Cold Water Surfing

I don’t consider myself to be much of a surfer, nor would most people that have actually surfed with me. The fact is I’m just not that great at it. When people ask if I’m a surfer, I prefer to respond with something like “I spend a decent amount of time in the water.” Which is funny, because when someone asks if I’m a skier, the answer is a quick and definitive “yes.” I know this is largely due to my own mental perceptions of relative skill, but it does force me to wonder: does how good you are at something determine what you are?

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"I don't consider myself to be much of a surfer...

nor would most people that have actually surfed with me."

PC: Diana Pulido


While I don’t truly think it does, this same principle applies to so many areas in our day-to-day lives. It’s this sort of thinking that limits our capacity to consider what we may or may not become in life, to cross the imaginary line where our skills become sufficient to identify with the objective of our efforts and build the confidence which supports our continued progression.

I was 18 years old, and it was March, I think. I know that it was cold because it was snowing, which was memorable because I was in the water, surfing. I had driven out from my hometown to get a session in before my EMT class that night at a not-so-nearby community college. This day was a unique because as I mentioned, it was snowing, meaning the temperature was hovering right around 32 and I recall staying out on my board for a rather lengthy amount of time. When I got out, I was definitely experiencing some early hypothermia symptoms- lack of shivering, blue lips, cool to the touch, etc. Nothing severe, but just enough for re-warming to actually be a significant process. Specifically I recall blasting my heater for the entire drive to class wearing all the clothing I had with me and just barely normalizing as I pulled into class.

 PC: Diana Pulido

PC: Diana Pulido

What I hadn’t yet learned about cold water surfing, like when it’s really cold, is that the water is actually far warmer than the outside air. Of course I technically knew this, but how that could impact your approach was the part I hadn’t yet figured out. With a few little logical tricks, I now know that you can lengthen your session without increasing your risk of hypothermia. Of course, you have to get up on your board to see sets coming in, paddle, and set up, but whenever possible it’s actually advantageous to hang out in the ocean. Thinking back, this is painfully obvious but that’s what learning is all about; sometimes we just don’t know what we don’t know. I know this now and ultimately, it is just one of the many things that will help me to continually to progress, no matter how slowly.

Since this time I’ve spent countless hours in the water, on the beach, and generally engulfed in surfing and its accompanying culture. I can’t really explain the hold it’s got on me, but it is different than any of my other outdoor pursuits. I also know it’s one of those things that has truly defined the direction of life and impacted me in far greater ways than I ever could have imagined as a shivering 18 year old.

For me, it is the lessons that are deeply baked into this humbling process of cold water surfing that keeps me going back. I have put more than half my life into this pursuit, and yet I’m still effectively a beginner. I’ve had spurts of advancement, and then promptly been knocked back down again. Days when I thought I knew the conditions and read the waters correctly, only to have a leash break and suddenly need to dig deeper than I thought possible just to get myself back to shore. I have broken boards, given myself black eyes, swallowed my share of seawater, and even spread my moms ashes in my most frequented spot. I walk away from most of my surf sessions wishing it had gone better but excited that I had the opportunity to try and the knowledge that I will be back. It is a constant reminder that life can be difficult, uncomfortable, messy, risk-laden, humiliating, harsh, and painful. Along the way though, we encounter those occasional and ever-fleeting moments of success that immediately remind us why we keep coming back for more. So that is what we do; we persist and fail, take risks, and make mistakes. Sometimes we even get hurt, and yet we continue to chase down improvement. It is not the finish by which we are defined, but the process it takes to get there and that is what keeps us going back black eyes and all.

Johannes Ariens
Surfer, CEO LOGE Camps