WETSUIT BUYING GUIDE: WHAT WETSUIT SHOULD I BUY?
Pulling on the right wetsuit is vital. The wrong thickness, type or fit will have you taking on water, getting cold, or not having enough flexibility to surf – shortening and potentially spoiling your session. On the other hand, a wetsuit with a good fit and the right level of insulation will give you more time in the waves, and (with a bit of persistence, finger-crossing and good luck) more time standing on your surfboard too!
Wading through all the terminology to try and to pick your wetsuit can leave you drowning… sorry, I had to. There’s a lot to consider: wetsuit type, thickness, lining, seam construction and so on and so forth. Luckily, we at Freeze know a fair bit about the world of wetties! So, to give you a helping hand, we’ve put together our wetsuit buying guide, focussing first on the most fundamental element to consider when purchasing a wetsuit – WATER TEMPERATURE. At the end of the day, a wetsuit’s primary function is to adapt your body to the environment you’re surfing in.
We’ll be looking at the following, to set you on the right path:
- Understanding how wetsuits work
- Wetsuit terminology
- Picking wetsuit thickness
- Getting the right size
- Wetsuit entry systems
- Care and repair
SO, HOW DOES WETSUIT ACTUALLY WORK?
Before we delve deep into working out which wetsuit is for you – let’s kick things off by explaining a bit about how wetsuits work.
Regardless of water temperature, if you spend too much time in the ocean, you’ll eventually feel at least a bit chilly. Fun fact of the day – you lose body heat 20 times faster when your body is submerged in water than when surrounded by air. A wetsuit combats this by providing a tight-fitting insulation layer of neoprene or similar foam rubber around your body to restrict water entry.
Some water will inevitably get in, but with just a thin layer next to you, the water molecules are heated up by your body quickly – trapping a cosy layer of warmth around your skin so you don’t lose thermal energy.
GETTING TO GRIPS WITH WETSUIT TERMINOLOGY
Let’s take a look at some of those wetsuit buzzwords and how they contribute to the bigger picture…
For the majority of traditional models, Neoprene is the foundation from which your wetsuit is built. It’s a synthetic rubber which, unlike other compounds, offers flexibility over a range of temperatures – ideal for surfing. Foam neoprene’s natural cellular structure (it’s full of tiny air bubbles) makes it an awesome insulator – the key function of your wetsuit. The thickness of your wetsuit will be determined by the level of insulation you need.
YULEX / NATURALPRENE
While Neoprene is a synthetic foam rubber that’s by far the most popular material for making a suit these days, it’s not the only option. At the end of the day, Neoprene is made from crude oil and a bunch of other stuff that’s fairly harmful to the environment.
Alternatives like Patagonia’s Yulex and Naturalprene, which is used by the likes of Picture and Vissla, are an altogether more environmentally-friendly alternative that use natural rubber derived from plants. They’re certainly worth a look if you want to be a little kinder to our planet while you surf.
Multiple panels of neoprene make up the different sections of your wetsuit – they’re designed to follow your contours and fit around your body like a second skin. Wetsuits with fewer panels, and therefore less stitching, make for a more comfortable, flexible suit – with fewer seams that might leak water. That being said, there’s a bit of a balancing act here, with more panneling comes a more accurate form fitting shape and a better fit around your body.
You’ll notice our wetsuits designed for colder waters are labelled as partially or fully ‘lined’. Wetsuit lining is a synthetic fleece material made up of thousands of hollow fibres – these bolster your wetsuit’s insulation by trapping in warmth. Lining fabrics are non-absorbent to help flush water out of the suit, so you’re not going to lose warmth. Thinner wetsuits often only have a lining in the chest and back panels, in order to keep cold water away from your core. Whiilst your lining improves your wetsuit’s warmth and comfot, it’s worth considering that it will slightly restict your flexibility, and add weight.
A well-fitting suit needs to be constructed with quality seams that join the panels together in a way that’s durable, flexible and water-tight. Recent developments in seam technology has led to them becoming thinner, offering far greater flexibility, whilst maintaining hold and durability. You’ll see three seam types in the Freeze Pro Shop wetsuit range:
- Flatlock – Strong and durable, flatlock stitching is more commonly seen in lower-end and thinner wetsuits intended for warm water surfing. The panels of the wetsuit are overlapped and stitched securely all the way through.
- Glued and blind stitched (GBS) – Ideal for thicker suits designed for cold water, where taking on water is a serious no-no. Your wetsuit panels are butted together and glued, double glued or sometimes triple glued with a flexible, watertight adhesive. The panels are then stitched together using a hooked needle that only penetrates the neoprene half way, leaving no perferations for water to enter through.
- Liquid taped – Super flexible, liquid sealed seams will stretch in the same way as the rest of the suit’s neoprene. Once glued and blind-stitched the wetsuits seams are finished with a durable liquid sealant. The joins are super water-tight, so great for winter wetsuits.
In premium wetsuits and those in the 5mm and thicker market, you’ll find the seams finished with a high-quality, fast drying seam tape on the inside, for extra durability. Seam tape has progressed to become more flexible and comfortable to wear too.
THICKNESS: WHAT’S WITH THE NUMBERS
If you’ve browsed our range of wetsuits already, you’ll have noticed a series of two or three numbers next to the product name – so what do they mean? The first figure is the wetsuits thickness around the core, where you really need to keep your vital organs insulated. The second indicates the thinner neoprene in the legs, shoulders and arms. If there’s a third number, you’re looking at a wetsuit with an even thinner fabric where flexibility is really important – like in your shoulders for paddling. So, if we take the Rip Curl Flash Bomb 6/4 as an example – this suit has 6mm of awesome insulation to keep the core of your body warm and slightly thinner 4mm material in the shoulders, arms and around your legs, to give you the ability to move freely in the water when you’re surfing.
PICKING THE RIGHT WETSUIT THICKNESS
Alright, let’s start paddling around to see what suit’s right for you and your surf. Like we’ve said, the defining factor in wetsuit buying should be the water temperature you’re heading for. Different thicknesses of wetsuit are tailored for different water temperatures, and within this range, you’ll see different forms of wetsuit too. We’ll use the thickness and various types to advise you what to wear, depending on where you’re surfing…
Are you brave enough to surf in Scotland? Our surf is fantastic, but it comes with the cost of getting bloody freezing if you don’t have the right wetsuit. Winter surf is becoming increasingly popular – it takes you to some of the most beautiful places on the planet to like our own bonnie beaches, British Columbia, or even Iceland. Winter surf spots don’t get the crowds that popular summer locations do – a dream with the right kit in the van. Maybe your draw is the warmer waters of Australia, South America, or here in Europe – where the water temperature is a bit more pleasant. With all that in mind, here’s our guide to picking your wetsuit thickness, type and extras based on the water temperature you’re going to be spending your day in.
|Water temperature in Celcius||Water Temperature in Fahrenheit||Wetsuit Thickness (mm)||Wetsuit Type||Extras|
|Below 6||Below 43||6/5||Hooded full suit||Boots, Gloves|
|6 – 11||43 – 52||5/4||Hooded full suit||Boots, Gloves|
|11 – 14.5||52 – 58||4/3||Hooded full suit||Boots*, Gloves*|
|14.5 – 17||58 – 63||3/2||Full suit or springsuit||Boots*|
|17 – 20||62 – 68||2||Springsuit or shorty|
|18 – 24||65 – 75||0.5 – 2||Shorty or wetsuit top|
|Above 22||Above 72||N/A||Boardies and rash vest|
*Optional – depends on wind chill, session length, or your sensitivity to the cold
What wetsuit do I need for surfing in water below 6°C?
In waters close to freezing, your body needs to be insulated. If the temperature around you is below 6-degrees Celsius, then your wetsuit becomes much more than part of your surf gear – it embodies a crucial piece of safety equipment designed to protect you from hypothermia. You need a 6mm fully lined wetsuit with a hood. It needs to capable of insulating your vital organs, water-tight, and have a quick dry lining that flushes water away from your core. You’re also going to need boots and gloves to keep your digits insulated too.
What wetsuit do I need for surfing in water between 6°C and 11°C?
Not the coldest winter surf, but certainly still requiring your body to be very well insulated. If you’re surfing in water between 6°C and 11°C, you’ll want a solid 5mm fully lined wetsuit with a hood. Don’t skip on the gloves and booties, you’re going to want your hands and feet protected too.
What wetsuit do I need for surfing in water between 11°C and 14.5°C?
OK, not the nippiest, but a long surf session in water in the 11-14.5°C range still requires a good level of insulation. A hood (we sell these separately, by the way), gloves and booties become optional here – depending on how long you spend in the water, the wind chill, and your susceptibility to the cold. Get yourself snuggly into 4mm of neoprene for this water temperature range. Wetsuits you’ll find in this bracket tend to be middle of the temperature road, and therefore offer some level of versatility if you find yourself surfing in variable conditions and want as close to what you’d describe as a one-wetsuit-to-suit-all kind of deal.
What wetsuit do I need for surfing in water between 14.5°C and 17°C?
When the water is getting closer to what you’d describe as warmish, you can ditch the hood and gloves for sure, and only the uber-sensitive surfer will need booties. A 3mm suit is plenty insulation to maintain your temperature during a long session. A spring suit is cool for those with warm blood – giving you the freedom of movement to perfect your surf technique.
What wetsuit do I need for surfing in water between 17°C and 20°C?
Alright, so you’re heading for slightly more pleasant waters than we get here in Scotland – nice. You’re still going to want a bit of insulation through – the sun ducking behind the clouds or the wind picking up can still bring on a bit of a chill. Get 2mm of neoprene around your core in the form of a summer suit to keep you surfing longer. I’m you’re particularly warm-blooded, you can get away with a shorty.
What wetsuit do I need for surfing in water between 18°C and 24°C?
So, we’re pretty much at the thinnest stage of the wetsuit world – you might not even need one if you don’t feel the cold. A 1mm wetsuit jacket should suffice in keeping the cold at bay during a long session
What wetsuit do I need for surfing in water above 20°C?
None whatsoever! If your water temperature is going to stay above the twenty-degree mark, then there’s no need to wear a wetsuit. A good pair of quick-drying board shorts and a rash guard will suffice.
PICKING A WETSUIT THAT FITS
Once you know what thickness of wetsuit is right for you, next up is getting one that fits. A suit that fits right will feel pretty tight on the first wear. Whether you’re trying the wetsuit on in our store or at home, remember that it’s brand new, designed to stretch, and it’s not wet. Make sure your wetsuit forms a tidy seal around your wrists, ankles and at your neck hole – the most obvious places your wetsuit is going to leak.
IS MY WETSUIT TOO BIG OR TOO SMALL?
Don’t buy your wetsuit too big – you’ll risk water leaking in. It’s meant to fit like a second skin, so you don’t want any pockets or folds of neoprene that are susceptible flushing. When you’re trying on a wetsuit, move around a little to gauge the fit. You should feel a little restriction in your arms, but this shouldn’t immobilise you. Imagine yourself surfing, think about all that important technique you’ve learned – you need to be able to move freely in your wetsuit.
DIFFERENCES FROM BRAND TO BRAND
Fit differs from brand to brand, so the best way to make sure you order the right size is by consulting the guides you’ll find on our product pages and measure yourself up against those.
WETSUITS WITH HOODS
As well as your core, it’s vitally important to keep your noggin warm in extreme temperatures. If you’re hardcore and spend hours on end in colder waters, it’s important that you pick a hooded version of your suit. If you’re not sure what the temperature is going to be, we offer a range of separate surf hoods – check them out here.
DIFFERENT TYPES OF WETSUIT ENTRY
There have been some serious movements in the last few years in terms of how you get in and out of your wetsuit. You may be used to seeing people pulling on the cord attached to the regular back zip, but new developments in the way your wetsuit cocoons your body show that other systems form a better seal to keep water out. Chest zip and even zipperless entry have both advanced and become more popular in the surf community – the idea being that with less zip, your entry system has less of an impact on the all-important flexibility and water-tightness of your wetsuit.
Traditional to the wetsuit world, a robust zip is cut in down the length of the back of your wetsuit. It’s sealed with waterproof glue, and a flap of neoprene glued to its inside to keep water out and feel comfortable against your skin. The zip itself has a cord attached to it, making it easy to reach and zip up and down, and you’ve usually got a lock and loop system at the top to secure it’s when you’re in the surf.
Chest zip or front wetsuit entry offers far greater flexibility than back zip. You enter the suit through the neck opening, that is sealed with a short zip. The major advantage of this over the back zip is the reduction of cold sea water flushing down your back.
The move from back zip to chest zip entry and advances in the flexibility of both neoprenes and wetsuit linings has led to manufacturers making garments with no zip at all. Removing the zip from the suit altogether allows the wetsuit to stretch fully, making it very easy to put on. You work your way into the suit at through the redesigned neck opening and form a seal by pulling the collar over your head, securing with a slide lock.
HOW TO TAKE CARE OF YOUR WETSUIT
Investing in a wetsuit is a decent financial commitment – so let’s make sure yours lasts as long as possible. All wetsuit neoprene eventually breaks down, gains a few holes from snagging rocks or coral, or the seams start degrading. The life of a wetsuit is finite, but there are ways to make sure it last longer.
Take your time. Post-surf, you’ll be as keen as mustard to get out of your wetsuit – and if you’ve been in the water for a few hours we don’t blame you. Don’t rush when getting it off though, take your time, and treat your neoprene with care – instead of ripping at every piece of neoprene you can grab in a desperation to be rubber-free. Get into good habits by following these steps after every session:
- At the very least you need to rinse your wetsuit after your surf – some surf spots have showers, or a hose that you can use to get all the salt minerals out of the wetsuit. It’s worth doing this inside and out, and if you can get your hands on some warm water – that’s even better. If there isn’t somewhere to rinse your suit straight away, do it as soon as you get home!
- Once rinsed, get your wetsuit hung up to dry properly – NOT IN THE SUN. If there’s one thing that’s going to crack and degrade your wetsuit faster than salt, it’s sunlight.
- Switch things up. Let it dry on one side, then turn it inside out to dry the other.
At Freeze Pro Shop, you’ll find a range of products to preserve your neoprene and extend the life of your wetsuit. For cleaning, Check out Rip Curl’s Piss Off Wetsuit Cleaner, Hangair Electric Wetsuit Hangers, and the Wettie Wetsack to help you get the most out of your wetsuit.
No matter how well you look after it, over time your wetsuit is going to leak water. Salt from dry sea water left in your suit is going to do damage, and when surfing there’s always the risk of snagging on rocks and coral. Don’t just chuck it in a bin, if you’ve got a few small cracks in the neoprene or flaws in the stitching, there are some products at freeze that can save your wetsuit’s life. Check out our McNett Neoprene repair kit if you’re wetsuit needs a little TLC.