Surfing: it's not winter that will keep surfers out of the water | Photo: Shutterstock

A bloodshot eye snaps to attention.

What sounds like an ambulance driving by has been going off for at least 30 seconds now, and you're out for revenge on whatever device thinks it can wake you up after the night you just had.

Your mind begins to drift back. Wait - there are waves today.

The new year has begun, and no better way to start it.

You look at your phone - a missed call from your usual accomplice who has already left their house and a text from the classic flake citing the poor conditions.

His condition the night before probably had more to do with this sudden abandonment now.

"Of course," you think. There aren't good waves today, just some waves. Is that enough? Should you check the camera?

Checking the cam at this hour will offer little assistance and only dissuade you from finding the reward you seek.

It's too dark to see anything yet, anyway.

The girl in your bed finally fed up with the racket, yells to turn off the alarm. She's right - it's choice time, and there is little room for error.

Coffee: the best way to start a cold winter day | Photo: Padurariu/Creative Commons

Discomfort over Comfort

Bailing now would only put a mark against you with your buddy, who's already on his way, so you roll out of the warmth of the cave you've been dwelling in and start the hunt for boardshorts.

As the gears begin to turn, another realization - you'll need rubber.

Another quick thought of what lay in the icy waters ahead and what lay back in your burrito.

The coffee pot finishes its brew, and the black gold begins to warm your insides, making the idea of chilly water more bearable.

You always seem to forget what 46 degrees feels like.

No matter, adventure awaits at the beach break you've surfed for years, and there is no telling what you'll find.

As you step outside, the wind slaps your face, reminding you of the season and daring you to test it.

Your head is still pounding, a reminder of your escapades the night before, but the wind chill quickly resolves and soothes the ache.

Dawn patrols: winter makes surfing a challenge for body and mind | Photo: Shutterstock


By the time the board is on the car, your fingers have forgotten how to move correctly, a symptom of the winter's constant challenges.

As you will them to grab the steering wheel and crank the car, frigid air blasts out in one more rage of defiance.

Your vehicle doesn't want to wake yet either, but as its hot liquid begins coursing through the engine's veins, it begins to warm up to the idea.

Soon, your trusty surf mobile has turned into your sanctuary. It will be another rough awakening when you must emerge.

You begin the commute down to the beach, blaring metal ska to keep you awake at the wheel.

The darkness of the morning is still enveloping any hope of what might be ahead, but just under the horizon lies the sun and the promise of something.

You cross that final bridge over to the barrier island and see the deserted summer beach town.

No locals would find themselves awake at this hour. The winter party took its toll the night before.

Just a quick turn down the beachside street and finding a free spot keep you from certain hypothermia.

Wetsuit: in cold waters, the thicker, the better | Photo: Neill/Creative Commons

Suiting Up

Next, the suit-up.

Luckily, there haven't been waves yet this week, and you don't think you could have stomached a damp wetsuit with your ailments.

First, the legs, jumping into the rubber and a pull, hard and fast, before it gets stuck on your feet.

One arm at a time as your watch catches the side. Probably should have taken that off to avoid this inconvenience.

Lastly, the pull over the head and zip.

You finally graduated to the chest zip as your back zipper finally gave out on you last winter.

Everything suctioned to your body will prevent any good range of motion, but this is the winter, and you value warmth over motion this time of year.

A quick look at the boots. Definitely will need those.

A quick pull and Velcro strap will keep your feet from feeling the tiny daggers your hands will soon face.

You walk down to the sand finally, hearing the delights of the crashing rewards waiting for you as you head over the walk-up.

The beach is still engulfed in darkness, but that first light is beginning to present itself.

You can at least see the waves, and you are pleasantly surprised. Your efforts have not been in vain. There's something here, at least.

Surfing: cold air and water temperature somehow test our love of riding waves | Photo: Shutterstock

Signs of Hope

The big yellow board of your buddy is already in the water, and you see him take off down the line.

Instantly, all thoughts of regret vacate your mind as you see him cut back to throw some water, but they return as soon as you make the dive in.

The water reaches your waist and presses against your suit, the seams doing their best to keep any unwanted liquids from making their entrance.

It's much colder than anticipated. Should have brought gloves, you instantly think.

The water splashes itself on your face as you begin the long paddle to the lineup.

You begin to hyperventilate slightly as the water comes in from every side of the board, but you quickly control your breathing as the first duck dive approaches.

A big gulp of air, a deep plunge of the board, quietly reborn out the back as safety is still a long way away.

Your hands have gone numb, but your arms, by the protection of neoprene, continue their effort.

Slowly, you approach the lineup. So far, no other intruders on your spot.

You waste no time tucking your hands underneath your armpits to give them some life.

Your buddy calls out to you, impressed you made it after the festivities last night. You're stunned yourself.

Cold water surfing: more than a challenge, it's a state of mind | Photo: Shutterstock

The Ultimate Reward

The sun peaks over the ocean's hills and begins warming the world, a welcome gift.

You outstretch your arms, soaking in every piece of the orange-yellow glow.

A hill approaches. It blots out the light momentarily as you weigh your options. "Perfect spot," you think and begin your dance.

The mountain moves you forward, and a quick pop to your feet reminds you why you're here.

You shoot down the line, catch the sun as you head back to the top of the wave, a quick spray of water here and a quick bask in the warmth only to return to the base to see if the water will tap you on your opposite shoulder.

Tucked in perfectly, you feel the water's gentle reminder as it pulls its blanket comfortably over you.

As the shape begins to deteriorate, you head back over the top to safety, hearing a familiar voice and seeing outstretched arms.


Words by Anthony Tipton | Surfer and Traveler

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