Winter Surf Photography Gear – What I Take To The Beach

Winter has set in for the Northern Hemisphere, I love it, less traffic, less crowds and more waves. We had an awesome winter for surf last year in the South West and it’s already got off to a great start this year too, to get you in the spirit I’ve produced this practical guide to making sure you’re as happy and comfortable when you head to the beach this December as you were in August.
I don’t often surf at places with a car park nearby, it’s usually a five or ten minute walk to the spot, and most of the time I want to take my camera with me and leave it somewhere on the beach whilst I surf. As such, I park up, take my gear to the spot, get changed, surf, get changed back and walk back to the car.
Not all spots have such convenient parking as Porthtowan
Not all spots have such convenient parking as Porthtowan
Laid out here is the gear I take, the bag I use to carry it and the clothes I wear when making the walk. This is mostly common sense stuff, but I’m often surprised how many people are completely unprepared for a simple trip to the beach, if you are planning on taking photo’s you’ll want to minimise the discomfort and possibility for problems with your gear so this might act as a useful check list for anyone starting out.
The Gear
I’ve laid out my surf photography gear in a previous post, but this is specifically what I take to the beach in the winter when I go for a surf and have my camera with me. I have refined my kit over years of dragging all sorts of stuff around with me so if you’re new to surfing/shooting in the winter this should be useful to you.
Most of my winter surf gear
Most of my winter surf gear
  1. MSW changing robe or old towel – usually an old towel that I’m allowed to take surfing, I have a stash of these in the garage, anyone who lives with their wife or girlfriend will know what happens when you take a nice towel to the beach for a surf, if I’m going to be changing somewhere public I’ll use the changing robe.
  2. Aquatech Housing with camera installed – I always put the camera in the housing at home before going to the beach, the stand-by mode of Canon cameras is great, I just leave it on and it uses hardly any juice until I wake it up with a press of the shutter, I’ll stick the GoPro in the housing too usually. I use my DIY dome port cover to make sure it doesn’t get scratched in transit.
  3. GoPro Hero 3+ on a Bobber, with wrist leash – I can stick my GoPro Hero 2 in the flap of my front zip wetsuit so this basic set-up is in my bag in case I want to just take the GoPro in and leave the big camera on the beach.
  4. Board – my current bodyboards for the UK are a Science MS11 3D and a Division 71 Super Deluxe PE, both have good flex but they aren’t going to last as long as my old polypro core NMD Winchester, I’ve also been riding a 5’8″ Starboard Ultra when the waves are small or weak.
  5. Wetsuit – my winter suit of choice is currently a 4mm Xcel Drylock hooded suit, it’s pretty expensive but it’s the best wetsuit I’ve ever had, I get out of my 3mm and into a hooded suit from around mid November, you can pull the hood down if you need to but I’m used to wearing it up all the time now.
  6. Allen Keys on my Key ring – this is a post in itself, make sure you can always use your housing by carrying the allen keys you need with you, I disassembled a set of allen keys and attached the relevant sizes using a caribener to my keyring
  7. Swim Fins – I will do a full post on swim fins in the future, my current non fin sock favourites are my neon pink Hydro Tech 2’s were my Hydro Tech 2’s before I lost one so I’m using my Da Fin Kicks at the moment, but my new winter set-up is a pair of…
  8. O’Neill Ninja boot/sock things and some Large Freedom Fins, the Ninja’s are soft like socks with a tough rubber sole for durability, ideal for wearing with swim fins.
  9. Accessories – I also have a pair of 2mm C-Skins NXgen latex dipped gloves, and some Rip Curl 5mm Flash bomb boots if I don’t need to wear swim fins, the gloves are very flexible and comfy but you have to be careful, I tore mine by catching them on some stuff in my bag.

The Bag

I have transported my gear in various ways over the years, from Karrimor back packs and Ikea bags to bulky bodyboard bags, but I have recently discovered the best bag for carrying my surf gear whether I have my camera or not, here it is:

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  1. Billabong Leap Frog Back Pack – This is awesome, it holds all the kit above, it’s waterproof, comes with a little waterproof pouch and you can carry it on your back, leaving both hands free for carrying the board and opening gates.
  2. Dry pouch – this little dry bag comes with the Billabong back pack I use, it’s big enough to fit my Canon 70-200mm f4 L lens in it, and my little bag of housing tools, it goes on the top so I can switch out the lens and shoot from land if I need to.

The Outfit

What do I wear? this is my UK winter surf outfit, since I went on a trip to Scotland and had to dry my jeans every night on the radiator I have picked up a few essentials to cope with the UK climate.

What I wear to the beach in winter when shooting surf photography
What I wear to the beach in winter when shooting surf photography
  1. Beanie – As long as it covers your ears you’re good, surfers ear happens when cold wind blows over your exposed ears, this happens after the surf as well as during.
  2. Lightweight Waterproof Jacket – mine is a Quiksilver Makani, a bit pricey for an outer shell, but it’s waterproof, lightweight, and packs away small, as a bonus the pocket that reverses to form the pouch it packs into is big enough for a 70-200mm lens, so I can stash it in there if I’m going incognito and it’s protected from the rain too. – EDIT – now available for a limited period at less than half price on the MSW private sale
  3. Various hoodies – just whatever spare hoodie/jumper is lying around, I usually go for just a tee under my jacket when going to the surf spot unless it’s really cold, it’s easier to get in and out of and then you’ve got the warm, dry hoodie waiting in the car.
  4. Tee Shirt – something you don’t mind getting wet, in case you forget your towel, Bowie is a bonus.
  5. Waterproof trousers – I’ve got a pair of Volcom ski pants that are ideal, but you can get cheaper alternatives that will do the job, the benefit of the ski style trousers is the warm padding and comfortable fit, they’ve also got useful velcro-up pockets and ankle gators.
  6. Wellies – these are invaluable, I keep a pair in my car at all times, I especially recommend the Dunlop half height wellies, they cost about £10, they’ve got great grip, don’t leak and the smaller height make them easier to store in the car and quicker to put on and take off. Walking boots just aren’t the same, they get damp and need drying out, cost a lot, and take forever to get off and on, once you’ve got wellies you’ll never go back.
  7. Change of clothes – keep a change of clothes in your car, even if you don’t get soaked through it’s still pretty unpleasant to have to sit at work or in the car on the drive home with damp clothes on.

That’s what I take with me, I’ve got another set of gear if I know I’m going to be taking photo’s from the land, so I’ll probably write about that in the summer when there’s less swell around to distract me.

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