Surfing is a lifestyle for many Ocean City locals who have grown up in the water. Surfers line the coast during the summer trying to sneak in a few waves in boardshorts before the winter waters come back, and given that the water is only warm enough for boardshorts three to four months out of the year, its truly a race against time. If all goes well Ocean City may get four truly surf-able swells the entire summer, but when tourism slows down, the waves pick up, and the water temperature drops like a wrecking ball. Surfing on the East Coast truly does not hit full potential until a cold nor’easter blows through and leaves a six foot clean swell to play on. Typically when this happens, the water temps are in the mid 50’s; if you’re lucky. If you’re dedicated to surfing enough that your willing to drop a few hundred dollars on some equipment, I can guarantee you wont be disappointed with the results.
First, you’ll need to pick up a wetsuit. Wetsuits are made of a material called neoprene and they come in different thicknesses. The thicknesses most common for winter surfing are 3/2, 4/3, and 5/4. The numbers are representative of the thickness of neoprene in different areas. For example, a 4/3 suit has a thickness of 4 millimeters in the torso, and moves to a slimmer 3 millimeters in the arms and sometimes the legs. The thickness you chose is personal preference, but keep in mind that a 3/2 suit during January is not going to cut it.
Second, buy some booties, gloves, and a hood ifyour suit doesn’t have one built in already. Believe it or not, your head, hands, and feet are the main areas for heat loss. Nobody enjoys calling a surf session early because their feet are numb. Make sure all of theseproducts are top of the line because a cheap pair of booties can and will ruin a winter session. Most local surf shops like K-Coast will have the proper thickness of booties, gloves, and hoods for the Ocean City area.
When you’re all set in brand new neoprene, its time to hop in the water. The biggest challenge for many is throwing on the thick suit in a near empty parking lot with a wind chill that feels like 15 degrees, but if you can get yourself by that, you’re halfway through your first winter surf session. If you have trouble working up the courage to throw on a suit outside in the blistering cold temperatures, try putting your suit on in the car, or even better; at your house if you live close enough tothe beach. If your suit is damp and freezing, pouring some hot water into it will often be the best remedy, and the same goes for your gloves and booties. Nothing feels better than some scorching hot water on a freezing day. If you plan on using a hood, be sure to pick up some ear putty for plugging your ears. Surfer’s ear is real, and it can happen to anyone.
If you make it into the water, take notice of any leaks you feel coming in through the suit. Its important these get sealed so the suit can preform to its best ability. Other than that, enjoy the solitude and get to know anyone else brave enough to be out in the freezing ocean during the winter. Once you’re able to endure the cold water, you’ll find yourself begging for winter to come and get rid of the crowds during the summer.
This story was updated Jan. 30, 2017 — Ed.