OPINION: What sort of mad man surfs in winter?

North Devon Gazette

When you think of surfing, you probably think of summer. Warm weather, turquoise waves and shorelines dotted with palm trees. But summer surfing can also bring flat water, small waves and crowded lineups. Not to mention all of the Devonshire roads cluttered with caravans and city cars. But why on earth would anyone want to surf in winter?Â

Picture this: you’ve woken up in the cold light, driven from your landlocked home up the mostly 40 miles-per-hour link road towards one of North Devon’s iconic surf breaks: somewhere like Saunton, Croyde or Puttsborough. You’ve paid the captive-audience parking fee at your destination, and proceed to brave the freezing cold British weather in the exposed car park to change from your civilian clothes into your winter wetsuit. You’ve unpacked your board from its bag and put on your hood, booties, and gloves. After hours of preparation, you’re finally ready to brave the British winter waves. It can all feel like one big intimidating challenge.Â

Winter surfing isn’t for the faint of heart. You won’t see the big crowds of fairweather surfers that summer brings. The surf schools and local hire places often close their doors for the winter, leaving a bare-bones collection of experienced, neoprene-clad spartans to paddle out during the coldest months of the year for the bigger swell that’s driven through the Atlantic Ocean to the British west coast.Â

Of course, the cold can be combatted with the modern advances of neoprene. When asked about water temperatures, the modern winter surfer often responds with the thickness of the wetsuit that they most recently used to surf, as though that’s some form of adequate response to fulfil all of the person posing the question’s needs. “I just went out in a 4:3 and boots and it was fine.”Â

Any winter surfer will tell you that the bigger swells and lack of crowds make for better surfing. Big wave hunters can check wave forecasts via apps like Magic Seaweed, which inform them of the wind direction, wave heights and periods to ensure that the optimum surfing locations can be found with ample planning and travel time.Â

Another reason to surf in winter is the higher frequency of groundswells in winter. Groundswells are a deep movement of the ocean caused by a distant gale or seismic disturbance. They can travel thousands of miles without losing power, creating stronger waves. The power of the waves means it’ll be tougher to paddle out towards the back, which can strengthen your paddle technique, making you a stronger and fitter surfer overall.Â

Arguably, the best surfing locations in Devon are west-facing. The ten miles from Woolacombe to Westward Ho! receive some of the best waves year-round, but during winter, they really come into their own. There are some breaks around the UK that are so rare and novelty, that they have been dubbed ‘mysto breaks’ - mysterious surf breaks that are spoken of in passing along coastal car parks, the way ghost stories are told to children. North Devon’s most revered ‘mysto break’ is the fabled Oysters. It’s a rare offshore break that occurs a mile from the south end of Croyde over a reef spine. It is said to have been pioneered by local surfing legend Ralph Freeman. Mysto breaks are next-level. They tend to be bigger, rarer and far more dangerous than regular, reliable beach breaks. If you manage to find one this winter, you can watch in awe as a few brave surfers attempt to conquer its curves.Â

Mysto breaks aside, winter waves that can be more reliable, bigger, less crowded and better for upping your experience as a surfer. If you’re looking to escape the crowds of foamies that summer brings, an investment in thicker neoprene and braving the bleak British winter weather might be the key to up-levelling your surfing ability. What sort of a mad man surfs in winter? A dedicated one.