Tips for Winter Water Shooting

Pro Tip #1: Don't change into your wetsuit on top of a pile of snow,.

Pro Tip #1: Don't change into your wetsuit on top of a pile of snow,.

Over the years I’ve gotten many questions about shooting in the water and how to do it through the cold winters in New Jersey. So here are a few tips I have to make your water shooting experience more enjoyable during the colder months of the year.

Boots (socks) and Fins

                  After many years of a experimenting I’ve found that for me it was best to have a set of summer fins and a set of winter fins. My summer fins I use with tethers and bare feet, but my winter fins I get several sizes up to fit socks in, yes socks not boots but I will get to that in a minute. When I first started shooting in the water I used my wetsuit boots and crammed them into the largest Churchill fins I could find. I say Churchill because that was the only brand I could find that I could fit 5 millimeter boots in. While this worked it was extremely uncomfortable because surf boots aren’t meant to flex in the direction that you need to bend your feet to swim. I eventually came across body boarding socks which changed everything for me. While not as thick as boots they are a thousand times more comfortable to swim in. My personal preference is a pair of 3mm socks with a pair of 5mm socks over them. Once I switched over to socks I realized I was no longer restricted to Churchill fins as the socks would fit in any brand of fins. I switched to Dafin fins because that’s what I had used in the summer and had been bodysurfing with for years. I still needed the largest size of them but I felt like I got more power and they were way more comfortable than cramming boots into the Churchills.

                   While I love how warm and comfortable the socks are they are not without their own problems. Since they are just neoprene socks without any kind of hard tread on the bottom, they will rip over time if you walk on pavement with them. I’ve recently started using a pair of slippers to walk on pavement when I have them on because I am not willing to walk up to the beach bare foot when it is 12 degrees outside but that is my preference. The upside is they are not super expensive so if you go through 2 pairs in a winter you still will have spent less money than going with a pair of $90 surf boots.

Pro Tip #2: Don't slip on the ice when running up to check the waves.  I was over excited for the waves this morning and went ass over teakettle on a frozen section of boardwalk when I ran up to check the waves.

Pro Tip #2: Don't slip on the ice when running up to check the waves. I was over excited for the waves this morning and went ass over teakettle on a frozen section of boardwalk when I ran up to check the waves.

Muscle Cramps and Staying Hydrated

                   When I first started swimming in the winter it never occurred to me that the cold and extra rubber would adversely affected my muscles. Only after I had gotten a muscle cramp in my calf as I was trying to escape the impact zone did I realize that I needed to better prepare my muscles for winter swimming. The first thing I stopped doing was hitting the sauce on a night before a swell. Since alcohol dehydrates you it can be your muscles’ worse enemy when it comes to getting a cramp while a frosty lip is landing on your head. Your best friend in the winter is plenty of water and a banana for the potassium to keep you hydrated. I try to drink a ton of water during winter swells to ensure that I can keep swimming for hours, as once muscles start to cramp I’ve found they will continue until I get out of the water to rest. Stretching can help as well in order to help your muscles outlast the cold and extra strain of the thicker rubber, but I generally take the previous steps and I am often way to psyched to get in the water to remember to stretch. It’s best to take a break after a few hours to give your muscles a rest even if it’s only for an hour. I’ve had some days in the winter where I’ve clocked in 7 hours of water time with only a 1 or 2 hour break in between swims, the break was imperative and I still ended up cramping by the end of the day.

Snow + Swell = Empty Perfection

Snow + Swell = Empty Perfection

Staying Warm

                With the nature of how cold it gets in the winter, realistically you will not be able to stay warm while swimming in water that sits around 35 degrees, but there are a few steps you can take to prolong hypothermia from setting in. First, it’s best to warm up as much as you can in your car before you jump in the water. Blast the heat in your car after you’ve changed into your wetsuit and make sure you are comfortable before venturing into the cold. If you are already freezing before jumping in the water you are not going to last long swimming. Next, try to dry your wetsuit, gloves, and boots/socks as best as you can. There’s nothing worse than putting on a soaking wet wetsuit in the freezing cold so dry that thing as best as you can. It’s great if you have an extra wetsuit that you can keep dry for session number 2 but if you don’t, hang your current one in a shaded windy place to dry it. Hanging it in the sun will make it dry faster but will also deteriorate the neoprene so I would advise against it. More importantly make sure your gloves are dry as your extremities will go numb the quickest. It’s very hard to pull the trigger to take a shot when you can’t feel your fingers and I’ve missed several shots for just that reason. I’ve found that often my hands go number a lot quicker than my feet since they are mostly staying idol holding my camera. My feet tend to last a bit longer especially if there’s a bad current because I’m constantly kicking to fight it. In order to maintain circulation in your fingers, take your hand off your camera and stretch them out frequently, keeping them balled up grasping your camera only makes them go numb faster. One other thing that will help is to check for holes in your socks and gloves regularly. Since wetsuit socks tend to rip easily there’s been more than a few times where I’ve put them on only to realize that there’s a big hole in the heel.

Probably the coldest surf trips I've ever taken.  New Hampshire after a blizzard,  Joey Pinheiro wasn't too fazed.

Probably the coldest surf trips I've ever taken. New Hampshire after a blizzard, Joey Pinheiro wasn't too fazed.

Camera Tips

                 One of the biggest problems I’ve heard people complain about in the cold I battery life for their camera. The cold will drain batteries much quicker and there are a few things you can do to make your battery last longer. The first thing you can do is simply make sure your battery is completely charged before you got out shooting, this seems pretty obvious but I have sometime forgotten to charge my battery before a swell. Next, never use live view, live view kills your battery extremely fast even when it’s not cold out. Ideally you want to shoot just through your view finder to save battery. For the Sony shooters this may still cause a problem for you because I believe most Sony cameras have an electronic view finder. You should still save battery by using the view finder over the screen as the view finder provides a much smaller preview therefore using less battery. Using the full size screen on your camera will kill the battery fastest, so if you are reviewing your shots in the water don’t forget to clear the screen before going back to swimming. The last tip I have is to prevent fogging inside your housing. Fogging is more of a concern when the air is warm and the water is cold but it can still happen in the winter. When I put my camera in my housing in the winter I make sure I do it outside in order to make sure that the temperature difference when it hits the water is minimal. If setup your housing inside your car while blasting the heat in your car and then run out into 12 degree air any moisture inside the housing will start to condensate and fog up your port. It’s kind of like if you’ve ever forgotten your wet wetsuit in your car over night and woke up to foggy windows. Another thing you can do to prevent fog is to tape a silica packet inside the housing as it will absorb any moisture inside the housing, but if you are going to go that route make sure you have it locked down tight as you don’t want a silica packet possibly sliding into your port and blocking your shots.

Sam Hammer said it best "Lifes better in a 5mil"

Sam Hammer said it best "Lifes better in a 5mil"

If you have any questions or topics not covered feel free to ask them in the comments below.

Gear I use.

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 All Photos Copyright of Dave NIlsen Photography 

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