Now that November is here, it’s safe to say the halcyon days of summer are over. The days are getting shorter and the water temperature is starting to cool down. Christmas is just around the corner. The cold water days loom, ever closer.
Oh dear. For us surfers it might seem like the end of days. The boots and mitts go on, the hood is retrieved from the darkest corner of the garage. Paddling out makes you feel weak; restricted by inches of rubber. You spend the evenings googling The Maldives, Morrocco, Fuerteventura. Can you last another winter?
The answer, of course, is YES YOU CAN!!! Winter is a great time to be a surfer on our hallowed islands. With deep lows creating big swells, sections of coast that have been asleep all summer start to stir and come alive. Nooks and crannies, silent since spring, burst to life with the rumbling of white water and the cracking of lips. This means you can get in the van and go searching, camp away from the usual crowds and live that joyful, outdoor life you’ve been loving all summer long.
Here at Saltrock we love surfing and camping, whatever the weather, so we asked our friend Martin Dorey – himself a survivor of over 30 UK surfing winters - to compile a guide to SURVIVING THAT WINTER SURFING CAMPER VAN TRIP.
Ready? With thoughts of hidden Devon corners, Dorset reefs and Bournemouth bommies, let’s hit the road.
Winter can be harsh if you are living in a van. It can often be cold, dark, windy and wet. So you need to be prepared for the worst. Pack a few extra layers of Saltrock clothing, as well as long johns, woollies and a Surfanic waterproof coat in case it gets really bad. If you don’t need it, so what? If you do, you’ll be glad you packed it.
Check out the Top 10 Winter Warmers for more warm clothing!
It can also pay to pack a few extra supplies in case you get clear, still nights and fancy making the most of the sunset. An axe, firelighters and a fire pit (www.outdoor-kitchen.biz) will enable you to light up a fire to warm your hands when the sun goes down. A bag of dry logs will guarantee a decent flame while the fire pit will make sure you don’t scorch the grass.
My number one gripe about winter. Having surfed and camped in the snow, ice and rain, I can tell you that having cold feet is going to make you very miserable indeed, so it’s vital to look after them. They will get cold when you change into your wetsuit, may get wet (and cold) when you’re schlepping across fields to scope new spots and will take ages to thaw out when you get out of the water. Inevitably, no matter how warm and cosy your van is, your feet will be the last to know about it. So, come on people. Give them some love. Cosy toes are happy toes. And happy toes goes all the way to the nose….right? Get some socks to keep your feet happy here: https://www.saltrock.com/accessories/footwear/socks
It might sound like a laugh, but it’s no joke sleeping in a board bag. Firstly, you’ll wake up with pointed toes (unless you ride a long board), secondly, board bags aren’t that warm. Trust me, I know. Having slept in a board bag a couple of times during cold Welsh winters I can confirm that it’s not fun.
So you remembered to bring the bag. But is it the right one? Sleeping bags are temperature rated set by a European Standard (EN13537) in predetermined laboratory tests. Their upper limit/maximum rating is the highest temperature at which you can sleep comfortably without sweating, the comfort rating is the temperature at which a standard woman can have a comfortable night’s sleep, the lower limit/minimum rating is the lowest temperature at which a standard man can have a comfortable night’s sleep and the extreme rating is the point at which the standard woman will be protected from hypothermia.
The shape and style of your sleeping bag will also determine how warm it is, with mummy shapes being warmest. The season of the bag will also have a bearing on how warm it is.
- One season bags are for use in a hot climate.
- Two season bags are for use in temperatures above 9C.
- Three season bags are for temperatures as low as 0C.
- Four Season bags are designed for winter backpacking or climbing or for people sleeping in an uninsulated van.
Your body needs fuel to keep itself running at the optimum level and to fight off cold. That means eating properly on your surf trips. And by that I don’t mean scoffing cold pasties from the garage or living off sarnies and Liquorice Allsorts (although many have tried). You need proper fodder to keep you going, so make sure you try and cook a good, hot meal every day with lots of carbohydrates for energy. One pot pasta dishes are great as they make less mess in the van. Try the Pasta with sausages, chili, fennel seeds and spinach from The Camper Van Cookbook for starters, and check out our Top Tips for Campfire Cookery!
And when it comes to staying hydrated, I have one thing to say: get the kettle on! If you are in a van then you have a cooker, so stop blathering about and make us a cuppa!
As we approach the shortest day on 21st December we’re rapidly losing light, not only to surf but also to live, eat and hang out. On the shortest day we can expect around 8 hours of daylight, so, unless you want to waste all that lovely time, living with the light makes a lot of sense. Get up at dawn - rather than when your body clock tells you – and be ready to see the sun come up. Being up at first light, in the winter, when it’s crisp and cold and you’re well wrapped up to see what the new day’s waves will bring, is a very special time. Plus you’ll be paddling out before anyone else gets there. Come night time you’ll be tired enough to get to bed early. But not too early. On the shortest day the sun goes down as early as 4.00pm! That’s before the pub opens!!! Maybe pack the Scrabble too, eh?
Winter is a brilliant time to check clear skies for the northern lights, simply because there is so much darkness. There are times (albeit rare) when the aurora borealis can be seen in the south of the UK, but if you are surfing further north you may stand a chance of seeing them, especially if you are camping in an area with little light pollution. Northern Ireland and Scotland are the best places to get a sighting.
Check out https://aurorawatch.lancs.ac.uk/alerts/ for UK alerts.
You know the score: you hang up your wetsuit outside the van to dry, but it never does, and it’s covered in frost. Come the dawnie, you’re going to have to be brave and pull it on. Just don’t hang about. If you do it slowly you’ll get cold. Pull it on as fast as possible and then do a few star jumps. Wetsuits work best when you are moving about, warming up the water inside with your body heat. So stop pussy footing around and get on with it!!!
Don't forget a hoodie for throwing on afterwards either to help you warm up!
I know you’re hardcore and all that. But after a few days living in a van, it’s nice to be able to have a proper hot shower, clean the sand out of your crevices, plug into the mains, log on to the wifi and live a little. If you’ve got electricity then a small fan heater can warm up the van for when you get back from the pub or just before you venture out into the half-light of dawn. There are lots of really good sites around the coast that are open all year, have heated toilet blocks and that will allow you to get back to normal after a hard day being a hero.
The Caravan and Motorhome Club has sites all over the UK. Join up and enjoy discounts (and heated shower blocks). www.caravanclub.co.uk
If the surf is flat, blown out or just not worth getting wet for, do something constructive by getting out of the van and doing the beach a favour. Beach cleaning is a fantastic way to give back to your beach and to warm yourself up. The activity will keep you warm and the kudos you’ll get from the other beach goers will make that smile on your face just that little bit brighter. All you do is spend a few minutes picking up beach plastics. Hey presto! You’re leaving the beach nicer than it was when you arrived, are giving back to nature and are getting some exercise. Bravo!
See www.beachclean.net for more.
Martin Dorey is a surfer, cook and camper van traveller. He was the presenter of a BBC2 TV show called One Man and his Campervan and has written 3 books on the subject of four wheeled living and two ringed cooking. He is currently writing and researching a book about the UK’s best campervan journeys, Take the Slow Road.