Winter’s Austerity: Enduring The Elements For The Love of Surfing


Winter’s Austerity

“The simplicity of winter has a deep moral. The return of Nature, after such a career of splendor and prodigality, to habits so simple and austere, is not lost either upon the head or the heart. It is the philosopher coming back from the banquet and the wine to a cup of water and a crust of bread.” -John Burroughs

I imagine when most people think of surfing, they aren’t envisioning being armored in 6mm of rubber from head to toe, treading through ice and snow just to get to the shoreline, or having to constantly urinate in their wetsuit to add an extra 15 minutes onto their session. I could be wrong, this may be the dream conjured up in some peoples’ minds, but I tend to think it most often involves warm water, board shorts or a bikini, and the possibility of getting just a bit too much sun.

This winter season in the northeast region of the United States has been a particularly harsh one. Extremely brutal air and water temperatures, coupled with cruelly abrasive winds, few days where the sun showed it’s face through the clouds, and a fair amount of snowfall every week only added to the bleak ambiance. If the wind wasn’t there stabbing you in the back through your wetsuit or whipping you in the face as you paddled into a wave, then the savagely frigid duck dives were a pounding reminder that winter wasn’t fucking around this year.

A few weeks ago after fully submerging and resurfacing from two waves during a session, I felt like I was going to go into shock or black out. Was I in need of a wetsuit upgrade or was I just getting old and soft? I felt somewhat bewildered and no amount of pee flowing through my wetsuit could keep me warm. After about an hour of surfing, I exited the water, running towards my car, frantic to escape the elements and jump into a hot shower. I didn’t feel so bad that evening when a friend had mentioned the waters were in the low 30s. Plus a few good ones always makes it well worth it, once your warm and indoors.

Cold water surfing certainly isn’t for everyone, to simply paddle out and sit in the lineup is to perform a powerful physical austerity. One must relinquish bodily comfort in order to surf, as they come into direct contact with nature under such severe conditions. There is a unique, vitalizing quality to braving the frigid waters to continue the pursuit of surfing when most shy away or travel to warmer climates. Not to mention, some of the best waves are to be offered during these months, with many empty sandbars offering up perfectly peeling waves to anyone with the will to get out there.

Winter here strips things down to it’s bare bones, leaving the raw and uncovered truth in plain sight. Trees are left standing naked without leaves, as they persevere the bitter climate without an utterance of complaint. The once crowded beaches of summertime, left barren and unblemished by the hands of man, now a place of solace and silence. Snow falling from the sky, singular snowflakes dancing through the crisp air, waiting to find a mate, and then amalgamating with uncountable snowflakes to blanket the Earth’s surface. I cannot forget to mention the days of hollow waves, empty line ups, and the surfing ascetics who abstain from bodily comfort to continue the practice of riding waves.

As the winter months unveil nature’s simpler side to us, there is also the esoteric mystery that is coupled with such a frigid unveiling. Oftentimes we are just trying to abide in the hands of winter the best we can, then it isn’t until the seasonal chapter closes, and nature is resurrected in spring that the deeper lessons of winter are revealed.

Brave the elements, there are more than ice-cream headaches and perfect waves to be found.


All Photos: Fiona Mullen

More of Fiona’s Work here:


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Growing up in New Jersey, Shawn discovered and quickly immersed himself in the sub-culture of surfing and skateboarding in the mid 80’s. With a diverse and eclectic background, Shawn has walked the path of a competitive surfer, Hare Krsna monk, action sports industry player in NYC, DIY theology and religions major, and a touring punk rock musician. Now a father and self-proclaimed seeker of the “soul” of surfing, Shawn enjoys sessions with friends at uncrowded peaks along his home state’s shoreline and writing about his surf related experiences.

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