California Cool: How the Wetsuit Became the Surfer's Second Skin (2013) (

42 points by Thevet 242 days ago


russellbeattie 241 days ago

To non-Californians: The Pacific coastal waters are freezing all the way down to San Diego. Ever been swimming off the coast of Georgia or Florida and thought, "Gosh, this isn't refreshing at all, it's like bath water." You won't have that problem on the West Coast. I grew up in New England, swimming in Maine, and it doesn't hold a candle to how frigid the waters in California can be. And the wind off the water is biting, even in August. You know how Florida's coast is developed pretty much along it's entire length on both sides, and yet California and Oregon have hundreds of miles of relatively untouched coastline? That's why. It's damn cold.

    virtualwhys 241 days ago

    Having bodysurfed somewhere along the coast from Eugene, Oregon in the autumn, and taken several dips in Frenchmen's bay near Acadia National Park in the summer, I would respectfully disagree -- northern Maine waters are absolutely icy cold.

    alanthonyc 241 days ago

    The current flows southward (from Alaska) on the west coast. Goes northward along the east coast.

    8note 241 days ago

    meh, the ocean in BC is peachy by comparison to Newfoundland

      abenedic 241 days ago

      I have been in both, albeit in BC during fall two years past, and Newfoundland in summer eight years ago. In Newfoundland, I was purple in minutes, but in BC I was relatively okay for two hours for my lesson. So I do disagree humbly.

jtms 241 days ago

Pro Tip I learned the hard way: Don't pee while submerged in a wetsuit. Its not nearly as porous as one would hope in this situation.

    gfs 241 days ago

    While this is true, I would do this to add a little extra warmth when surfing in the cold waters on the central coast. As long as I gave my suit a good rinse after, it was never a problem.

      jtms 241 days ago

      I was canyoning down a cold stream up in the mountains and didn't realize the implications of my actions until it was too late (ie: back in the van, reeking of urine) :-)

    rimunroe 241 days ago

    And it's a good thing that they aren't porous, or they'd be pretty bad at keeping people warm!

    I don't surf, but I had a scuba certification when I was younger. My instructor told us to pee in our suits if we were getting into cold waters or found ourselves having passed through a particularly unpleasant thermocline. It saves a few minutes of discomfort while you wait for your body to heat the water trapped by your suit. It doesn't seem to add any additional cleaning steps either.

    leoh 241 days ago

    You may not have enjoyed the experience, but many excellent surfers pee in their wetsuits.

    dvschramm 241 days ago

    All I do is pee in my suit, just flush it!

      stronglikedan 241 days ago

      I'm picturing you wearing your wetsuit to a movie theater so you don't miss anything.

      241 days ago

BadassFractal 241 days ago

Was actually going to try surfing for the first time this week. What's been people's experience with it, starting later in their life?

    lcc 241 days ago

    I found the learning curve really steep (even coming from a skateboard/snowboard background, and being a reasonably good swimmer). A lot of it is learning how to read the waves, which is frustrating at first. I've been at it for about a year now and am only just starting to feel things click. But even when I wasn't catching any waves, I loved the feeling of being in the water, feeling the power of the waves, and just enjoying the views of sunsets and the coast.

    Definitely get an instructor for your first few attempts. They'll be able to push you and help you catch whitewater waves which will give you an idea if you actually enjoy this thing. Then if you want to be able to actually surf, I highly recommend spending at least 1, preferably 2 weeks at a surf camp with good instructors. A lot of surf camps just hire 18 year old Australian kids or whatever who just want to travel and surf, and while they're great surfers they aren't great instructors. I went to School of the World in Costa Rica and the instructors there are permanent, this is their career, they care about it and they're good at it. They had me catching my first green waves very consistently with help, and progressing from a 9' board to a 6'7 board. After a week and a half there, I was able to go back home and actually catch green waves (inconsistently) on my own for the first time, and build my skills to consistently catching those waves. Getting feedback and being in the water every day helps you improve exponentially.

      dominotw 241 days ago

      how good of a swimmer do you have to be. I learnt swimming lat in life so i am not good.

        goodnews3879 240 days ago

        A good rule of thumb is that you should not paddle where you cannot swim. So, if you were to suddenly lose your board, you should be able to safely get to shore. Depending on the conditions, you would want to be intermediate to advanced swimmer. Knowledge of the ocean goes a long way too.

    btbuildem 241 days ago

    Well.. it's really, really hard, and incredibly rewarding once you start to get decent at it.

    It takes a long time to get any good. There is a lot to learn - about knowing when and where to try to surf, about reading the waves, about the etiquette and proper behaviour, and about yourself. It is physically and mentally demanding.

    I highly recommend it.

    tokyodude 241 days ago

    I started last summer. Been about 15 times, 3 to 6 hours each time, also took a 5 day, 3hrs per day class. Still can't "surf".

    By "surf" I mean I can't catch a wave in the sweet spot between too step and too shallow and ride away from be break. I can catch a wave and ride it straight in on the break/white water.

    3 possibilities: (1) surfing is hard (2) the waves suck (3) I suck

    I think it's a little of 1 and 2 (or I hope so). Watching surf videos they always show these perfect waves that crash on one side and the surfer can ride it for 10-30 seconds where as at the beach I'm usually at the waves don't make nice shapes.

    On the other hand the instructor can still catch these bad waves in a way that is clearly above my skill level.

    Long boards like 3 to 3.5 meters are the easiest to ride. If you watch "Endless Summer" (1966), probably the most famous surf movie, you'll see they are riding long boards. AFAICT long boards are kind of out of fashion. Most people seem to ride medium boards (2 meters). They are harder use (and what I happen to be using via my instructor).

    If you can find a place with long shallow waves and a long board (like Waikiki) you can probably get started pretty quickly.

      rafaelm 241 days ago

      I think that the part most people have a hard time with is when to actually start paddling for the wave. I think it's easier to just start riding waves on a bodyboard and not concentrate on the standing-up part yet.

      Just get the hang of which waves are good, when to paddle and catching waves. After that, concentrate on the standing up part.

      Source: Not an instructor, but I started as a teenager on bodyboards, then moved on to regular boards. Haven't surfed in a very long time unfortunately.

    dvschramm 241 days ago

    I started when I was 32. Get a big board to start with. Know that it's probably 95% paddling and 5% actual surfing. The advice to bodyboard or even body surf with fins is a good one. I'm teaching my son to body surf/body board first, then move to surfboards when he's old enough. It looks much easier than it is but if you stick to it, it is very rewarding. Go every chance you get even if the waves look bad so you can get used to paddling and being in the water. When you start going more and you're around others read up on the 'rules of the road' and etiquette. Most of all have fun.

    lnanek2 241 days ago

    If you hire a coach they'll actually stand in the waves and give you a big push at the right moment the first few times, ha. It's popular in Hawaii for tourists to get started that way. Even I was able to stand up the first outing that way.

    240 days ago

    topmonk 241 days ago

    I started when I was 37. It wasn't too hard to get into but I had the luxury to do it every day. I think it would be a lot more difficult if I could only do it on weekends though.

    One of my biggest problems was pearling (where the front of the board dives below the water while catching a wave). I once hurt myself pretty badly when white catching a wave the board got in front of me and got stuck underwater in the sand. The wave then threw me into the board and I bruised my leg really badly, almost to the point of breaking it.

    After many more incidents like this where I slammed into the board, I became quite gun shy. I eventually tried out a short board and all these problems went away.

    So if I were you, and had enough time to commit, I'd go against conventional wisdom and just get a short board. It'll be harder to catch waves but you'll end up more confident in the end.

    olivermarks 241 days ago

    It depends a lot on where you are. I'm based in Northern California where the sea is cold, the waves are mostly created by beach breaks (meaning somewhat random tide influenced sand formations creating waves) and it is very hard to paddle out through the white water surf to where the rideable waves are. Beginners need a big long stable board, but getting that size of device through breaking waves can be very tough. I'd recommend going somewhere warm with exactly the same wave breaking in the same place every time (a point break) to learn and get a feel for it. I'm an aspirational surfer but wouldn't dream of calling myself one, I spend 99% of the time flailing around and doing cartwheels underwater, but it is an amazing feeling when you do become one with a wave, even when you are just laying down and trying to pop up...

    yardie 241 days ago

    Starting later in life is probably a lot more helpful. You tend to be more patient and understanding of your own body, you won't have the stamina to be in the water for hours is the single downside.

    The pros tend to make it look easy. The young see this, think what takes lots of practice comes naturally and flub it. Then blame their equipment, their instructor, the waves, and themselves for sucking. And ultimately abandon it.

    I tried surfing in my early 20s. Gave up. Now I'm learning again and having a much better experience.

    thx11389793 241 days ago

    I went surfing with a friend a couple years ago. I made an error while donning the wetsuit and ended up irretrievably wedging my head into the sleeve. Had to have my friend unwedge me.

    Paddling takes a LOT of effort, and you do a lot of it. Catching a wave is about timing, and balance, in that order. I managed to do it exactly once in the couple hours we were out. I'd do it again. :)

    DoubleCribble 241 days ago

    Lessons are helpful. Swimming regularly and building arm endurance is important. Starting on an 8' soft top is useful. Going where the waves are big enough to ride but not big enough to scare the crap out of you is vital. Learning to not panic when you wipe out and get water shot up your nose and a mouthful of seawater is mandatory.

    justifier 241 days ago

    i learned to surf as an adult

    it can be a supernatural feeling.. paddling hard until the moment the wave picks you up and says, 'i got you from here' and just carries you off

    when picking a board you should know the bigger the board the more stable it will be and the more forgiving it will be as you stand up, ~40-60cm taller than yourself is a good rough metric for a medium sized board, you can start bigger and as you get better try smaller and smaller boards

    i have been body surfing and boogie boarding since i was a kid so, unfortunately, i am unable to give you any good tips on picking a good wave and figuring out the timing, but i think this may be a skill that can develop on its own with time

    as for the surf.. the best advice i can give:

    1) when waiting for a wave: stay on your board; the more time you spend on the board the more intimately you will get to know it and the more you will develop your stabilizing muscles and core

    2) when paddling for a wave: arch your back as much as you can to lift your chest off the board; it will look like the 'bhujangasana'(o), or 'cobra', yoga pose and this helps to keep the board level in the water and allows for more strength in your paddles

    3) when standing up: look down at the board to ensure you place your feet in the center; early on i had the tendency to look up at the shoreline and would place a foot a bit off center and the board would flip

    4) when standing up: bend your knee and plant your back foot first; early on it was more natural for me to plant my front foot first but bending your knee and planting your back first ensures your center of mass is directly above your foot

    5) once stood up: keep your knees bent; this keeps your leg muscles activated allowing for better balance and control

    of course, most important: have fun!


    jpm_sd 241 days ago

    My one attempt on a beach in San Diego was not a success, but I'm pretty big/heavy (6'3" 220lb) and I think the board was too small. Also the experienced surfers were unwelcoming and impatient. I was a n00b wasting perfectly good waves.

    aphextron 241 days ago

    Paddling is way, way harder than it looks watching an experienced surfer. You probably wont be able to do it for more than 5 minutes at first. Don't get in over your head.

    maxxxxx 241 days ago

    It's fun and not that hard to learn. Definitely a good way to spend a Sunday morning.

    241 days ago

    Timmah 241 days ago

    Depends on your swimming ability. You can easily drown if you panic when large waves land on you and force water into your mouth/nose. or if you get swept out by a rip current and don't swim sideways and keep your cool.

    Don't try it without a lifeguard nearby until you're experienced. Be confident momentarily being held underwater against your will. Never take your eyes off the ocean, because not all waves are equal in size or period. Personally I found that swimming out past the waves is the most difficult/frustrating (you need to be past them slightly in order to catch them).

    Not all beaches are created equal. Some have exposed rocks, huge waves that can lift you and smash you directly into the sand (YouTube "the wedge, Newport beach" to see what I mean), or deadly currents. So research before you go.

MrEfficiency 241 days ago

I read a book about being mentally tough and started taking cold showers. Years later, I dont take cold showers anymore, but getting into and staying in cold water is easy.

>Get in the water, full body submerged, all at once

>Get out of the water

You only felt serious pain for about 1-2 seconds, when you are out of the water, your no longer experiencing the pain at any significant levels.

>Go back in the water

Now that you have felt the extreme cold, the water wont feel as cold as before.

Enjoy shocking your friends when you swim in 40 degree water.

Note: It still isnt comfy and your bits will go numb, but you can easily survive 5-20 minutes in various cold water temps.

    aphextron 241 days ago

    >Note: It still isnt comfy and your bits will go numb, but you can easily survive 5-20 minutes in various cold water temps.

    It really doesn't matter your mental toughness, your body has a physical reaction to that kind of water temperature. It seizes up and you can go into shock. People die all the time from falling or jumping into cold water that would be bearable if you eased into it and had training.

    I worked as a river guide for a few years on a high altitude stretch of canyons where the water was coming directly off alpine snowpack at ~34 degrees, and people would die every year. Not from drowning in the rapids or prolonged exposure, but just going into shock and having a heart attack immediately after falling in.

      rimunroe 241 days ago

      And that shock can happen much further away from freezing than most people expect when they just hear the numbers out loud. 50 °F water is pretty much the same as 32 °F water as far as shock is concerned.

    stronglikedan 241 days ago

    I do that too, but a little bit at a time. Legs first, in and out, then naughty bits and bottom of belly (very sensitive on me for some reason), in and out, then up to shoulders, in and out, then the big plunge.