Do or Don't: Driving to Surf in Your Wetsuit - Stab Mag
No check surf check. Photo: Rolls Royce

Do or Don’t: Driving to Surf in Your Wetsuit

We polled the people. Here’s what we’ve learned.

Words by Dre Turner

Editor’s note: This is a partner post in conjunction with Slowtide. Hyperlinks aside, this is a topic we’re quite curious about and would love to hear your thoughts on.

Driving to the beach in your wetsuit — in some places it’s common practice, in others straight sacrilege, and in others (aloha to our island family) it’s not even on the radar. While the jury is out on whether this is a do or a don’t for surfers as a whole, there are some clear benefits. Firstly, conserving body heat when it’s cold. Secondly, maintaining the cleanliness of your suit by not changing in the sand or a dirty parking lot. And lastly, the efficiency of time. 

First in, never out. Photo: @kookoftheday

Freshly-minted Covid surfers and families kitted out in their rental gear aside, most of you reading this have the wherewithal to know better than to enter an establishment of any kind while suited up. So let’s leave that as a clear line in the sand — we are talking about driving to and from surfing directly, no stops. Unless of course, you suited up at home, forgot to bring your clothes along, and noticed you need gas too far into the commute with not enough minutes of daylight left to burn. Then, well, you’re fucked. 

Not sure where you stand on this issue? Let’s get down to brass tacks. One consideration: the conditions.

Are you surfing for hours until your hands don’t work and you can barely start your car, or is it mellow and you just went for a couple of fun ones? Is there snow on the ground? Ice in the lineup? Where is your car — a nearby parking lot or mellow residential road? The side of a busy highway or few miles away at the top of a trailhead? All the factors coming together can inform whether or not you might be driving in a wetsuit. 

wetsuit poll

To shed a little more light on this debate we polled a bunch of you fine folk and the results came back. Turns out, more do than don’t. Sixty-nine percent of you said you drive in a wetsuit at least sometimes, while 31% of you never drive in a wetsuit (claiming you “would rather die” than commute in your suit—impressive.) Digging in a little deeper, we chatted with a few pals from various pockets around North America to see what the vibe was. 

Noah Cohen
Noah Cohen is selective in all parts of life. Photo: Ryan Ell

From the end of the road on the west coast of Vancouver Island, Canada, surfer Noah Cohen was born and raised in this coldwater destination and surfs on the daily. He says, “Only in the winter months. But even then, I only drive to the beach in my suit, then always take it off for the drive home so my truck doesn’t get gross. It’s a well-thought-out process.”

On the opposite Canadian coast, we spoke with Dean Petty—surfer, coffee connoisseur, and purveyor of pizza. Dean lives in the land of frigid winter conditions and perfect waves, so here’s what he had to say about being pro-drive-in-your-suit.

Dean Petty wetsuit
Dean knows the rules. Photo: Caley Vanular

Stab: How cold is it in the winter where you live?
Dean Petty: Currently, about 33 degrees… so, on the chillier side of things. 

Do you wear your wetsuit while driving?
Oftentimes, yes.

Is it really too cold to change outside, or are you just lacking the correct tools? 
It’s never too cold to change outside, just have to be real quick at getting the rubber off. And maybe have something cozy* to cover up the important bits before they freeze.

Do you go straight into the shower when you get home? 
Depends on the day, but this time of year wetsuit removal in a hot shower is luxury living, so yeah… I go straight to the shower. 

Do you ever enter stores or establishments wearing your wetsuit either to or from the beach?
Nah. Hard no. Also don’t wear sweatpants in public, though.

How would you feel if you got posted on @kookoftheday for driving in your suit? 
I imagine I would feel feelings of embarrassment or pride or both. 

What do you have to say to people who don’t drive in their wetsuits? 
You need to drink more coffee and froth harder. Duh. 

Slowtide changing poncho
*We like The Digs Poncho in winter-weight cotton. Photo: Paladino

A little further south on the East Coast, we spoke with Virginia Beach-based visual artist, mother, and self-proclaimed fairweather surfer Nikki Leone. She had this to say, “We always change when we get there. Wait. People drive in their wetsuits? I guess here it doesn’t get cold enough to need to do that. But I feel if I lived somewhere proper cold, I’d probably wear it. Because who the fuck wants to undress and get in a cold wetsuit when it’s freezing and then get in cold water.”

Where the debate really heats up is on the West Coast, specifically California, the mecca of surf culture in (contiguous) North America and home to some unique customs you really don’t see anywhere else (if you don’t have a patch of astroturf and a water jug, do you even surf?). During a visit with Santa Cruz local, cabinet maker, and rad dad Kevin Silvas a few years ago, he was adamant in his stance on not driving in wetsuits. So for this piece, we hit him up to get to the bottom of how he really feels about it. 

Jack Oneill
The REAL question is whether fellow Santa Cruz local and inventor of the modern surf suit, Jack O’Neill, donned his neoprene hide pre- or post-transport.

Stab: How cold are the winters where you live?
Kevin Silvas: Water temps are from the low 50s to high 40s and the air is anywhere in the 30s to 50s.

Is refusing to drive in your wetsuit an ego thing, or do you just hate getting your seat wet? 
Not an ego thing, just not usually necessary in Santa Cruz. Plus some days it can take an hour just to check all the spots so I’d probably be overheating. Getting out on a cold or rainy winter day I’ll wear it home sometimes to take it off in the warm shower (stay warm and rinse it, two birds stoned at once). 

Do you keep one of those hot shower things in your car to wash off post-surf? Or maybe a bucket of water?
Never had a hot shower kit, just started bringing a jug of water to rinse this year. It’s been a nice addition.

What do you have to say to people who drive in their wetsuits?
There’s a time and place for it definitely. It makes sense in extreme or cold climates as well as for the big wave guys who have to put all the flotation and safety devices on underneath their wetties.

Anna Ehrgott
Anna Ehrgott takes the traditional route. Photo: Chris Sirney

Despite the year-round sunshine, it still gets chilly in the Golden State. Surfer, seamstress of Sagebrush Bags, and adventure and coldwater surf enthusiast Anna Ehrgott is from the central coast and says, “Ninety-nine percent of the time I don’t since it seems to leave a little salt residue on my seats**. The water gets cold here in Central Coast California, but the air is never really under 40 degrees, so I usually just change in a changing poncho! Before I had good wetsuits I used to drive home and change in the hot shower but I don’t really get to that point anymore (in California at least). In cold places it totally makes sense.” Something like the Quick-Dry Changing Poncho by Slowtide looks good and packs up nice and dry. 

So there you have it. Sort of. A not-so-definitive guide to whether you should or should not be driving in your wetsuit. But we won’t tell you how to live your life. 

Slowtide changing poncho
**Life hack: throw a Slowtide changing poncho over your headrest to save the seats. Bonus points for nice prints that upgrade your interior. Photo: Paladino

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