Pic: Burkard

Is the future of Surf Travel in a 4/3?

10th Sep 2020

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of your annual (biannual if you are lucky!) surf trip? Probably not a 4/3 wetsuit, hood and booties!  For most of us, it would be images of translucent blue barrels rolling down a coral reef pass, a palm fringed desert island backdrop, boat parked in the channel with a cold (insert local beer) as you reflect on another day in paradise.  

Brain freeze, thawing out under pressure less, luke-warm showers, having to boil the kettle in the dark to melt the ice on you’re still wet wetsuit… These images are what drive those of us residing in the colder latitudes to consider the previous scenario in the first place!  Well, for most us anyway! 

Yet with ever more crowded line-up’s the overarching theme in the go to, established tropical surf destinations, should your next surf trip be somewhere cold enough to freeze a penguin’s bits? Does the pleasure / pain ratio of cold-water vs empty barrels weigh in the favour of those willing to consider something different for their next adventure? Thanks to continual improvements to both the cost and technology of decent cold water equipment, combined with the improving accessibility to the far reaches of our surfing universe and the operators that exist there, we think the answer is… YES!  

Cold water surf destinations may well present a more fulfilling alternative to the tried and tested tropical retreats for those chasing empty waves and the spirit of adventure which is immediately squashed before the adventure even starts by the sight of 100’s of board bags being offloaded on the tarmac at your arrived destination! 

So if you are thinking about a cold water sojourn, here is a brief list to get you thinking! 



The land of the long white cloud where empty surf abounds and all day offshore accessibility comes at the meagre cost of a 2 hour dive across the island in some cases. Beach breaks, points, reefs, NZ has it all. It’s also very cold, especially in the South with winter seeing you reaching for the full kit. Knowing where to go is key, time and mobility helps too. Whilst the core of surf community may fly north for some respite from the ice cream headaches during the depths of the season, swimming against the current may see you score some empty perfection. Guided Long weekenders from AUD$1200.00 and cheap flights from all major Australian cities, NZ’s proximity to the East coast of Oz makes a swell run a reality rather than a trip booked a year in advance.  


Known for it’s delicious cheese and incredibly inviting wedges, the water temps are just as sharp. Bang in the middle of the bass strait, the island cops the brunt of roaring 40s. Massive lows crash into the western side of the island with swells refracting also 180 degrees from both corners. Picture icy blue wedges, offshore and chills to the bone. A simple weekender for Australians, who can make a call last minute to take the charter flight over before the storm hits – one day strike missions from just $379.00 (group of 7, includes charter flight from Barwon Heads). 



For our European brethren who surf in wetsuits the majority (if not all of the time), a trip north may seem counter intuitive so far as the winter migration goes, yet in recent times my Instagram feed has been flooded by exquisitely baron and snowy backdrops framing perfect, empty points and reef breaks, all the while mainly bearded surf hero’s snap wetsuits in half and dust the icicle’s off their beards! BRRRR! Not for the faint hearted, yet more accessible then you may think, empty line-ups with breathtaking scenery may distract you from negative air temps and frozen waves lapping on the shore. No boats pulling up either. Weekend camps from just 300 euros and flights from all major European hubs makes this an accessible adventure into the Northern reaches. Try and time your Norwegian surf adventure with the consistent North Atlantic swells that pop up mostly between August – November.  


More than 6,000 kilometers of Chile’s coastline is open to Pacific Ocean swell. So yes….there is surf and a lot of it….and its off the chain!  

Chile is arguably the epitome of adventure in every sense of the word, not just for surfers. It is a known adventurers playground with hiking, rock climbing, kayaking, mountain biking and any extreme sport you can think of. Heck, Patagonia has built a global enterprise off its very back.   

For surfers, it has every kind of setup you might hope for, often breaking similar to waves you might find up and down the coast of California or the East Coast of Australia. Beach breaks, river mouths and long ruler edge point breaks that seem kilometers at first when you gaze from a distant car park platform or eroded cut of mountainside.  

But Chile isn’t all rainbows and unicorns. You really have to earn your good days. Sometimes, the weather can be so harsh without letting up that it makes you reconsider why you dropped the coin on Chile instead of a trip to the tropics. But jeez, when its good here, its really good! You should check it out soon with a growing popularity, it could be tracked out in a few years with regular crowds.  



As you mull over your next surf adventure, I bet the last place you thought you might mark an Asterix next to is Iceland. Well, good fello….I’m here to tell you Iceland is the cold water version of the Mentawais and is world class in every sense of the imagination.  

Still very much in its infancy as a surfing nation, Iceland is the perfect setting for the next season of Stranger Things but its unique beauty with endless mountainous landscapes and perfect barrels in the foreground is an insanely unique surfing experience.  

Low key surf tourism operators have popped up in recent years and you can simply pay a local to show you the spots on a map or pay a bit extra and get him/her to snuggle up in your rental van and surf with you. Talk to our mates at World Surfaris to hook you up with this!  

Be prepared to enter your chosen wave of the day after trekking through 1 metre deep snow (not the good snowboarding kind) and waiting 5 minutes to get feeling back in your feet, followed by ice cream headaches after your first duck dive. But, the body is an amazing thing…after 20 mins of splashing around to get any feeling back in your limbs, surfing in Iceland can very quickly become your best session, EVER!  



Arguably one of surfing greatest frontiers and the only surf adventure in this story that requires a 5/4 at the least! She’s a cold one dudes!

No crowds is the understatement of the century when it comes to surfing in Alaska. Limited daylight, long treacherous boat trips, dodging glacial run-off (what even is that) and being so far from ‘help’ can be the most daunting or most thrilling experience of your life….if you’re into that kinda thing!  

April to September is the best time of year to try your hand at an Alaskan surf adventure. Water temps are barely 10 degress Celsius and this is the warmer time of year.  

River mouths are the most common setup with beach breaks usually too straight and/or deep to create any realistic reason to freeze your ass off and paddle out.  

Apart from 5/4 wetties, you will need boards with volume, gloves and booties. Absolutely essential packing items for Alaska.



Antarctic lows crash into three sides (all but the North) of South Africa. With 270 degrees of swell exposure, lots and lots of waves sweep the varying coasts.  

South Africa has so many world class surf spots its too hard to include them all in one article. The pinnacle of surfing in South Africa that needs no introduction is the Jewel of the East Coast, Jeffreys Bay.  

March to September sees the best time to score with roaring forties providing consistent swells in the 6-12ft+ range. You can almost guarantee winds to be offshore too.  

There are many world class waves to surf and equally beautiful and unique townships to stay in. Wave rich regions of South Africa include St Francis Bay, Cape Town and Durban.  


So what do you think folks?

Do you have a future cold water surf trip coming up?


Will you stick to the tropical norm and head back to Indo for a taste of warm water heaven? 

Welcome to World Surfaris. How can we help?