The best waves in the UK are during the coldest months of the year. A time when the days lean to late sunrises and early darkness and the wind whips across a frozen land that somehow feels more brittle than during the Summer. Where the light fades from dusky orange to a harsh white; neon almost in its uniform glare and the indistinct shadows that it creates. A time when water temperatures dip to 6˚C (43˚F) and plummet even further on the land.
During these months I miss the sense of a battle fought; of pushing and testing yourself. Against the weather, against yourself - tracking and calculating forecasts - and against your body, pushing it to its cold water limits. Maximizing time in the water takes consistent effort. From the regular cycle of tracking the forecast every week to your pre-surf preparation. What you eat the night before, how you get your core warm when you sleep, the way you maintain this heat in the clothes you wear and food you eat en-route to the beach, how you setup your car (heater on medium; too high will make you sweat and switch your body to a cooling mode) and your routine as you get changed (face the front of the car into the wind so you are protected at the rear). Every aspects matters.
I miss the natural quietness that comes as the effort that's needed to keep going against the numbing cold deters so many. The stillness of isolated spots where there may be no-one there to enjoy it but yourself (or the few you brought with you). You're often within reach of large towns and even cities but you somehow feel like you're separated and very distant from these. The blend of the ocean's rise and sweep of the offshore wind creates a natural white noise sound stage to the countryside's backdrop. It's a strange remoteness that exists at the ocean's edge mid-Winter.
I miss surf that looks like somehow hand-drawn and released from someone’s imagination. Lines stacked to the horizon, brushed clean by offshores at dramatic spots that nestle deep within counties you’ve never considered for surfing before.
And above all I miss the camaraderie of preparing, searching, discovering, and tackling all of this with friends. To call surfing mid-Winter an ‘expedition’ is accurate on so many levels.
If you've never lived and surfed in the UK then looking at all this effort you might wonder, why bother? This wouldn't be unreasonable. Even those that have surfed there for years often allow their resolve to be eroded over time. Letting the natural rhythm of preparation slip away until the effort to re-start it doesn't feel worth it. In a slow, almost indiscernible creep, the rhythm……disconnects. The weekly checking of the charts becomes an accidental discovery of good surf from a weekend past when a video circulates online of "that day". The once ready-packed surf kit becomes strewn across the house (or relegated to the garage / shed) and before long the last surf was months or years, not weeks or days, ago.
Keeping motivated and pushing to maintain the weekly rhythm does take effort. If you’re in a cold water location, keep at it. If you’ve stopped, re-start. If you’ve never tried, give it a go. The search itself and those air-brushed days that wait at the end of it really are worth it.