Bio - Eric L. Mihelbergel is an intermediate/advanced windsurfer, kiteboarder, and foiler living in the Great Lakes Region of New York State who enjoys sharing about windsports and fitness.
Coping With The Cold In Wind Driven Water Sports
By Eric Mihelbergel (Written 2017)
Windsurfing and kitesurfing in western New York can be damn cold in the spring and autumn. But I'm NOT staying home. I have poor circulation in my hands and feet, but I have still found ways to stay on the water. Here are a few things I've done that may help you.
1. Keep your core warm - As a general rule, I do not ride if the air and/or water temperature are below 40 degrees fahrenheit. But from there it starts with keeping your core warm. Both wetsuits and drysuits work, but I personally prefer a drysuit when it gets really cold. The current drysuit that I'm wearing is a breatheable fabric. It has built-in feet, and the main zipper is diagonal across the front. This is the zipper that I recommend. You can open and close it easily by yourself. The horizontal zipper across the front is still difficult to open or close on your own, and the horizontal zipper across the back requires either another person to help you or a hook on a line attached to the roof rack of your car. I have latex seals on the wrists and neck of my current drysuit. My previous suit had a neoprene neck seal which I did NOT like. It was too thick and bulky. I cut the latex neck seal on my current suit fairly loose. I don't like it tight on my neck, and it still seals just fine without being super tight. Make sure you only cut off small amounts at a time when you trim the seals, and stretch it each time you cut. One of the best features of my suit is the relief zipper. With the relief zipper you don't have to take off the suit when you have to pee. When it's cold I wear 3 layers of mid-weight polypropylene under my drysuit.
2. Keep your hands warm - This is THE MOST DIFFICULT part of cold weather sailing for me. I've tried all kinds of different things to keep my hands warm. I have lousy circulation in my hands compared to other people, but here is what I do. Dakine makes a mitten that is thick neoprene on the back of the hand and a thin fabric on the palm. This is the best mitten I've found. It works pretty well. The palm is not too thick, so you can hold onto the boom without your forearms blowing out, and the back of the mitten has thicker neoprene to keep the wind off. Under these mittens I wear a very thin pair of nitrile gloves. Now, I'm sure some of you are still thinking, "My forearms are gonna blow out." Two things. First, get skinny booms that are 24.5mm so that it is easier to hold onto with mittens. Second, train your forearms. Yes, your forearms may blow out the first few times, but you have to train them to get stronger. Your forearms will adapt with time. When I first started sailing with mittens I could only ride for 15-20 minutes before my forearms were exhausted. Now, an hour is no problem at all. When it's really cold I bring a small cooler of hot water to the beach. Every 20 minutes I come in to warm up. Since I'm coming in and out often I'm more confined to beaches where I can get in and out of the water easily. That basically means that I avoid beaches with a big wind shadow where it is very difficult to get in/out, and I avoid big shore break. It's a pain in the ass to carry the cooler down to the water, so it depends on how bad you want to ride. You can also purchase a small hand-help battery heater. I've got one made by Celestron. It heats up to about 110 degrees fahrenheit, and the battery last 10 hours. I put it in a small backpack inside of a beach towel, and then I just stick my hands inside the backpack. This is easier to carry down to the water than a cooler if you have a long walk, but the cooler still works better. I also have some rubber tubing that I fitted with a mouth piece. Stick the tubing down the neck and arms of your suit and into your mittens so that you can blow warm air on your hands. You get a little water in the suit, but it's not a big deal. For warmer days, you can take one pair of mittens and cut out the palm completely so that you just have protection on the back of your hand. This work great for days when you still want some hand protection but don't need full coverage, and you still have your bare palm on the boom.
3. Keep your feet warm - This is much easier than hands. My drysuit has waterproof feet built right into the suit, so on cold days I just wear one pair of mid-weight wool socks inside the suit. Then I wear 7mm neoprene booties over that. It is difficult to make some brands of footstraps big enough to get your foot in with these booties on, so make sure you check how much the footstraps can expand before you buy them.
4. Keep your head warm - This is easy. Just get a neoprene hood. You can still wear your headphones to listen to music. Just put in the ear buds first, then put the hood right over them. You might need to buy a second helmet to designate for cold weather if your regular helmet doesn't fit over the hood.
5. Plan Ahead - Before I leave my house I get everything arranged in my van ahead of time. I have my rigging gloves in one spot, hood in another spot, dry clothes/boots for afterward in another spot, iPod in another spot, thermos in another spot, etc. Everything is organized and ready. This makes it so much easier and therefore more fun. I hate fumbling around trying to find a hood or a glove when it's really cold. Much of this cold weather gear is black, and it can be difficult to find stuff in your bag if it's not well organized. Different colored small stuff sacks are a great way to organize your larger bag. In the summer it doesn't matter that much, but in the cold it makes a difference in the fun factor.
6. Other Tips - Cayenne pepper can help with blood circulation. I buy capsules of cayenne pepper and take them during the cold weather season. I also stop drinking coffee and other caffeinated products during the cold weather season because caffeine can hinder blood circulation. Bring a thermos of a hot beverage with you to the beach, and drink it right before your session and again halfway through the session. I also wear a light on my vest during the cold season. It gets dark early during the cold season, and you don't want to be alone in the cold if your gear breaks down.
It's a lot of extra effort to ride during the cold weather season, but if you are addicted to wind driven water sports you can find a way. Have fun and ride the wind!