Let’s start at the beginning. For your first few surf sessions, you might want to borrow or even rent a suit to see what you like and/or don’t like. It’s okay to borrow and rent when you are just starting, but if after surfing for a while you still think surfing is the best sport on the planet, it will be very important that you pick the best suit for you. Besides the fact that borrowing is a hassle, once you are truly stoked on wave riding, you want to have the freedom to pick up and go surfing whenever you feel the spirit move you.
First, talk to local surfers to see what suit type/thickness you will need. Depending on the region in which you live and surf, you might not need one at all. Heck! When I lived in South Florida, there were only about 10 days out of the year that were even chilly enough for rubber, so investing in an expensive wetsuit wasn’t in my financial interest. I simply bought a few extra pairs of board shorts. However, if you live in a less tropical climate like Northern California or Western Australia, you can’t surf at all without a wetsuit. A well-made, well-fitting suit makes all the difference. It will help you surf longer and more comfortably.
But before we explore types of wetsuits and figure out the best one for you, let’s take a look what these babies are made of and how they work.
How Wetsuits WorkYour basic, well-fitting suit allows a little water in between the outer material and your skin, so you will get a blast of coldness as you enter the water or submerge a good duck-dive. This frigid sensation will quickly subside, however, as your own body temperature is trapped between your skin and the wetsuit itself. Your body temperature eventually heats the layer of water around your body. The sealed rubber on the outside keeps the cold air and wind from hitting your skin while, on the inside, you are surrounded by a thin layer of warm water. This makes it obvious why in very cold climates you need a suit with snug fitting neck, wrists, and ankles.
Wetsuit Material and Construction
Made of neoprene, a synthetic rubber material, and then stitched (or melded) together to provide warmth over specific body parts, different wetsuits are designed for different surfing conditions. Their neoprene thickness ranges from 2 to 6 millimeters, the thicker the warmer. Most suits have a zipper that enables a surfer to climb in and out of the wetsuit. Wetsuits are sealed together in more than one way. In the old days, they were all stitched together which could cause some serious chafing and rubbing (resulting in a painful rash), but times have changed. These days we see seams that are sealed with glue and heat among other methods.
You will find that wetsuits are organized in terms of their thickness. Wetsuit thickness is labeled with two numbers which indicate millimeters (For example: 3/2). The first number is the neoprene thickness of the body section while the second number is the thickness of the neoprene covering the extremities (arms and legs). For temperatures above 60 degrees, you should go below 4 millimeters. For Temperatures below 60 degrees, you should go above 4 millimeters. These days, a new wetsuit from a reputable company will be plenty flexible and comfortable, so opt for a suit that is plenty thick enough, but be sure to try on several before you commit.
Wetsuits can run as high as $500 bucks and offer such added features as hoods and even electric heaters. One good way to save a few bucks might be to look for last year’s suits before the shops update their inventory for the upcoming year.
Types of SuitsWetsuits come in many shapes and lengths in addition to their varying thickness. When the temp is nice and toasty (above 70 degrees Fahrenheit) then a “shorty” is the perfect attire. Normally made from 2mm neoprene, a shorty is the next level up from a pair of board shorts and a top.
Once the temp drops below 70 degrees, you might want to grab a spring suit (usually around 3/2). The springsuit has short sleeves and short legs.
Once your surf temps get down to 60 degrees or below, you will be looking for a full suit. Depending on the temp, you might have the options of going for a 4/3mm or even a 5/3 (as stated in the previous paragraph).
Lastly, wetsuits should always be rinsed with fresh water after each day of surfing and then hung up to dry on a hanger and stored in an area out of the sun.
So, what does all this mean?
1. Choose the right suit for the temperature you will be surfing in.
2. Choose the type of wetsuit that suits what you need.
3. Be sure the suit fits properly.
4. Take care of your suit properly in order to make it last.