S2 Beach Beat - Winter Surfing Survival Tips

June 30, 2020

Feel that southerly today!! It has been fairly mild lately with the northwest flow, but that will change heading into July. 
Surfing the winter can be very rewarding, if you can handle the cold you'll get more waves and catch some epic swells.

Crowds generally thin out as the temp's drop. NZ's turbulent and windy winters make picking those wind/swell windows really important. Hopefully we can help with that (Outlook surf reporter charts) and get you into some good waves. This past weekend was a good example on the East Coast. We had fronts coming through, but some areas offered really good waves, and getting on the road and out there feels great.

I've put together a few tips gained over many NZ winters, and Matt Hall from Stitched UP chimes in with an expert overview of current wetsuit tech - the good news there are plenty of excellent wetsuit options out there in 2020.

Above: As the water and ambient temp's drop lineups thin out. If you're prepared with the right gear, you'll score.

Gear Up and enjoy winter surfing

The key point is gear up and don’t be frugal - Invest in the best wetsuit/gear you can.

I notice that in general surfers these days part with more cash on surfboards and multi-board quivers these days (more boards than we really need), and you’ll see guys with old wetsuits sometimes many seasons old with the latest surfboard tech under their arms.
It’s great to have four boards for different conditions, but doesn’t make sense if you’re sitting out there freezing in an old wettie.

The latest suits are not only extremely warm, but they offer excellent flex too - having that paddle flex in cold water is as important as being warm.
There is something about cold water that saps your energy a little quicker during a session.

The key problem these days, is brands don’t really market their suits. You have to hunt out and research online.

Make sure you buy a wetsuit with fully sealed/taped seams. Visit your local surf shop for the best expert advice!

A brand new suit, you’ll notice is so much warmer than a wetsuit used for a season or two. It’s more sealed and the rubber remains in good condition.

Most NZ regions in the North you can get away with a 3’2” easy these days, head down south more and you’ll want a 4.’3” (Gizzy and Taranaki South).
South Island is a whole different zone - you’ll need some serious 'mm' added, along with hood, gloves and booties.

All the big brands offer great wetsuits for decades of R&D. Billabong, Rip Curl, Quiksilver, O'Neill. NZ company SeventhWave offers great NZ made wetsuits.

Try Wearing A Hood

If you're struggling to get to the beach and in the water in those real cold days get a hood.  Cold water becomes a non event with a good wetsuit hood.
The painful first brain freeze duck dives disappear, those cold winds become less of an issue - once you try it, you won’t go back.
You lose most of your heat through your head, so covering up will allow longer sessions and less of that cold water energy sapping effect.
And most hoods (usually 1.5mm to 2mm) allow you to slide them back during a session if ambient conditions warm up.
Covering up is also very beneficial to combat surfers ear. A hood will help hold ear plugs in place and allow for warmer water moving around your ears and ear plugs, all gotta help.

Surfers Ear - Wear Plugs and Don't Stop

Cold water is an ear killer for surfers. If you plan to surf, wear ear plugs and don't stop. If you've currently battling surfers ear, wear plugs and from my experience it will go away over a year two. The key is to avoid surgery if you can, that procedure is prone to complications.
I started getting ear infections years ago, ear plugs stopped those and allowed me to manage the condition better and see improvement over time.
If you have bad surfers ear, make sure you see your GP.


Many surfers wear them and they will keep you super toasty during the cold months. Personally I don't wear them as I find they restrict feet movement around the board, I've never been able to get used to them. I find a great suit and a hood on cold days is more than adequate (for central to upper North IL anyway).

Above: If you invest in quality gear, cold water surfing can become very comfortable and definitely more fun.

Current State of Wetsuits / Matt Hall - StitchedUp Wetsuits & Repairs
By Matt Hall / Stitched UP Wetsuits & Repairs

How good is current wetsuit tech? With the emphasis on flex, are you seeing durability with new tech?

I think the new technology coming through in the latest wetsuits is great for comfort, warmth & flexibility. You don't get the durability you use to get but that's the price you pay for lightweight wetsuits. Neoprene's have really evolved in the last 15 years, lime based green neoprene's, Patagonia has developed wetsuit rubber from rubber plants and in production. Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the USA have a team of people working on a rubber concept based on Otter fur (mmmm).

The rubber tech / which stands out for you? Are suits warmer these days?
With the advent of the latest thermal and super stretch linings and lightweight flexible neoprene manufacturers have been able to cut down on the thickness of neoprene without scarifying any warmth and that’s great for surfing the colder winter days. Neoprene has always been a great thermal layer its still just as warm now and even more so with the thermal linings. Thermal linings is where its at internally, but you cant beat a good smooth skin wetsuit for cutting down the wind chill.

For surfers wanting a great wetsuit, would you have any advice for them?
There’s a few different ways to purchase wetsuits these days, online or your trusted local surf shop are a couple. If you know your size and you are loyal to a particular brand then online is a good way to go, you know what your getting. However nothing beats going into your local surf store! My advice is to try on two or three different brands in chest zip, back zip or zip free, see and feel what feels the best. Are they fully taped in side, what linings are they running etc. My advice is the best wetsuit for you is the one that fits you the best! There are so many brands to choose from these days. Ask the surf shop sales person for help, there's never a dumb question and they will be able to advise you.

How do the top brands stack ups these days, Rip Curl, Billabong, Quik and O’Neill?

The big four have been around forever especially Rip Curl & O’Neill. They have been at the forefront of wetsuit manufacture for over 60 years. Nowadays they are all mostly manufactured by the same company in Thailand. While you are getting specific features aligned to those brands e.g. cut, fit, design, linings etc they are all basically the same. Seventh Wave wetsuits have been going since 1987, they are a great New Zealand wetsuit manufacturer up against a flood of imported wetsuits who have managed to survive. If you're all about supporting NZ made then go buy a Seventh Wave wetsuit! There are many new brands out there, some are price focused but with all the features of the big brands, Vissla, ISC, C-Skins, Patagonia, Need, to name a few. 
What is the most common repair you get and do with steamers?

Most repairs are caused by the customer, they are the ones wearing the suit, wearing out the knees, tearing the underarm seams, ripping the bib or tearing out the chest zip all usually done while putting or taking off their wetsuits. Some think its a warranty job and a failure of the wetsuit manufacturing but mostly its the customer doing the damage. I do a lot of chest zip replacements not all Chest Zip brands, but its all basically general wear and tear and with all the super soft neoprene they wear out a lot quicker.
Are any wetsuit designs prone to failure (especially with the new entry designs - top and over the head entry suits etc…?)
Are these designs strong enough to last?

The biggest manufacturing failure is the liquid/fluid seam technology. I don't know why brands keep using it. When it starts failing, cracking & peeling  there's nothing worse to repair. If they can perfect it then maybe it is the way to go. The internal super stretch lining Extend is really not a great product, I see a lot of de-lamination and velcro damage with this lining. The zip free wetsuits take a hiding with big bodies getting in and out off that small opening, get a few in pretty torn up in the back & front Bib area, all repairable though, I've even fitted zips to these wetsuits. Chest zip models same as the zip free wear n tear wise, all repairable.
From your view do NZ surfers hang on to old suits for too long?
What happens to a wetsuit as it ages? How long should we keep a suit before upgrading?
Back in the old days some guys were proud saying they have been wearing the same suit for 10 years, not so good for business though. Generally Kiwis love their gear to last but with the advent of the softer neoprene's they are happy to get 2-3 winters out of a wetsuit, its just accepted now. When neoprene starts to age the elastomer in the linings starts to breakdown, normally in shoulders, elbows, wrist, ankles and butt areas, the lining gets thin and whitish looking, seams breakdown, leaks appear and then they bring them to me. I reckon 1-2 seasons if you surf a lot maybe 2-3 seasons if you don’t. There's nothing better than pulling on a brand new wettie and hitting the surf.
Any tips for surfing winter in NZ?
As I’ve aged I find it a bit more challenging to get up for a cold winter surf, so a 2 litre bottle of hot water to tip over yourself after the surf is welcome on a cold day. There's heaps of new products available now days, Hooded towels neoprene hoods & boots, thermal vests. changing mats etc all to keep you out there longer and they all work great! Even the old kidney belt is still a good way to go if you want to beef up you 3/2 or 4/3, just a flat shaped piece of neoprene with velcro which you wrap around your waist before you get into your wetsuit.
Any advice on wetsuit care to get more time our of a suit?
I’ve always used a plastic bin for the back of the car. You can get yourself a good bin, cheap as from Mitre 10. You can put your wet wettie in there after a surf and use it to wash it out in fresh water when you get home. Drip dry it on a nice wide hanger in the breeze, sun if you have too but don't leave it baking out there till your next surf, UV is the main destroyer of neoprene! If you can always wash/rinse your wetsuit out, there's wetsuit shampoos available which will kill any bacteria or stink coming from your wetsuit. Spray your zips with silicone spray every now and then, keeps them running free. By all means take a piss in your wetsuit, doesn't make you a bad person, just wash it out before you bring it to me for repair please! A dry sand free, piss free, salt free wetsuit is still better to put on than a stink one and even better for me to repair! Take your time putting on and taking off your wetsuit! pull it up into your crutch then as far up into your chest, with chest zips put your right arm in first and then your left arm, make sure your zips are completely open before hand, then reverse the technique when taking off, left arm first etc
Matt Hall / Stitched Up Wetsuits & Repairs, Papamoa
Matt started making wetsuits in 1979 with 2001/Aleeda Wetsuits, and spent 5 years learning the trade. He spent 6 months with Peak Wetsuits in Sydney then onto GUL Wetsuits in Cornwall for 6 months. Started Bodyline Wetsuits in 1988 operating through to 2013. Matt started Stitched Up Wetsuit Repairs in 2016 as a part time after work weekend service and its gone from strength to strength. 

Paul Brunskill / SURF2SURF
I started surfing at the Main Beach, Mt Maunganui mid-winter 1981, NO WETSUIT. This was the first time I stood up catching the whitewater, and that hypothermic/euphoric moment sent me on a lifelong journey & love for surfing. 30 years later and I'm more addicted (and challenged) by surfing than ever. Keeping it going through winter does get tough as you age, but with the right gear it is fun and very worthwhile.
My current wetsuit is an O'Neill HyperFreak 3'2" Chest Zip (TB3-X / TB3 Neoprene / Fully Taped Seams) - This is my second winter in this suit and it is awesome, best suit I've owned. I also wear a Rip Curl 2mm Hood/cap during the colder months. On the board front, I just added 2 litres for winter with a JS Black Box III - Great to have a little more foam/paddle for winter.

S2 Beach Beat is open to NZ surfers. If you have an article and photo's to submit, send them through. We welcome good news, balanced viewpoints, reviews, trips/missions anything positive.