When you see the waves rolling in, a little thing like cold water shouldn’t stop you. Luckily, with the development of knew wetsuit technology you can surf almost anywhere – if you’re brave enough that is. The crisp air and blistering wind combined with icy water that will wake you up makes cold water surfing a completely different experience. The best part? Amazing landscapes and waves all to yourself. Your friends might call you crazy for diving head first into the cold, but they don’t know what they’re missing.
Cold Surf Spots
1. Bosque Country, France
The west has some of France’s best cold water surf spots for all levels. Specifically, Biarritz and Anglet have the best waves. Cote de Basques in Biarritz has a right and left hand beach break that can get as high as 3 m. Anglet has tons of beaches but one of the most popular ones, Chambre d’Amour, is just for experienced surfers. You can surf most of the year but during summer the waves are smaller and the beaches are packed. But you wanted to surf the cold water anyway, right? Give the winter waves a go, they’ll be warmer than any other on this list.
- Low: February ranging from 12.1 to 13.6° C.
- High: August ranging from 19.8 to 23.1° C.
- Winter: use a 4/3 mm or even a 5/4/3 mm, depending on your preference. Booties and a hood definitely wouldn’t hurt, either.
- Summer: you can use a 1 or 2/1 mm
2. Pichilemu, Chile
Pichilemu, Chile’s most popular surf spot has been gaining a reputation for world class waves. This surfing capital boasts several dark beaches, which can create an eerily bleak appearance when the winter overcast sets in. The most well-known beaches, Playa Principal, Playa Infiernillo and Punta de Lobos feature a variety of waves ranging from beginner to expert. Actually, in November Punta de Lobos hosted the 2015 Maui and Sons Women’s Pichilemu Pro surfing competition. During the competition, Australian pro-surfer told Chile’s news station Canal 13 ¨Australia gets cold in the winter, but not this cold,¨ mentioning how the 3/2 mm wetsuit she brought just didn’t cut it. If you think that’s cold, just remember we’re only at the top of the list.
- Low: August ranging from 11.7 to 14.2° C
- High: February ranging from 15.1 to 19.2° C
- Winter: I’d recommend a 4/3 mm wetsuit unless you absolutely love the cold. Booties and a hood are also recommended.
- Summer: you should use a 3/2mm full suit
Colder Surf Spots
1. Cornwall, UK
Cornwall is a little peninsula in the southwest corner of the UK. Although it only takes about an hour to drive from the county’s border to the tip of the peninsula, there are over 30 surfable beaches stretched over 697km of cliff-lined coastline. That means that not only will you be able to easily access a number of beaches, you’ll also find a variety of waves for all surfers. Beginners can head to Polzeath Beach or Gwithian, while intermediate surfers can try Sennen Cove or Praa Sands. If you’re an expert, go to Hippa Rock or Gwenver where the waves usually form a barrel and can get up to 3.5 m. Keep in mind that some of Cornwall’s beaches tend to get crowded, so if it’s too much for you just drive along the coastline until you find a spot that’s right for you. No matter where you go you’ll be greeted with a spectacular view.
- Low: March ranging from 8.3 to 10.5° C
- High: July ranging from 14 to 19.8 ° C
- Winter: you can use a 3/2 mm wetsuit.
- Summer: you’ll need a 5/4 mm wetsuit with booties and a hood.
2. Vancouver Island, Canada
Canada’s western island is awash with cold water surfing opportunities, not much competition, pristine beaches lined with coniferous forests, and many left and right hand beach breaks. Most of the best surf spots are concentrated around the island’s southwestern side. Two favorite surf spots, Tofino and Long Beach, are only separated by a short 20 minute drive. Tofino itself offers waves for all surfers, but they can get pretty high, ranging from 1 to 2.5 m. From Tofino you’ll also have easy access to Cox Bay where you’ll find even bigger, faster waves that swell up to 5 m. Long Beach has similar waves. If you are looking for a different kind of break there is also a reef-rocky right and left hand break for more experienced surfers at Sombrio Beach and a left and right hand point break at Jordan River but these surf spots are five hours away and tend to have more localism.
- Low: January ranging from 7 to 9° C
- High: August ranging from 13 to 17° C
- Winter: you need a 6/5/4 mm wetsuit or a 5/4 mm, gloves, a hood and booties.
- Summer: you can get away with a 3/2 mm wetsuit and booties, but if you plan on staying in the water for a while, you might want to gear your wetsuit’s thickness up a notch.
Coldest Surf Spots
1. Reykjavik, Iceland
When people began surfing Iceland’s waves, the locals thought they were crazy. Considering how cold it gets, the added danger of rocks, and sometimes undertows and rips it really can be dangerous. However, if you have the experience and the gall you’ll be in for uncrowded beaches, all year surf conditions, nearly 24 hours of sun in the summer, and perfect swells in the winter. And of course, the movie like views of glaciers, fjords, volcanos and other natural wonders will make you wonder if it’s all real. Experienced surfers should try the powerful right hand point break at Þorlákshöfn, which ranges from 2 to 4 m and can even get up to 500 m long sometimes. Another good surf spot is Grindavík. Another right hand point break, it has fast and hollow waves that have swells between 1 and 2m but are shorter than the waves at Þorlákshöfn. There are several other spots just outside of Reykjavik for you to explore with varying waves, but I wouldn’t recommend Iceland for beginners.
- Low: March ranging from 3.9 to 6.2° C
- High: July ranging from 10.1 to 13.2° C
- Winter: a 6/5 mm full suit, booties and a hood are necessary.
- Summer: summer you can use a 4/3 full suit with booties, although if you get cold easily you may want to use booties or upgrade to the 5/4 mm.
2. Lofoten Islands, Norway
This archipelago lies in the Arctic Circle off the coast of northern Norway. To get there you have to take a plane, but if you were thinking about surfing in water this cold you probably were looking for the isolation these islands offer anyway. Much of the coastline is covered by unexplored inlets and bays, meaning you could be the first to surf them. It’s a wintery paradise of ice and dramatic snow dusted mountains that you can see from the shore. Between July and August you’ll have the most consistent waves and warmer temperatures around the island system. However, if you want bigger waves then autumn or spring is best, although the waves may be less consistent. The most well-known surf spot is Unstad. Here you’ll find empty beaches and a left and right hand point break that’s fast and fun. The swell often hovers around 1 to 1.5 m but has been known to get up to 5 m.
- Low: March ranging from 3 to 6° C
- High: August ranging from 11 to 15° C
- Winter: the water requires a 6/5 full suit, booties and a hood.
- Summer: use a 4/3 full suit and booties.
Beyond Cold: Freezing Surf Spots
1. Kodiak Island, Alaska
Alaska is part of the U.S. but it’s so big and isolated it might as well be considered its own entity. There are actually a few top-notch surf spots in this icy heaven, but the best and most ideal is Fossil Beach on Kodiak Island. Why’s that? With waves that range from 150 to 300 m long with a swell between 1 to 5 m you’ll be in for a wild ride. The waves are consistent and have something for everyone, beginner to expert, which means you’ll be able to ride these giant waves again and again without any competition. It might be cold but the adrenaline will get you pumped. Not only the waves are impressing, the incredible wildlife and natural beauty of the island will inspire awe and wonder. As you walk the beach, you may also stumble upon one of the fossil’s it’s named for.
- Low: March ranging from 2.2 to 5° C
- High: August ranging from 9.5 to 16° C
- Winter: you should use a 6/5/4 mm with a hood, gloves and booties
- Summer: use a 4/3 mm or 5/3 mm wetsuit with booties.
2. Kamchatsky Peninsula, Russia
No roads connect the rest of Russia to this peninsula so you’ll have to fly in. Over the last several years, thrill seekers have been making this snow covered, mountainy peninsula a more popular surf spot. Maybe you can get some more tips from locals about where to surf, but the most renowned place to go is Khalaktyrsky Beach. With 30 km of beach to go around, even if this remote place has become more popular, you probably won’t have much competition. The shoreline is surprisingly green in summer, with views three volcanoes in the distance. In winter, everything will be snowy. You can surf year round but the biggest (and chilliest) waves will be found in the winter.
- Low: February ranging from -1.8 to 0.5° C
- High: August ranging from 8.6 to 14.3° C
- Winter: use a 6mm wetsuit with thick booties and 5mm gloves.
- Summer: you can use a 5mm wetsuit.
Related resources: tips on staying warm when cold water surfing.