The Danger Behind Cold Water Surfing (Preventing Hypothermia)

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The waves and rocks aren’t the only things you need to worry about when you grab your board and head into the surf.

You also need to make sure that you’re protected against the elements and this is especially important when cold water surfing.

Improper preparation will not only make for an uncomfortable ride but in extreme situations, it could kill.

Let’s take a look at what hypothermia is, the symptoms of hypothermia and how to avoid it.

What are the Dangers of Cold Water Surfing?

Hypothermia is characterized by a substantial and persistent reduction in body temperature.

It stems from the Greek word ύπο, meaning “below” or “under” and θέρμη, meaning “heat” or “temperature”.

It’s often mistakenly believed that you can only get hypothermia during extreme temperatures, but it can strike even if you’re riding waves with a temperature of 60F (16C).

Your body temperature drops, and as it tries desperately hard to cling onto the heat, your organs begin to suffer.

You may have read that there are three, four, or even five stages of hypothermia.

It really all depends on whose definition you’re reading and how they separate the symptoms, but it generally revolves around the following:

  • Early Stages
  • Rapid Breathing
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Loss of Coordination
  • Fatigue
  • Later Stages
  • Slower Heartbeat
  • Irregular Heartbeat
  • Low Blood Pressure
  • Limited Reflexes
  • Final Stages
  • Nonreactive Pupils
  • Labored Breathing
  • Heart Failure
  • Cardiac Arrest

There is also a phenomenon called “paradoxical undressing”.

In extremely rare cases, a person suffering from late-stage hypothermia may feel very hot prior to their death, leading them to rip off all of their clothes.

The aforementioned stages are defined by a continued drop in body temperature.

If the patient isn’t sheltered from the cold or provided with adequate heat/cover, and the air temperature continues to fall, they will likely cycle through these stages and are at risk of dying.

How to Prevent Problems When Cold Water Surfing

Now that you understand just how dangerous hypothermia can be, it’s time to look at some of the precautions you can take to ensure you’re safe when surfing colder water.

Buy the Best Equipment

It doesn’t matter how “tough” you are or think you are; you’re human, and you can’t spend hours riding ice-cold surf spots without suffering the consequences.

If you’re going to surf when the water temperature is low, you need to be prepared, and that means buying the best equipment.

Look for a good wetsuit, make sure it fits, and don’t simply rely on an old, dusty, and worn suit you’ve had in your closet for a decade.

Grab some neoprene boots, gloves, and a hood to provide extra protection.

Buy the Right Accessories

If you’re driving to the beach, make sure you have plenty of towels, blankets, and a change of clothes.

You can dry yourself off after a surf and change into fresh, dry clothes.

If you’re walking or cycling there, pack everything (gloves, booties, jacket) into a bag and keep it away from the water.

A yoga mat or other padded mat can be a great help in this scenario, as it gives you some support as you stand and dry/change.

It makes for a more comfortable experience, but it also allows your feet to warm up quicker.

Feast First

Whether you’re riding the small swell in warm water or tackling big waves on cold water, it helps to load-up on carbs beforehand.

Your body needs all of that food for energy and to keep your internal furnace burning.

Summary: Staying Safe When Cold Water Surfing

Even experienced surfers are not immune to the cold.

It doesn’t matter how good your board is and how experienced you are, you can’t beat Mother Nature and she can be pretty cruel when she wants to be.

So, whether you’re a first-time surfer doing a little paddling at your local beach or an experienced surfer looking for the perfect wave, make sure you’re always prepared when winter surfing.