Wetsuit buyer's guide
Are you taking your first surf trip, need a wetsuit upgrade or simply want to surf the whole year round? Read on; our easy guide helps you to pick the perfect suit for you.
- How does a wetsuit work?
- Which wetsuit should I wear for surfing?
- How should a wetsuit fit?
- The different zip systems
- Wetsuit technologies and fe atures
- Booties, gloves and hoods
- Wetsuit care and cleaning
- 8 rules for a long wetsuit life
- Environmentally-friendlier alternatives to neoprene
HOW DOES A WETSUIT WORK?
The purpose of a wetsuit is to keep you warm in the water and protect your skin from scrapes and harmful UV rays. It is designed to trap a thin layer of water next to the skin, which then is heated up by your body temperature. Darker wetsuits also absorb sunlight to further aid to keep you toasty.
WHAT IS NEOPRENE?
Neoprene is commonly used to make wetsuits. This foamed synthetic rubber contains many small air bubbles resulting in excellent thermal insulation. On top of that, it is very durable and stretchy - the perfect material for a “second skin”. Another benefit: it adds some buoyancy in water. There are different types of neoprene, which vary in quality and thickness.
Neoprene technologies include water and wind-repellent laminates as well as thermal linings which drastically increase its insulating function. Typically, the higher the price, the lighter, warmer and more flexible your wetsuit will be.
HOW ARE WETSUITS MADE?
Wetsuits are made from neoprene panels stitched together which can differ in thickness. Usually, the material around the torso is thicker, while it is thinner around areas of the body, which require more mobility. This combination guarantees the ideal mix of warmth and flexibility.
Neoprene thickness is measured in millimetres and listed in most product names as numbers separated by slash: /. The first number relates to the torso and the second to the limbs. For example, a 4/3 wetsuit is 4 mm thick on the torso and 3 mm on arms and legs.
WHICH WETSUIT SHOULD I WEAR FOR SURFING?
Choosing the right surf wear depends on different conditions. One thing is clear: In colder waters, you need a thicker suit. You should consider the weather as well as the wind too. Sun rays warm you up, cold breezes do the opposite. Another factor: the duration of your surf session. Do not underestimate how much faster water cools you down than air. (Nerd fact: 25 – 40 times faster)
Bear in mind, if you are someone who feels the cold more easily - even in warmer conditions – thicker and lined suits will be better for you.
Your size and body type can also play a role deciding which wetsuit works best for you. We explain this in the sections about the fit and the zips.
CHECKLIST: 5 THINGS TO CONSIDER WHEN CHOOSING A WETSUIT
- How cold is the water?
- How is the weather? (sun, clouds, wind)
- How cold do I get?
- How long are my surf sessions?
- What is my body type?
LYCRA, RASHGUARDS AND SURF TEES
These tops are easy to put on and they protect you from harmful UV rays as well as rashes from the wax on your board. Classic lycras are slim fit, while surf tees come in looser cuts; both feature quick-drying and lightweight fabrics. In hot climates, they are a practical alternative to neoprene because you can throw them in the washing machine after surfing.
Combine these with boardshorts or bikinis and a strong sun block on uncovered areas and you are ready to rip in tropical waters over 23°C.
NEOPRENE TOPS, SURF LEGGINGS AND SHORTS (0,5 – 2 MM)
Even in warmer climates, you can cool down quickly if you stay in the water for a long time. Layer up with neoprene tops, shorts or surf leggings to stay warm.
Neoprene vests are a great addition to your surfwear and offer you optimum warmth and sun protection in warmer waters. In addition, you can wear it in cold water under your wetsuit, in order to be additionally warmed.
SPRINGSUITS AND SHORTIES (0,5 – 3 MM)
Springsuits and shorties come in a range of designs, features and prints. Models also differ in sleeve and leg lengths, so it’s easy to find an option that works best for you. One thing they all have in common: they keep your core warm and they stay in place – no matter how big the wave. We recommend these for water temperatures above 20°C.
STEAMERS (2 – 6 MM)
Steamers have a wide field of use, depending on their thickness, seam construction, wind repellency and lining. They can have short or long sleeves and specific cold-water models even have hoods. Full suits offer the best protection and are a must in colder waters.
Suits with a thickness of 3/2 mm are the most commonly sold wetsuits. These summer suits are ideal for water temperatures between 15°C and 20°C. A 3 mm suit with a good thermal lining and wind-repellent neoprene will also serve you well in colder regions.
With a 4/3 mm you can enjoy surfing on colder days. These suits keep you warm but still provide great flexibility. Optional gloves,
5 and 6 mm Steamers
If you are a cold-water enthusiast, suits with thicknesses around 5/3 mm, 5/4 mm or even 6/4 mm will work for best you. Combine these winter suits with neoprene accessories to keep heat loss as low as possible. Remember: You can cool yourself down easily by opening your suit when you got too hot – but it is hard to warm up once you got too cold.
WETSUIT THICKNESS GUIDE
Check out this rough guideline to help you choose what to wear in different water temperatures.
|Water temperature||wetsuit style|
|over 23°C||Rash guard & boardshorts|
|19 - 23°C||Springsuit or shorty|
|15 - 20°C||3/2 steamer|
|12°C - 17°C||4/3 steamer + booties|
|9 - 13°C||5/3 or 5/4 steamer + booties + hood|
|under 9°C||6/4 steamer + booties + hood|
HOW SHOULD A WETSUIT FIT?
It is important that your wetsuit fits snuggly. If it fits too small, it will restrict your movement making it harder to paddle. You just won’t feel very comfortable surfing. If it is too large more water will get inside your suit, cool you down, increase drag and make it more difficult to paddle. To prevent any flushing, you should ensure that the neck and cuff openings are tight to the skin.
Each brand differs in their cuts and sizes. Luckily, they give very detailed size charts making it easier to tailor a suit perfect for your body type. Some brands also have intermediate sizes to help your selection. These are given by the manufacturers as “short” or “tall” which reflect to the height while the regular sizes refer to a standard body shape. An MT is a medium wetsuit in the tall version. If you are tall and skinny, you should opt for a MT size.
Make sure you read a brand specific size chart when picking out your wetsuit.
THE DIFFERENT ZIP SYSTEMS
Zippers help you to get in and out your suit. Four zip options have been adapted for different conditions:
Back zips open from the neck to the lower back. The large opening allows you to dress and undress quickly making it the perfect option for beginners. The zipper material is less flexible and less water-resistant than neoprene; hence we recommend this system for milder climates.
A front zip opens from the top of your neck to the bottom of your torso. The opening allows you to climb into the top of the suit with ease. Front zip systems are designed for warmer waters and typically found on springsuits.
The benefits of chest zip wetsuits include more flexibility and warmth due to the continuous neoprene across the shoulders and back. They are a little fiddlier to put on, but they will reward you with better insulation from the cold.
The small opening makes zipperless wetsuits harder to get in, but the unrestricted flexibility makes them by far the most comfortable system while surfing. Leading brands pair this system with their best neoprene to create top performance wetsuits. If you are looking to spend a lot of time in the water, opt for these.
WETSUIT TECHNOLOGIES AND FEATURES
This is a very flexible and strong seam found on summer suits. The panels of the wetsuits are stitched through the neoprene. This seam is designed to be breathable and let water in to prevent overheating in warmer regions.
GBS - GLUED AND BLIND STITCHED SEAMS
For this seam technology, the neoprene panels are first glued together and then blind stitched through the glued area. With this technique, the material is only sewn from one side which doesn’t cause any needle perforations through the neoprene resulting in a more water-resistant seam. Some brands glue and blind-stitch multiple times to make the seam stronger, more durable and even more water-resistant.
Additional taping and liquid sealing are other technologies (explained below) to further reinforce “GBS” seams.
Stretchy, lightweight tapes are glued to the inside of the seam to advance comfort, durability and water-resistance. Seams can be spot taped in high stress areas or fully taped.
LIQUID SEALED SEAMS
Liquid sealing is the ultimate method to create leakfree seams. This seam reinforcement is the most watertight hence a must for cold water surfing.
WETSUIT LININGS TO KEEP YOU WARM
For heat retention wetsuits are equipped with a partial or full thermal lining. These are stretchy, lightweight and water-repellent with fast drying times. Advanced lining technologies increase the insulating properties so much that wetsuits with thinner neoprenes can now be used in colder waters.
Reinforced knees increase the longevity of your suit as well as adding a second protective layer beneficial for take-offs - especially for beginners.
BOOTIES, GLOVES AND HOODS
For surfing reef spots special reef booties are ideal. The sturdy rubber sole is there to protect your feet from reef cuts, sea urchins and other dangers from the sea. Thin neoprene and mesh ensures that you don’t overheat.
Thicker neoprene booties (3 - 5 mm) are great for cold water surfing. Since your feet have the most contact with the water they cool down quickly. Booties also add grip with their non-slip soles.
Gloves are another helpful addition to your winter setup. They are available as Mittens, 3-Finger models or 5-Finger version. Mittens are comparably the warmest, however, they do limit fine motor skills.
Hoods provide the necessary protection against cold wind and water. Depending on the outside and water temperature you can choose between different models.
WETSUIT CARE AND CLEANING
If you look after your wetsuit properly, it will last for a long time. Although neoprene is very durable, there are a few things that wear it down.
Please avoid washing your suit in hot water and drying it in direct sunlight. Keep it clean of salt and dirt and only use special wetsuit cleaners. We recommend Rip Curls Piss off. It is biodegradable and antibacterial and keeps mildew at bay.
8 RULES FOR A LONG WETSUIT LIFE
- Put your wetsuit on and off slowly without overstretching the neoprene.
- Rinse your wetsuit thoroughly with fresh water straight after every surf session. Removing salt is crucial as it damages neoprene.
- If you have the possibility, soak the suit in clean lukewarm water. You can add wetsuit shampoo for a more thorough wash. This is necessary if your wetsuit has already started smelling.
- Slide your wetsuit inside out on a wide plastic hanger; it should rest on its waist with arms and legs hanging down either side. Do not hang it on its shoulder to prevent deforming. Don’t hang it over metal; it is harmful to neoprene.
- Hang it inside your shower or another dark, well-aired place to dry. If you are camping, try to find a place in the shade. Avoid sunlight at all costs - it makes neoprene brittle and causes cracks.
- Turn the suit inside out each day until it has completely dried.
- Store your wetsuit in a dark, dry place hung as described above. Don’t squeeze it in a tight box.
- If your wetsuit ripped, make sure you fix it straight away to prevent further damage. You can either send it to a wetsuit repair centre or a professional.
ENVIRONMENTALLY-FRIENDLIER ALTERNATIVES TO NEOPRENE
A drawback with neoprene is that the manufacturing process of synthetic rubber is harmful to the environment. Luckily, manufacturers have developed greener alternatives. Patagonia partnered with Yulex™ to develop a renewable, plant-based replacement for neoprene. Their neoprene-free wetsuits are made from 85 % natural rubber, derived from sources that are Forest Stewardship Council® certified by the Rainforest Alliance, and 15 % synthetic chlorine-free rubber, reducing the reliance on petrochemicals. Picture has been putting their green stamp on the market by working with NaturalPrene. This material is also 100 % neoprene-free. These two brands, as well as others, bring a fresh wind into the surf industry with innovative and sustainable technologies.