How to perform the outdoor wetsuit change in freezing weather

For surfers, we’re getting to that time of year when thicker wetsuits, booties and gloves are necessities in many places. In areas that experience extremely cold winters, this typically means a change in how you go about just about all facets of your surfing. And a very important part of that is the outdoor change in and out of your wetsuit.

In places like the northeast, it could mean having to wrestle with five millimeters of neoprene in snow, lots of wind and freezing temperatures. If not done properly, it can seriously alter your session.

And there’s nothing that will ruin a cold water session more than being cold right off the bat — you’re certainly not going to be getting any warmer once you jump in the ocean. With that in mind, here are some important tips to help you master the art of the outdoor wetsuit change these coming winter months.

The surf is big and cold, but changing outside in the snow and wind is the first part of the battle. Photo: Courtesy of Tad Mask

Have the right type of gear

If there’s snow on the ground, you’re going to need warm gear. Photo: Courtesy of Tad Mask

First and foremost, if you’re surfing in seriously cold conditions you want to make sure you have the proper neoprene to keep you warm. Deciding to surf in January when the water is in the 30s and the air is in the single digits (plus windchill) with only a 4/3 is just a bad idea. Most wetsuit manufacturers have water temperature guides online for all their suits, or you can always ask employees at your local surf shop for help.

Find a spot that blocks the wind

Improvise. Here, this fence and dry spot on the boardwalk blocked the wind perfectly. Photo: Courtesy of Tad Mask

This can be accomplished by parking your car so it blocks the wind, or finding the side of a building shielded from it. Feeling 30-mile-an-hour winds on your bare chest even for a brief few seconds will drastically reduce your core temperature.

Find somewhere inside if possible

Or utilize your car by parking it so the front of your vehicle is facing into the wind, therefore having the car block some of it for you. Photo: Courtesy of Tad Mask

Maybe you’ve got a van or truck with a cab that you can stand up in. Or hopefully you live close enough to the beach that you can just change at home and forgo this whole mess. Those of us who aren’t so lucky have to get resourceful, though.

Public restrooms are sometimes open year-round. Maybe you’re taking the subway in New York City, if so you can try to find an empty car and change there. Any construction projects going on? Maybe try standing in an unfinished house (if workers are present ask first, though). Do avoid changing in a porta-potty — one wrong step and you could be looking at a much bigger problem.

A poncho changing robe is absolutely necessary

The poncho changing robe is a great piece of gear year-round, but it is completely necessary in the winter. Photo: Courtesy of Tad Mask

The poncho changing robe is one of the most crucial pieces of gear a cold water surfer can own. Even if you live close enough to the beach to forgo the outdoor change, wearing one on your walk up to the beach or on your walk home is still extremely helpful.

Lay out all your gear before you start undressing

You don’t want to be digging around in your bag looking for boots or gloves after you’ve already got your shoes off. Minimizing the amount of time you’re not clothed or suited up is crucial to staying warm.

Also, make sure all your gear is turned right-side-out before disrobing. You basically want to have everything ready for you to put on immediately.

Always have a dedicated changing mat

A changing mat and a thermos being properly utilized. Photo: Courtesy of Tad Mask

An extra towel, a bath mat, the inside of your board bag — there are lots of objects that can suffice as a changing mat. But the one thing you don’t want to use is the cold, hard and wet ground. That’s a sure bet that your feet are going to be ice cubes before your boots even get pulled on.

Leave your socks on until you're going to put your boots on

Speaking of your feet, ever try surfing when they lose feeling and turn into blocks of ice? It’s not fun. If you keep your socks on until you’re ready to put each boot on, they’ll stay that much warmer.

Get yourself a solid thermos

Just as a big jug of water can be used to rinse your feet off in warmer months, a big thermos full of hot water is a welcome delight in the colder months. You can use it to warm your boots and gloves up right before you put them on (make sure to dump out the water before you put them on though), and you can use the remaining hot water to warm yourself up after your session. It should go without saying, but don’t pour extremely hot water directly on your skin.

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