My morning presurf ritual in California looks something like this: Wake up and drink some water while the coffee brews. Rumble down the freeway toward the spot most likely to have good waves while eating a banana and drinking said coffee. If the ocean gods are kind, pull on my wetsuit, warm up with some dynamic stretches, and wade into the ocean. Then—sometimes even before catching a wave—I pee in my wetsuit, warming the interior with that sweet morning urine.
I look forward to this moment each and every time I go surfing.
If you’re a surfer, you’re not surprised by the latter habit; you know that the vast majority of your brethren who chase waves in cold water urinate in their wetsuits during surf sessions. If you’re not a surfer, you might be shocked to hear this. Yes, it sounds gross. But for surfers, it’s a most natural—and, dare I say, pleasant—part of the routine.
Science probably offers the most socially acceptable answer as to why surfers evacuate their bladders in their neoprene onesies. You know that feeling of having to pee soon after you get in cool or cold water? Scientists call it diuresis, and they believe it’s some combination of the water temperature changing your blood pressure, and the pressure of the water on your skin sending extra fluid to your kidneys to be released. So even if you don’t have a full bladder when you get in the ocean, your body will create the urge to pee.
But you should have a full tank when you head out—surfing, as fun as it may seem, is also exercise. Hydration is critical to athletic performance, and you’ll be able to surf longer and with more vigor if you’re topped up. Dehydration can easily sneak up on surfers, because they’re exposed to the sun, exerting themselves, and there’s no place to store a water bottle in a wetsuit or on your board.
Once you’re surfing, there’s nowhere for that bodily liquid to go but in your suit. (Most wetsuits aren’t designed with ways to relieve yourself beyond taking them almost all the way off.) If you surf often in cold water, you’ll eventually be faced with the need to go while you’re out there. Are you going to paddle in to shore, find a bathroom, strip down to your ankles, use the toilet, suit back up, and risk missing waves? Or just urinate as you paddle back into the lineup after your last wave? (This takes some practice—sitting on your board is easier.) As your surfing progresses, the convenience of staying in the water and getting more rides quickly outweighs any stink that your wetsuit might accrue.
Plus, it’s not that gross. No, pee is not sterile, but you often sweat in your wetsuit, which is another way to introduce bacteria to a damp, warm environment. I personally flush my wetsuit with water after doing my business by opening up the neck and letting a dousing of saltwater in. It helps dilute the urine and keep the stink down. If the smell gets really bad, you can turn to wetsuit shampoo or laundry detergent. And it goes without saying that when you get out of the corrosive saltwater, you should always rinse the inside and outside of your suit thoroughly with fresh water to extend its life span—and get the pee off.
And last but most definitely not least: evacuating your bladder in that enclosed environment is extremely pleasant. You’re wearing a wetsuit into the ocean because it’s too cold to be in there for any extended period of time without one. Surfers often get cold despite the neoprene. While a happy little pee stream will not solve hypothermia, it affords a brief, agreeable hit of warmth that surfers often savor. Don’t judge.