While sliding into a damp wetsuit on a cold winter morning — desperately trying to warm one's numb feet or half-frozen fingers — isn't all that enjoyable, once you get out on the water it all begins to make sense.
There are no hordes of wave riders to compete with, no rush to get in queue for the surf. Add to that some of the biggest surf of the year and you’ve got more than enough reasons to hit the Canadian waves this winter.
The recommended wetsuit for cold-water surfing is about 6.5 mm thick. This sacrifices the flexibility of lighter wetsuits, but again, warmth is the priority here. This is serious business.
Thick booties and gloves are also a must. It is recommended to have gloves and booties that are at least 7 mm thick, since heat easily leaves the hands and feet.
There is one more essential piece of gear: the neoprene hood. Depending on just how cold the water is, which in Canada is pretty darn cold, icicles can form on the wetsuits of cold-water surfers. So those undertaking the challenge will want as much skin covered as possible — lest an ear freeze solid and fall off.
You may want to consider investing in a longer board. With the heavier wetsuit, there will be added weight to your normally nimble short-board. This doesn't mean picking up a long board right away, though. It depends on just how much winter surfing you’ll be doing. For those who will be surfing the cold water a lot, then a larger board is a good investment — but that summer short board will serve just fine for a few trips, it just takes a little extra compensation.
Be sure to use specifically labeled cold-water wax instead of warm- or even cool-water wax. Cold-water wax is specifically designed to stay soft and sticky in waters 15 degrees Celsius and below, whereas traditional wax will become hard and slick.
West Coast Surf Spots
In both summer and winter the most popular surf town in Canada is easily Tofino. Surfers have been flocking to Tofino since the 1960s. Year-round, Tofino hosts some of the best swells in Canada. Chesterman Beach is the favourite spot for beginners in the summer, but cold-water surfers should be at more of an advanced level. The even more advanced surfers should head to Cox Bay in all seasons to get the larger swells. And of course, perennial favourite Long Beach is always an option.
Just 20 km south of Tofino lies another favourite West Coast surfing hotspot. Unlike the sandy beaches of Tofino, Ucluelet sports a more ominous rocky coastline. However, Ucluelet is considered a secret spot for more hard-core surfers. The major problem with Ucluelet is that it is the kind of "locals only" location that can make surfing frustrating in any season. Those new to the area really have to muscle up to the local scene to weasel out some of the best spots.
East Coast Surf Spots
Halifax, Nova Scotia
Nova Scotia has a decent summer surfing scene, but it really draws in the winter surfers. Surprisingly, quite a bit of good surf can be found right around Halifax — though locals can be reluctant to share their favourite spots. However, there are tons of little beaches just waiting to be discovered; just cruise the beaches and go where the waves are. For those that do not have time to look for the good surf, a Halifax-area favourite is Lawrencetown Beach, just 25 km south of Halifax. Lawrencetown has been a beloved surfing hotspot since the ‘70s due to its near-perfect swells.
Queens County, Nova Scotia
For the more hard-core surfers, the best swells are found in Queens County. White Point Beach is the most well known local spot for surfing, but it can get a bit touristy because of the resort nearby. For a more secluded surf spot, consider Eagle Head Beach instead of White Point. It has beautiful swells without the crowds.