Surfing unbelievably cold water [PICs]
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Matador Ambassador Chris Burkard and a select crew of surfers are pushing new limits of surf and surf photography.
EDITOR’S NOTE: CHRIS BURKARD and his crew are realizing the potential unlocked by Jack O’Neil, who invented wetsuits in the early 1950s. The crew, which includes surf explorers such as Keith Malloy and Trevor Gordon, is continuously surfing previously unexplored regions of Russia, Iceland, Norway, Patagonia, and the Arctic.
As you’re perusing these images, consider two things. First: Many of these trips involve the crew basing out of camps set up in remote wilderness areas far from hospitals and civilization. Second: It’s one thing to surf frigid water; it’s another to actually be swimming in the water, no board, but just your suit and fins and camera, trying to get the shot.
[All photos by Chris Burkard]
With Iceland being such a small island, the weather patterns are constantly in flux. Swell and storms can move quickly across the country. One day could have rain, the next snow, and the next hail. You really have to motivate yourself to get out of a warm car and trek through the elements to the surf. As the photographer, it's my job to motivate the guys to get out and surf when the weather is telling most of us stay put. In reality, I wouldn’t mind sitting and watching the waves from the car, but then you think to yourself...what am I doing, this is Iceland! How many people get a chance to surf here?
I never truly knew cold until I went to Norway. It was surreal to be in such cold weather, when most surf trips are in warm-water regions. Waking up in the morning with your wetsuit almost frozen to the point of it breaking into pieces is an interesting experience. Out in the water, my hands would turn into bricks and my body would do its best to get me out. You really have to rely on the simplest of modern conveniences to just keep warm. White-out blizzards for hours at a time only to awake and paddle into frozen water is something mentally I could never have prepared for.
Ireland, just like Iceland, is an isolated island, and thus the weather is constantly changing. When searching for surf at places like this, you really have to take advantage of any days that provide decent waves, because the next could turn from sun to downpour. The cold in Ireland mainly comes from the fact that you always feel damp. The constant wet climate never allows you to really thaw out. With many deep-water slabs scattered along the coastline churning with cold-water currents, I had no hesitation wanting to get in the water -- there, I'd be as cold and wet as I had been all day.
In many cold-wave locations you can still travel by car and use that as your main source of warmth. Canada is very different, because almost every good spot is only accessible by boat. You have to bring all your gear with you and be prepared for any of the elements Canada is able to produce. Best-case scenario is sunny skies and calm sea, but more often it'll be victory at sea while you try and hold in your lunch.
When surfing the South Island of New Zealand the water temps where definitely frigid, but the wind chill was what really made it cold. Each surf check turns into an adventure as you drive down roads leading to dead ends, only to then navigate through a series of ranch fencing to get a view of the surf. All the while the wind is howling and the thought of having to change into a wetsuit is not a welcoming one. The South Island has some rugged coastline where you can go days surfing without seeing a soul. The potential is limitless with surf, but thick neoprene and a resistance to raw elements are definitely a must in this part of the country.
To get good surf in Washington, you have to know where to go and when to be there. You can’t just aimlessly wonder around hoping to see a peak from your car as you drive. Getting to surf requires long remote treks through obscure overgrown trails that are lush with vegetation and vacant of any signage. Most of the time you're plenty wet before you even enter the water. While surfing a freshwater inlet the tide began to change, bringing truly frigid water into the lineup. It was definitely a shock to my body as the water temps began to drop within minutes. Back at camp, I did my best to dry my suit by the beach fire, though I knew it was useless, because shortly we'd be hiking back along the overgrown trail trying to retrace our steps to the car.
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