alone or with someone with little experience – In case of distress you’ll need to have someone next to you. It will be even better if it is someone with more experience than you, who will know what to do in case of emergency.
8. Don’t panic – This is probably the most important rule. Always try to keep your calm while in a difficult situation; you will save your energy and breath. If you’re about to take a large set in the head, take a deep breath and don´t fight during the beating; you will only exhaust yourself and spend much needed energy. Try counting the seconds during hold downs and you’ll see that you’re only under the water for a short period. During hold downs, when you feel that the wave energy has faded swim to the surface. In case of distress, signal your position to other surfers or people outside; try to paddle to a safe area and wait for help. Don’t fight big currents; you can either paddle to the side until you feel that the current faded or go with it and then paddle around the current. Remember, observe the currents before you head out to surf and look at how other surfers handle it. Also, a leash is mandatory on every occasion, for surfing or just paddling. Don’t go out without it. You can also wear a life jacket (especially for touring) or an impact vest. A helmet is also a good idea against breaks with rocks and reefs or crowded line-ups.
9. Enjoy and respect – If you follow all these simple rules you will get the most out of the winter season and your SUP surfing ability will increase too. Remember to respect other people in the line-up: don’t paddle straight out, always check if there’s someone behind you, wait for your turn, don’t be a wave hog, don’t drop in and keep your board away from other people.