When you think about the best spots for surfing, the sunny, temperate shorelines of Australia, Hawaii and California are likely the first locales to come to mind. But thanks to advances in wetsuit technology, surfing is becoming increasingly popular in frostier destinations, too.
If you've ever surfed, you'll know there are plenty of risks, including drowning, rip currents, marine wildlife and collisions with rocks, seabeds, other surfers or even your own board. With cold water surfing, there's another thing you need to be worried about — hypothermia. In near-freezing waters, it takes only a couple of minutes before this dangerous condition sets in, which is why it's so important to be equipped with the proper gear.
As professional kiteboarder Trip Forman advises, "cold water surfing is 50 percent attitude and 50 percent gear." Meaning, while a big part of this sport requires an adventurous resolve to get out there and embrace the frigid water for what it is, you're not going to have a fun (or even safe) experience without a thick wetsuit and a set of leak-free boots and gloves.
So where does an intrepid surfer find the best cold water surfing spots? All over the world, actually! Here's a few frosty destinations that boast top-notch surfing.
Norway is famous for its progressive lifestyle and spectacular views of the aurora borealis, but did you know it's also home to the world's northernmost surfing competition — the Lofoten Masters? The Lofoten islands' thriving cold water surfer scene was even spotlighted in a gorgeous New York Times feature, so yeah, it's safe to say Norway has solidified itself as a global surfing destination.
Who doesn't have Iceland on their bucket list? While many tourists come to gaze out at the rugged volcanic landscapes and witness the bubbling geothermal features, surfers from around the world come to catch waves in Reykjavik and beyond. According to Icelandic tour operator Arctic Surfer, "Iceland has all kinds of breaks, from beach breaks and mellow pointbreaks to heavy reef slabs that can be found all over the island. Here you can expect everything from mellow 3-4 feet waves up to powerful slab and tuby reefs brakes."
With a coastline stretching 2,653 miles from north to south, Chile has no shortage of excellent surfing beaches. This is especially true for the northern half of the country, but the city that stands out above all is Pichilemu. Located a couple hours outside of Santiago, Pichilemu is considered the country's surf capital, and its dark sand beaches are home to several annual competitions.
While many of the most frigid cold water surfing destinations have only recently become more mainstream in the past couple decades, the sport has been present in Ireland for more than half a century. There are some truly excellent surf-friendly beaches up along the west coast of Ireland, though the surf capital of the island is undoubtedly the town of Bundoran in County Donegal.
Southern California doesn't get to have all the fun! A thousand miles to the north, you'll find one of Canada's top surfing spots: Tofino. Surfing in Tofino has been a mainstay since the 1970s, and there's even a major surfing competition that calls this place home — the O'Neill Cold Water Classic. Three of the most popular beaches for surfing in Tofino are Chesterman Beach, Cox Bay and Long Beach.
Obviously, if you can surf in Canada, why not try going a little bit more north to check out the surf scene along Alaska's rugged coastline? Your best bet for surfing in Alaska is to ride the enormous swells of the Yakutat Bay — a body of water within the Gulf of Alaska that is about halfway between Juneau and Anchorage.
If you're looking to surf in a place where few have tried, then book a trip to Antarctica. While not nearly as accessible as Ireland or Canada, Antarctica offers thrills and swells like no other. Just ask Ramón Navarro, the first (and so far, only) person to brave these icy waters. Will you be the second?