A Downshifter’s Guide To Resilient Stoke
On 31st October, mid way between the autumnal equinox and the winter solstice is the Celtic festival of Samhain, a celebration of the start of both winter and a new year.
There are reasons for the modern surfer to celebrate, too. It’s almost certainly your best chance of surfing a 6ft wave without a hood. If you’re lucky, it might be done with the leaves still on the trees, a glorious rendition of mid-latitude littoral zone living at its finest. I had one such Lynmouth sesh in 1995, the steep hillside glowing in golden leaf turning beauty. I rode the longest waves I’ve ever ridden, with only two of us out. If I think about it for long enough, I can still make myself cry.
As for most of the rest of the year though, we’re conflicted. Surfers are just like civilians when it comes to wanting what we haven’t got. When it’s summer and flat, we act like winter is some kind of raw, empty surfing utopia. Then when it comes, it can seem to mainly entail driving past flooded fields with windscreen wipers on full speed, shredded plastic caught in the bare branches of trees while gales whip up swells in car park puddles, illumination mainly coming in the sulphur glow of petrol station forecourt lighting.
Needless to say, on very such days, we inevitably yearn for the balmy flat days of July, a garden beer in bare feet after a 1/2ft foamie sesh, and the circle of futility is complete.
Here’s a particularly sobering prospect; walk down to your local this Samhain, and dip your finger in the drink – it’s not going to be this ‘warm’ again until June 2021.
Pre-Covid, a winter escape was on the cards for many folk, be it extravagant or inexpensive – maybe southern Europe somewhere, maybe further afield. While travel might still technically be do-able to certain degrees, it doesn’t feel like a great time to be staking your general well-being on a flight to lower latitudes. Winter 20/21 feels more like a long season of digging in and hunkering down.
“Sick and yet happy, in peril and yet happy, dying and yet happy, in exile and happy, in disgrace and happy” – Epictetus
And while Preppers are a generally maligned group (with a brief period of semi-vindication in March 2020), not all of their practices are without merit. Your longest winter hopefully won’t require you filling booby trapped underground bunkers with tinned goods, ammo and 12V batteries for the zombie apocalypse, but a bit of preparation seems sensible.
Assuming weather and climate are things you can’t control, let’s focus on those you can. Do we mean update your wetsuit, accessories and surfboard? Certainly – as well as every single other aspect of life as you know it.
Try Not To Blow Your 5 mil Wad Too Early
Probably the most important seasonal timing decision you’ll make is when to switch to full winter rubber. You’ll encounter an urge to go too early, a particularly cold early November snap might lure you into premature deployment. ‘Fuck this’ you’ll resolve, after a particularly chilly and unfulfilling sesh, head into your local surf shack (forward slash soul-less online retailer) and reequip. And that’s fine.
But if possible, hold off wearing it for as long as you can, as close to Christmas as possible. Think of winter as the onrushing oppressor on a medieval battlefield (probably the English), and your inner voice as the charismatic leader of the outnumbered outlaw goodies. “Hold!” he implores (anguished looks from toothless, oppressed peasants… deafening gallop of the overlords’ cavalry thundering ever closer) “Hold!” …. (etc)…. CHA-ARGE!
Broadly speaking, in life you’re generally always much better off going early, rather than on-time-that-feels-late.
But not in the switch from 3/2 to 5/4/3.
What Is Cold, Anyway?
Winter isn’t actually that cold. Sure, in our most recent guise as centrally heated softies, we’ve narrowed our temperature tolerance range much more than most comparable animals, but it’s not that hard to get it back. Homo sapiens anatomically identical to us lived through the last glacial maximum; about 30 000 years of ice age across Europe with average temperatures 11-20 degrees colder than today. If they can keep the genome alive by foraging berries and chasing mammoths off cliffs (although most neolithic diets were almost entirely vegetarian) you can put on a wet wetsuit on.
While the healing powers of cold water have recently come to the fore as something to be sought out as opposed to avoided/tolerated, mainly by ‘Iceman’ Wim Hof‘s app based cult, people have long known the benefits of icy immersion. Egyptian papyrus from 1600 BCE espouse cold water immersion therapy, while today your pampered Premier League millionaire teenager routinely goes into a -80deg C cryo chamber after every 90 minutes of rolling around feigning injury.
The Modern Stoicism Revival
Now that we’ve navigated the riddles of the material and physiological, let’s consider your most potent winter weaponry of all – mind power. With the appropriate outlook, you can turn survival into revelry. Embracing the darker times for what they are – instead of seeing winter as a shit version of summer – is achievable through the teachings of the stoicism movement.
Not to be confused with the British bastardisation of the word stoic (your stiff upper lip, sent away to boarding school aged 3 sociopaths), Stoicism is a philosophy of personal ethics informed by logic and the natural world.
“Accepting the moment as it presents itself, by not allowing oneself to be controlled by the desire for pleasure or fear of pain, by using one’s mind to understand the world and to do one’s part in nature’s plan” can make the winter surfer resilient to misfortune.
Sure, neither Stoicism founder Zeno of Citium nor its famed freed slave practitioner Epictetus had to perform 300 icy duckdives just to get to snaffle a few 2ft brown water closeouts, but consider the latter’s most famous mantra, “Sick and yet happy, in peril and yet happy, dying and yet happy, in exile and happy, in disgrace and happy” and its almost as if he had the exact plight of the Wavelength reading winter surfer in mind.
Very best of luck.
Cover image: Lewis Arnold