Sunday, October 18, 2009

Cold weather windsurfing Do's and Don'ts

Yesterday, my wife and I went windsurfing when it was rather chilly - temperatures in the 40s (about 5 degrees Celsius), no sun, and wind above 20 knots. This was planned as a pretty short tip, but ended up even shorter than planned due to a few problems. This blog describes what worked and what did not work as a list of Do's and Don'ts.

Don't: Use O'Neill Psycho gloves
During my last trip to a windsurf store in Boston, I had bought a pair of O'Neill 3 mm Psycho gloves. They felt very warm and comfortable in the store, so leaving without them seemed like a bad idea. My wife ordered a pair from the web since they did not have her size.
We used them the first time yesterday. My lower arms were sore after just a few minutes - something that usually does not happen anymore. Keeping the fingers bent in these gloves just takes to much effort. I managed by (a) concentrating on committing to the harness, and (b) bending the fingers less, and relying to some extend on the friction from the neoprene gloves. That was ok, but it kept me from trying any interesting tricks.
My wive has much smaller hands, and she found her gloves impossible to use. She could not hold the mast when tacking, which led to a few unwanted waterstarts. She took the gloves off after a few run, and surfed without gloves instead.
I was a bit surprised here, since I had used Glacier gloves from LL Bean or REI before without any problems. They are also neoprene and look similar. However, the neoprene is quite a bit thinner, and bending the fingers is a lot easier.
I think the problem is that O'Neill makes gear for surfing, not for windsurfing. No need to bend the fingers much in surfing, so I bet the gloves are great if you surf without a sail.

Do: Get an Ion 5/4 semidry wetsuit
My wife had recently bought a dry suit, and I got an Ion 5/4 semidry suit because the store did not have a dry suit in my size. We used the new suits for the first time yesterday. I was perfectly happy with my suit. The arms felt a bit cold while at the beach, but were perfectly fine on and in the water. During waterstarts, some water entered through the zipper on the back, but the bib over the zipper worked fine to keep it from trickling down, and the amount of water was pretty small, so I did not get cold. A really nice feature on this suit are the little holes on the lower leg that allow water to escape. They worked perfectly fine, my lower legs remained pretty dry and comfortably warm. When taking the suit off after the session, most if it was just barely damp - "semidry" is indeed an accurate description. In short, I love this suit. No suprise you see many pro windsurfers with Ion suits and/or logos.

Don't: Get long hair caught in the dry suit seals
My wife was not quite as happy with her dry suit - she thought it was leaky, mainly at the top of her back. When I opened her zipper, her fleece sweater looked pretty dry. A closer look showed that some of her hair had been caught in the seal around her neck. It seems that a bit of water entered around the hair, and dripped down. Not much, but enough to make her feel chilly. I believe that the hair was the entire problem; when I go snorkeling without shaving my mustache, a lot of water enters my mask around the nose, since the seal is not tight. To get the dry suit to be really dry, shaving should not be needed - we'll just have to check for stray hair that's caught in the seal next time.

Do: stay warm when changing
One big advantage of dry suits is that changing out of it is easy, since you can keep wearing the layer(s) you had on underneath. Changing out of a tightly fitting neoprene suit can be more of a problem when it's cold and windy. Changing in the car is not an option for me - I drive a Civic, and there's just not enough room. I'm not planning to get a van anytime soon, either.
However, the solution is simple: get a little self-expanding popup tent ($35) and a camping gas heater ($65) from The tent sets up in 15 seconds, including putting some weight in and on it so it does not get blown away. The heater makes it nice and warm in a few minutes, despite the small two mesh windows on the sides. I also brought a small foam pad along, and changed into and out of my suit rather comfortably (and without having to worry about getting ticketed for indecent exposure).

Do: cover your head and feet
You loose most heat through your head, followed by your feet, so covering your hear is essential, and covering the feet is a great idea. I was wearing a neoprene beanie and a helmet; the helmet was primarily to keep the beanie in place. My wife had a neoprene hat with a small chin strap. Both solutions worked well. To keep the feet warm, I was wearing 0.5 mm hydroskin socks under 3 mm neoprene surf shoes; my wife used the same socks and 7 mm O'Neill boots. My feet were fine, hers were toasty, which she liked.

Overall, this surf session had a surreal quality for me. With the beanie and helmet on my head, I did not hear much. Together with the thicker suit and foot gear, I almost felt disconnected from my equipment. I was almost surprised everytime I got into my footstraps and planed easily. The place we went to was really flat for 20+ knots of wind, and easy to sail. So I had some fun, even though I did not feel like trying any new tricks, or even trying to go really fast (I had forgotten to bring the GPS).

Because of the glove problems and the water dripping into her dry suit, my wife did not have much fun. We ended up keeping the session pretty short; but the tide was going out quickly, and it would have been too shallow to keep surfing soon afterwards, anyway.

We'll definitely go again soon, though. We're hoping for a bit higher temperatures (50s would be nice, 60s a dream), and maybe some sun. More important, however, will be to get something to keep my wife's hands warn. Cutting out the palm and inner fingers of the gloves is one possible solution... but that kind of hurts to do that to new $45 gloves.

Yesterday's session was more adventure than fun - but that's generally true when windsurfing in unusual conditions. I'll never forget the story one of my favorite windsufing teachers, Tulpe, told me in Cabarete. A windsurfer who had surfed a lot in Margarita, and thought she was pretty good, came to Cabarete. After the first day in the high chop and waves there, she ended up in tears because she felt like a total beginner again - nothing had worked. The same thing happened to many others that were used to flat water, and it happens to me when I surf in Kalmus or Ned's Point for the first time after spending a lot of time in Bonaire and Fogland. But after getting used to the unusual conditions for a few hours or days, the pure fun usually returns.

1 comment:

  1. Other good ideas:

    Rigging gloves: a pair of inexpensive gloves to keep your hands warm while rigging (don't use your on the water gloves for this...they all wear out too soon so save them for sailing.)

    Frequent short breaks: They work!

    Helmet: Improves the performance of your hood in very cold weather...also increases your general safety factor.

    Take care of your drysuit or heavy wetsuit: Baby the thing...cuts or leaks in this gear are much worse than in thinner neoprene. Don't leave it overnight in a crumpled pile (I've learned the hard way this can stress glued seams to come apart.)

    I sail year round in the haven't sailed in the cold until you're brushing ice off of your sail! (well yeah you probably have, but on the sail is something!)