01 Jun Wetsuit Buying Guide
You’ve learned to surf and are totally hooked. How are you possibly going to survive until your next surf trip? After surfing intensively every day, your skills improved dramatically, now is the time to stick with it.
While work might be known to kill surf skill, with the longer days and a bit of luck location wise, there are plenty of chances to get in the water after work or on the weekends.
So time to invest in some kit… but where to start?
Just like some people like to get their own ski boots before anything, investing in your own wetsuit would be a great place to start.
The hunt for a wetsuit, whether it’s your first or not, can be overwhelming.
So many different brands, so many different types and labels…
Let us try to simplify a few things for you and hopefully this will help bring you one step closer to keeping you in the water between surf trips.
What thickness do I need?
Wetsuits range from 7mm to 1mm in thickness, with 5/3 and 3/2 being the most common.
When buying a wetsuit, it is important to know how cold the water is you’ll be surfing in.
During winter, you’ll need a 5/3 (5mm on the body, 3mm on arms and legs) or 5/4 (depending on brand) for most breaks in Europe. Surfing Norway, Iceland or other northern breaks might require 6 or even 7mm.
Late spring and late autumn could see you surfing in a 4/3 wetsuit. (4mm on the body, 3mm on the arms) Although, due to lower demand these tend to be a little more expensive.
Summer brings a range of different water temperatures to Europe.
While in the UK, Brittany and anywhere north of these you’ll most definitely still need a full 3/2 suit on most days. Anywhere South of Bordeaux, summer will give you plenty of chances to actually wear a ‘shorty’. Usually around 2 or 1 mm with short arms or legs or both. These will give you a little warmth on the body without boiling you alive and still give you the opportunity to achieve the sexy wetsuit tan lines. 😉
Back zip, front zip or no zip?
This is a very personal choice to most surfers.
Front zips are known to be warmer and more flexible suits. There is no zip on your back that could cause restricted movement, and there are less seams that could cause flushes.
When new these can be quite tricky to get into. It takes some practice (and possibly yoga) to get the hang of how to get in and out your suit, but as it gets more use it will get a little more flexible and easier.
Back zips have the advantage of quick changes. This can be particularly handy when running late for work or changing with frozen fingers in a cold car park in winter.
The last few years the zipperless wetsuits have gained on popularity due to their flexibility and restriction free qualities. A personal favourite.
This is where it all gets a little trickier…
We are all made in different sizes and shapes, all while a wetsuit is supposed to fit as tightly to the skin as possible. It doesn’t take Einstein to see the complications here.
The best advice here is to try, try and try.
From experience Billabong tends to be shorter in the limbs than Rip Curl suits, which are quite long. C-skins is known to fit great on petite surfers.
Sizing is different in each brand too, be careful with international sizing!
Another important note to remember is that wetsuits can be quite claustrophobic and stiff when brand new but bear in mind that they will loosen up a bit once in the water.
Surfing is an intensive sport. If you haven’t been in the water for a while, you’ll soon feel your ‘noodle arms’. Why make it harder on yourself with a stiff wetsuit?
Fair enough you might want to work out more but save yourself by getting a stretchy suit.
The more stretch, the less it will restrict your movements and the less you’ll feel like you are wearing a wetsuit. What’s better than surfing without a wetsuit??
When trying wetsuits, give the arms a pull and compare with other suits.
You’ll soon feel which one has more stretch.
The price of a suit often reflects how the suit has been finished in terms of the seams.
So why would I care about the seams, you might think.
Entry level (in terms of price) suits will usually have simple stitched seams.
The higher the price range, the more technically finished the seams usually are.
The high end suits often have blind stitched seams, that means that the seam is stitched halfway through the neoprene, so the holes don’t poke all the way through.
It’s great in winter suits as it will slow water seeping into your wetsuit, keeping you warmer. In summer suits comfort can be taken into account.
You don’t want to come out of your suit with seam marks all over, as if you are still wearing your suit. On top of the way the seams are stitched, the way they are sealed is also important. Some are simply glued, others are taped on the inside and high end suits will have a liquid seal on top of the seam either on the outside or both in and out.
Just like with a back zip, a seam will reduce the flexibility/stretch of your suit if placed on a panel that needs to move (shoulders, underarms,…). Less seams will make a suit more flexible.
More important when buying a winter suit or if you want a quick drying wetsuit.
Most brands have their own type of thermal lining, many use synthetic nylon, often with hollow fibres to trap heat and some have wool lining. These can create considerable extra warmth for winter but might compromise on suit flexibility.
If you are an eco-warrior, I might have to disappoint you. Most wetsuits are still made of synthetic rubbers. Wetsuits and surfboards are unfortunately not the eco-friendliest of things. However, more and more brands are turning to eco-friendly alternatives.
Some, like Patagonia’s suits, are made from natural hevea tree rubber, others like Picture use a corn based alternative. Some even started using waterbased glues. Limestone neoprene is becoming more common too. Most alternatives still need massive amounts of energy to become a usable neoprene, so the quest for the perfect substitute continues to be on the forefront of wetsuit brands’ innovation teams.
Some extra advice
Once you have found your dream suit, you will want to take care of it like it is your best friend. Rinse it in clean (not salty!) water after every session, inside and out.
Make sure you don’t dry it in the blazing sun as this will break down the neoprene and seams and will shorten the lifespan of your suit. When drying and storing your suit, try not to hang it by the shoulders but hang it folded over a hanger, as the weight of the wet suit would otherwise stretch out the shoulders.
Don’t be tempted to pee in your suit. It might seem like the easiest option when the waves are pumping and you are having an amazing time in the water, or as a quick warm up exercise. Just don’t… The acidity will affect the seams of your suit and germs will build up.
Every now and then and at the end of the season, give your wetsuit a proper wash with some wetsuit shampoo to avoid build-up of bacteria and a stinky suit.
We hope you find the perfect suit! If you would have any questions before you spend your hard-earned money, don’t hesitate to get in touch and we’ll try our best to help you on your search!