Wouldn’t it be nice if you never needed to know how to buy a wetsuit because every windsurfing spot offered waters of 30C? You could stay out as long as you liked, looking glamorous and carefree in just a swimsuit and sunscreen. Back in the real world, cold water and nippy sea air can cause windsurfers’ body temperatures to drop pretty rapidly.
Even relatively warm water of around 20C can get pretty chilly if you’re out in it for any length of time.
And while the air might feel balmy, the water may well not be, especially in temperate climates in spring or early summer, before the water has had a chance to warm up a little.
So here’s everything you need to know about how to buy a wetsuit for windsurfing.
Changeable weather means you need a wetsuit: a suit made of a type of rubber called neoprene, which insulates the body against cold water.
It’s important that you choose the right wetsuit for the water temperature. Go out in a shortie when you should be in a full-length wetsuit, and the best that will happen is that you get cold and miserable pretty quickly, and have to cut short your surfing time in favour of a mug of hot tea.
At worst, you could find yourself suffering from hypothermia: it happens. Developing hypothermia when you’re out on the water can be particularly dangerous, as the symptoms include weakness and difficulty thinking clearly. Without the right wetsuit, you could find yourself 100 metres from shore, unable to find the strength to get yourself onto dry land to warm up.
The type of wetsuit you should choose, then, depends mainly on the water temperature you’ll be surfing in. Many windsurfers have two or more wetsuits to suit varying weather conditions throughout the year.
The first thing to look at is the thickness, measured in millimetres. Often, you’ll see two numbers expressed as 3/2 or 4/3/2, for example. You’ll find this on wetsuits that are thicker around the torso than the extremities, to allow extra movement.
The next thing to look at is the type of seam. Cold water wetsuits need to have sealed and taped seams (glued and blindstitched seams with a tape to prevent seepage). Mid-temperature wetsuits can be just sealed, while warm water wetsuits’ seams are flatlock-stitched (stitching that looks a little like a railway track).
If you’re windsurfing in the UK and other north European destinations in any season other than spring/summer, it’s likely you’ll need a steamer, or full-length, wetsuit. In warmer water, a short-sleeved wetsuit or shortie (with short legs and sleeves) is fine. In colder weather, you might need extras such as a hood and gloves. Getting the right wetsuit is a balance between making sure you have enough protection to keep warm and making sure you don’t overheat.
Wetsuit buying guide
As a rough guide, this is what you should be wearing at various water temperatures:
Below 5: it’s generally best to stay out of the water
Below 7: a 7/5 or 6/4 full-length suit, with taped seams, a hood, gloves and boots.
Below 9: a 5/4 or 5/3 full-length suit with taped seams, a hood, gloves and boots.
Below 13: a 4/3 full-length suit with taped seams, boots and gloves.
Below 15: a 3/2 full-length suit with sealed seams and boots.
Below 18: a 3/2 full-length suit with flatlock seams
Below 20: a 3/2 short-sleeved suit or 2/2 shortie with flatlock seams.
Below 22: a 2/2 shortie with flatlock seams
Above 22: a rash vest or thin wetsuit top and shorts.
There are various permutations of wetsuit thicknesses and lengths, but use the above as a general guide to find the wetsuit you need. And remember, if you’re going surfing in cold weather, check the water temperature before you do to make sure you’ve got the right suit with you.
Types of wetsuits
Once you know what thickness of wetsuit you need, you need to look at stretch. Not all wetsuits are created equal, and those suitable for scuba diving are not always ideal for windsurfing holidays and other above-water sports as they don’t always provide the right level of stretchiness.
Stretch is especially important in thicker suits, which offer less movement. A wetsuit used for windsurfing needs to be made of at least 30% stretch neoprene, which will be concentrated around the arms and shoulders.
The very best around will be 100% stretch neoprene. They are expensive, so you might not be ready to splash out on one if you’re not at expert level yet. That’s fine: while the main purpose of a wetsuit is to keep you warm, and until you’re doing tricks and jumps, you might not need to worry so much about flexibility.
- O’Shea Stealth 5/4/3 wetsuit review: Winter Wonder
- Buying a Wetsuit: Winter trial of the XCEL Drylock
- Scuba Gear: How to buy a wetsuit
- Adventure Sports & Travel Thoughts
- New Adventure Travel Ideas
- Our Experts
- Top 10s
- Travel Gear
- Adventure Sports Insurance: What Does The EHIC Actually Cover?
- Kayaking Challenges: Paddling 1300km in handmade kayaks
- Child-Free Sports: Time to reclaim the wave?
- New Zealand: Spiritual Home of Adventure Sports
- 5 Things Cyclists Never Do
- Kevlar Swiss Socks that Rock!
- Adventure Race Events: Trying the Toughest Challenges on Earth