Naturally, you’ll need a wetsuit to ensure your winter surfing sessions last longer than five minutes. But when buying wetsuits you can’t just throw on any neoprene sweater and paddle out. And you’re likely to need a suit to match spring and autumn conditions too.
Water is denser than air, less forgiving, and voraciously steals your body heat. When it’s cool outside, surfing will increase circulation and make you feel warm. And although blood will be pumping as you paddle around looking for waves, the sensation of body warmth is soon lost in cool water.
The golden rule of buying wetsuits is simple: the thicker the suit, the warmer and less flexible it will be. Of course we’d all like to be comfortably warm when surfing, but because surfers require a great range of motion – especially in the shoulders and arms – we have to find a happy medium between the warmth and flexibility of our wetsuits.
Wetsuit thickness is measured in millimetres. A “two-mil,” or suit with two millimetres of thickness, is fairly thin, very flexible, and good for water in the range of 65-72 degrees. A “3/2” suit has three millimetres of thickness in the torso and two in the arms and legs. 3/2s are great for water in the 57-65 degree range. A 4/3 allocates its thickness in a similar pattern as the 3/2, and can be used in 50-57 degree water.
Colder than that you’ll not only need a 5/4, but booties and a hat and gloves. If you plan on taking surfing holidays to destinations with especially chilly water, below 42C or so, a six-millimetre suit would be required, or a dry suit – or a sanity test at the very least.
Other characteristics of wetsuits to keep in mind are the seam style and zipper types. Suits are made of neoprene panels ingeniously stitched together. The seams along the edges of these panels are sometimes culprits of water leakage.
On a two-mil suit leakage is okay, even necessary in some cases, and seams should not be glued together. But for thicker suits, when leakage is a serious session-killer, make sure the seams are glued together and even taped from the inside.
Keep in mind that a wetsuit is not meant to keep your body entirely dry. The idea is to allow a bit of water inside and have your body heat up this layer of moisture. There are also several models of zippers. The most common is a full back zipper that zips all the way down your spine. This zipper makes getting in and out of your wetsuit easier, but can sacrifice leakage and flexibility.
Chest-zipper suits are tougher to get on, but control leakage and allow for maximum flexibility. If you’re suit is well made, the zipper style should not noticeably affect its performance – zippers tend to be a matter of preference.
Finally, be sure to try on any suit before buying it. Males don’t normally wear anything under their wetsuits so this step can be gross if you think about it too long, but an absolute necessity in finding a suit well trimmed to your body.
Once inside the wetsuit, make sure it fits snug to your skin, but isn’t constricting. A wetsuit should not be tight enough to affect blood circulation. Check to make sure there is no bunched up material at any of your joints. If there is, the suit is too big.
Rotate your arms to simulate paddling. There should be no chaffing on your shoulders or on your armpit.
The best suit should fit like an extension of your skin. Try a variety of models and manufacturers, as each are cut slightly different. When you slip into one that’s the right size, flexible enough for you to squat in, and well fitting enough not to rub anywhere, you’ll know it.
You’ll feel invincible, and may even consider quitting your job to fight crime and kick ass in your new suit. But I recommend heading out for a surf instead.
- Buying a Wetsuit: Winter trial of the XCEL Drylock
- Winter Surfing: Gear, Fear and Facts
- Windsurfing Gear: How to buy a wetsuit
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