In a sadistic twist, the best surfing on the East Coast happens in the dead of winter, when the same storm swells that dump feet of snow whip waves into a frenzy. But when there are chunks of ice elbowing you in the lineup, your favorite pair of stretchy boardshorts isn’t going to cut it. For those looking to catch the best waves with the fewest crowds, there’s only one option: kitting up and braving the frigid waters.
Brands like Patagonia, Matuse and Finisterre have made winter surfing a reality with wetsuits that allow surfers to hit the water in temps down to 32 degrees. Those, paired with a fully specialized kit, might not keep you warm — but they’ll keep you alive, comfortable and ready to drop in.
The Dawn Patrol Getup
The Clothing You Need to Scout the Surf
Heading out to check the surf in winter requires a specialized set of clothing. You need to stay warm, but look laid back. Brands like Finisterre, Outerknown, Saturdays Surf, Vans and Faherty all make surf-styled gear that holds up when the snow starts to fly.
True North Ovis Jeans by Finisterre ~$168
Brushed Alpine Flannel by Faherty $148
Lantallic Jumper by Finisterre ~$75
Petrichor Overshirt by Finisterre ~$137
Flannel Ball Cap by FairEnds $36
Mid Slip SF MTE by Vans $75
Cyclone II Dry Pack by Dakine $150
When It’s Time to Break Out the Full Wetsuit
Southern California–based wesuit maker Matuse makes some of the finest wetsuits for mid-cold temps. They’re flexible, comfortable and have a fairly easy entry and exit zip for a cold water wetsuit. This kit works for water temps in the mid-50s. The Dante is made from Matuse’s Geoflex neoprene, which makes possible a butterfly collar entry system. And no surf kit, regardless of weather and outside temperature, is complete without a towel. Slowtide makes some of the best-designed towels we’ve seen (they come with fabric loops for easy hanging), and the brand does a handful of collaborations each year with cool artists and brands. (We’ve paired a different towel of theirs with each kit.)
It’s Getting Chilly Now
Finisterre is a small brand based in England, where surfing with a wetsuit is essentially required year round. So naturally they know a thing or two about putting together a quality wetsuit. Each suit is double blind stitched for durability and includes an extra thick chest and back panel to help keep your core warm. Finisterre took feedback from over 300 testers before releasing the latest iteration of the Nieuwland 5, and it shows. It’s one of the most comfortable wetsuits on the market.
When the Snow Starts to Fly
When it comes to warm wetsuits, nothing compares to Patagonia’s R5. The neoprene is so thick that Patagonia recommends going up a full size over their standard wetsuits. It’s made from 85 percent Yulex, the brand’s naturally sourced, FSC-certified rubber. Pair it with the R5 booties and mitts and you’ll be toasty in water temps from 32 to 38 degrees. The suit also has an “inverted microgrid thermal lining,” which dries quickly and is supremely comfortable against the skin.