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For World’s Coldest Surf Competitions, Surfers Take on Frigid Swells in New Zealand, Scotland

By Tetsuhiko Endo; Photograph courtesy Cory Scott, O'Neill

When you hear the term “surfing competition” what images come to mind? California, palm trees, tropical blue water, guys with blonde hair who begin every sentence with “dude…”? That’s pretty spot on. However, wetsuit company O’Neill works on a slightly different paradigm.

Every year they run the O'Neill Cold Water Classic Series. It features the most southerly competition in the world in Gisborn, New Zealand, the most northerly in Thurso, Scotland, and the most flannel-shirted in Santa Cruz. Last week, Australian Adam Melling took home top honors in New Zealand, beating out a cadre of two of his countrymen and one Brazilian—proving that warm water surfers can adapt to colder temperatures if they have the right motivation ($20,000 and the trophy, a hand-carved Maori weapon called a Tewhatewha).

Although the water in New Zealand was only 68 degrees, necessitating no more than a three millimeter wet suit, the surfers will have to bring their thickest neoprene to Scotland where a cold winter has left the water temps hovering at a frigid 45 degrees. That means five millimeters covering your entire body—feet, hands, and even head. It's worth it though: the prize is a medieval sword, a la William Wallace. If you want to watch the frigid action, tune in to the web cast of the Scotland leg April 13th through the 19th.