Post Updated:🕓 16 min read
Buying a wetsuit is likely to be the second biggest purchase you’ll make on your way to becoming a weekend surfing pro. This wetsuit buying guide will help unravel any mystery thrown your way during the process of buying a wetsuit. It will also leave you with some great tips to make your journey towards surfing warmth that little bit easier.
Why should I use a wetsuit?
So, the first question worth answering – why should I use a wetsuit? Believe it or not there are a few solid reasons you should use a wetsuit if you’re learning to surf.
Reason #1 – Warmth
A wetsuit helps keep you warm in the sea for much longer than if you were without one. If you can stay amongst the waves longer you can spend more time practising your surfing techniques. This will ultimately help you become a better surfer sooner, nice.
Reason #2 – Protection
A wetsuit keeps you safe from the could-be abrasive world under the waters surface. This includes hidden rocks, sharp surfboard fins and even some seaweed – a wetsuit protects you from all these things.
Wetsuits can also help from a psychological point of view. With one on it can give the wearer the feeling that they’re wearing a flexible suite of armour. They’re therefore great for anyone who is anxious about venturing into the sea when learning to surf.
Reason #3 – Buoyancy
Often overlooked a wetsuit gives the wearer buoyancy. Wetsuit material is unicellular, which basically means its layers include thousands of tiny air bubbles. Other then keeping you warm these little air bubbles make the wetsuit buoyant. This in turn helps you stay above the waters surface making a wetsuit a much-needed bit of kit for any surfer.
How do wetsuits work?
Well, there are in fact two ways a wetsuit keeps your warm but most people only know about one. An additional third way is pretty much subject to the weather. If you wanted to know a bit more about how wetsuits evolved check out this article HERE.
The first and most commonly known way a wetsuit keeps you warm is by trapping water. Wetsuits let a small amount of water penetrate through the material. This water is then trapped between the wetsuit and the wearer and warmed up by the wearers body temperature. As long as this warm water stays within the wetsuit the wearer will stay warm.
The second is that wetsuit material is made up of thousands of tiny air bubbles. The air inside these bubbles is gradually warmed by the wearers body temperature. This second source of warmth is another way the water trapped within the wetsuit stays warm.
The third only applies on the better weather days. As you might have guessed, it’s down to the wetsuits colour. With most wetsuits being black nowadays they’re able to absorb a great amount of warmth from the sun. This warmth is transferred to the air bubbles which again keeps that small amount of water within the wetsuit warm.
What are wetsuits made of?
So, the word neoprene was mentioned in the intro and it’s what makes 95% of wetsuits today.
The neoprene material is actually sandwiched between a protective inner and outer layer – typically made of Nylon or Lycra. The layers on either side of the neoprene are what give the wetsuit its durability and flexibility.
Back in the day, single neoprene sheets were sewn together and surfers had to use talcum powder to get them on and off. Neoprene is still the majority material in the market today. There are however more and more environmental friendly wetsuit materials available these days…
The first of these alternatives came about in the 1960s. Instead of being created from oil based rubber (like neoprene) this new material derived from limestone. It was made by the Yamamoto Corporation in Japan and is known as geoprene.
Not only is it more environmentally friendly than neoprene, geoprene has many advantages making it far superior in performance. With improved buoyancy, flexibility and better durable brands tend to reserve geoprene for their top spec wetsuits. Its environmental improvements come from its durability as geoprene wetsuits don’t need to be replaced as often as neoprene ones.
Another alternative to neoprene comes from American outdoor clothing company Patagonia. They’ve teamed up with Yulex to create wetsuits that are made from 85% natural rubber. By replacing the oil based neoprene with a plant-based one, they’ve reduced production CO2 emissions by up to 80%. The wetsuits being produced by this partnership have been said to perform just as well as traditional neoprene ones.
There are also some companies rethinking plastics lifecycle to reduce the impact wetsuits have on the environment. Vissla are another forward thinking surfing company who’re creating wetsuits from recycled plastic. Whether its old rubber tyres or recycled plastic bottles its all in an effort to reduce the large carbon footprint wetsuits leave.
How long will a wetsuit last?
Every now and again wetsuits need to be replaced. Whether they’re too small, worn or they just doesn’t keep you warm anymore its a fairly natural process to occur.
Predicting a wetsuits lifespan typically depends on a two things;
- How often they’re used
- How well they’re looked after
If everything goes to plan the wetsuit of an occasional weekend surfer should last between 4-6 years, anything beyond that is a bonus.
To help you combat the natural deterioration of your wetsuit I’ve included a Wetsuit Care section a bit further down.
Wetsuit Thickness Explained
Before diving into all the different types of wetsuits, I thought I’d quickly explain wetsuit thickness measurements, as not everyone knows.
Now, these measurements typically look something like this; 4/3mm, 6/5/4mm or even just 3mm. But what do they mean?
Well, the numbers are the materials thickness level used in the wetsuit. The order the numbers are in dictates the level of thickness from the thickest part the the thinnest. For example, a 4/3mm will have a thickness of 4mm in the core areas of the wetsuit (torso region) and 3mm in the areas further away from this region (arms and legs).
Similarly a 6/5/4mm is a wetsuit with three levels of thickness included. The core areas start at 6mm and then 5mm and the 4mm as you get to the arms and legs.
If a wetsuit has a thickness measurement of just 3mm, this means the whole suit has the same thickness level no matter what part.
Types of wetsuit
No matter how cold or warm the water there is a wetsuit for every condition. In this section we’ll go through the different types of wetsuit and whens best to use each one.
Lets start with the all-round good egg and my personal fav, the full suit.
Extremely versatile and can be used year round due to the large variety of thicknesses available. A standard 3/2mm would keep you comfortably warm in the summer whilst a 6/5mm would keep you toasty warm in the depths of winter. Depending on thickness and accessories, this type of wetsuit is good for water temperatures from 6°C (42°F) all the way up to 17°C (63°F). To check out our collection of full suits click HERE.
Short sleeve full suit
Also known as the short arm steamer this is a great in-between season suit.
With more freedom for your arms to flail and a typical thickness of 3/2mm this suit type retains core temperature well. This wetsuit is aimed at the end of Spring beginning of Autumn seasons when water temperatures begin to turn.
Not one for the winter months but good for water temperatures from 17°C (63°F) to 20°C (68°F). Keep in mind wind speed and temperature with this one due to a lack of arm protection.
Typically used in other water sports such as kayaking, the Long John is a popular option for the old school surfer.
With a complete lack of sleeves arm swinging and rapid paddling is achievable in this wetsuit. Great for the summer and can be used in water temperatures north of 19°C (66°F).
A lack of sleeves means you’ll want warm air temperatures if windy but allows you to work on the full arm tan you’ve always wanted, nice.
Long sleeve shorty
The Springsuit name says it all. Perfect for lead up to the summer warmth without having to fully commit to the shorty.
An opposite of the short arm steamer this suit type is also great for in-between season sessions. With great core warmth and lots of lower body freedom expect smooth pop ups.
Typical thicknesses are around the 2/2mm mark and are ideal for water temps of 20°C (68°F) or more.
Now we’re talking, get the BBQ’s out Summer has arrived.
Very similar to the long sleeve shorty but with short sleeves. Typically 2mm this suit was made with Summer in mind so use freely in waters from 20°C (68°F) upwards.
To check out our collection of shorty’s click HERE.
Like a shorty but sleeveless.
Typically 2mm and again used in the peak of summer in waters 22°C (72°F) or greater.
If you have one of these I can only assume you love kayaking, I’m ok with it I just thought we could be friends.
Wetsuit Thickness Water Temperature Guidelines
To make sense all of the above wetsuit types here’s a neater table with recommendations of what to wear in what water temperatures.
Don’t forget to factor in air temperature and wind speed as these can play a big role in how long you stay warm in between the breakers.
Types of wetsuit stitching
Onto wetsuit stitching… Now, knowing your wetsuit stitching can give you that inside knowledge you need when getting yourself a great wetsuit.
Lets take a look at the three key types of stitching most commonly used when assembling a wetsuit.
The first stitch is the overlock stitch.
If you’ve ever tried sewing two pieces of material together chances are this is the stitch you used. This method is achieved by simply rolling two edges of material together and stitching them.
This type of stitching is reserved for the low cost wetsuits around the £60 mark.
It’s the least flexible seam out of the three and leaves a bit of a bulge along the seams where the two edges meet. This bulge can result in chafing if worn for long periods of time so not the best in terms of comfort.
The second stitch used is the flatlock stitch.
Offering much more in terms of flexibility the flatlock stitch involves laying one edge over the other then stitching through both edges to create a seam.
This is the most common type of wetsuit stitching and is used in most wetsuits between £80-£200 in value.
The downside to this method is the number of holes it makes in the wetsuit. Every hole gives cold water a chance to enter the wetsuit and flush out the warm water inside.
The third and most comprehensive stitching method out of the three is the blindstitch.
This method involves gluing two edges of material together creating a sealed join and then stitching half way through the material coming back out the same side. This results in the most flexible, durable, watertight seam.
As this method is the most complex it’s also the most expensive and reserved for top spec wetsuits from £200 upwards.
As well as different types of stitching there are also different ways of sealing a wetsuit seam.
The most common seals include;
- Glued seams – Self explanatory, where glue provides a waterproof seal between two pieces of material
- Spot taped seams – Tape is glued to the inside of the seam in critical areas to provide additional strength where needed
- Full taped seams – Tape is glued to the inside of the seam in all areas to provide additional strength
- Liquid seams – The best providing a 100% waterproof seam using special liquid rubber
Depending on the value most brands use a combination of seals and stitching types whilst creating their wetsuits.
Types of wetsuit zips
So guys only one aspect left, the wetsuit zip.
Believe it or not this is again a very important part of a wetsuit. It’s the final defence between you and the water and there a two types to discuss. The traditional back zip and the more modern chest zip.
Advantages of the back zip wetsuit
This option certainly has some benefits over it’s reverse brother…
- Easier to get in and out of – This is simply because the hole to get your body through is much bigger
- Cheaper – As the back zip is easier to produce out fo the two it will be found in the cheaper wetsuits
- Debatably comfier – With more neck adjustments available with a back zip these can arguably be more comfy for some surfers
Disadvantages of the back zip wetsuit
So what are its drawbacks?
- Not as waterproof – With a longer zip water has more opportunities to get into the wetsuit
- More restrictive paddling – A zip on the back reduces the flexibility of the back panels making paddling more difficult
- Harder to get off – Not as easy to unzip as the string is behind you
Advantages of the chest zip wetsuit
Onto the newer chest zip, which again has its own set of pros and cons.
- Very accessible – It’s right there on your chest, whether you’re getting in or out you cant miss it
- More waterproof – A smaller length zip means fewer opportunities for water to get in the wetsuit
- Easier paddling – With a zip free back panel, the wetsuit is much more flexible in the back area making paddling easier
Disadvantages of the chest zip wetsuit
As with everything though there are some drawbacks to the newer chest zip.
- Difficult to get in and out – with a smaller entry hole for your body to go through a chest zip makes getting a wetsuit on and off a bit more challenging
- More expensive – typically reserved for higher spec wetsuits
So which one should you go for?
If you’re a surfing beginner, start out with a traditional back zip wetsuit. They’re inexpensive and will do the job until you know surfing is definitely something you want to continue.
If you’re a keen surfer I’d definitely recommend a chest wetsuit. They perform better in pretty much every area and last longer so are worth the extra cost.
Now we’ve covered every anatomical aspect of the wetsuit, its time for the big question – what size wetsuit should I buy?
This isn’t the easiest question to answer due to brands having different wetsuit sizing brackets and different wetsuit panel shapes. To make this easier I’ve compiled a full list of wetsuit sizes from all the biggest surfing brands HERE.
How should a wetsuit fit?
So, I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeve to help you guys to figure out if your wetsuit fits you as it should. Get ready to put your wetsuits on guys, this article just got interesting…
Tips for the top section
You should be able to move your arms freely;
- When you stretch your arms all the way up your wetsuit should pull them back too much
- When your arms are by your side there shouldn’t be excessive folding under the armpit
In the water your wetsuit needs to be a second skin;
- Pinch the neoprene on your arm, you should be able to get a decent pinch before it pings back when letting go
- Your cuffs need to be tight against your wrists and ankles, again pull these away and test if they ping back against your skin
Tips for the middle section
You should be able to breathe easily;
- Your wetsuit will be tighter the first time you wear it, it will also loosen up in the water, regardless of this you should be able to breathe normally
- If your wetsuit is restricting your chest too much or feels like the air is being pushed out of you its too tight
The wetsuit should be watertight;
- Pull the material in your stomach area away from your body. If the wetsuit fits well it should create a suction like sensation
- Check the area above your bum, if there is a trampoline type area (big gap between your skin and the wetsuit) the wetsuit torso is not long enough
Tips for the bottom section
You should be flexible;
- Lift one knee up towards your chest, there shouldn’t be too much restriction from the wetsuit when doing so
- Lift the other knee up towards your chest and check for tightness around the thigh area
If you’ve followed all these steps and your wetsuit meets pretty much all of them I’d say you’ve got a great fitting wetsuit.
Now, this is a very important section. Proper wetsuit care can add years of life compared to if it’s neglected. This section will cover how to look after your wetsuit but also how not to look after it.
If you want a break from reading I’ve created a great video for ‘How To Wash A Wetsuit‘ showing you exactly what I do.
How NOT to wash your wetsuit
- Don’t use a washing machine – A running trend within this section is that heat is the biggest killer of wetsuit performance, so keep it away from whoever is in charge of the domestics
- Don’t use strong detergents – The chemicals within these solutions are too harsh for neoprene and will again ruin your suit
- Don’t worry about the board wax – If you have some excess wax rub off onto your suit from your board don’t try scrubbing it off, you’ll likely do more damage then good and it’ll only find its way back onto your suit
How to wash your wetsuit
Again if you’re bored of reading checkout my video HERE.
- Use freshwater – To properly wash the salt off your wetsuit you’ll need to use freshwater
- Use wetsuit shampoo – Yes there is such a thing and I recommend you use it, it will properly clean the material and remove any bad odours as well
- Leave it to soak – This should only take 10 minutes but gives the wetsuit shampoo a chance to really get into the material
How NOT to dry your wetsuit
- Don’t dry your wetsuit in a tumble dryer – the heat will render your wetsuit useless, trust me on this one guys
- Don’t iron your wetsuit – I don’t even know why I’d need to say this but just please no
- Don’t dry your wetsuit in direct sunlight – UV rays age neoprene in the same way they age skin, your suit will become old, stiff and less effective
How to dry your wetsuit
- Turn your wetsuit inside out – This will maintain the wetsuits flexibility and will be dry first if you decide to go back into the sea
- Fold at the waist – For the heavier thicker wetsuits, this is also the quickest way to dry a wetsuit
- Hang on the shoulders – This is reserved for the lighter wetsuits and if you dont have enough storage to fold your wetsuit at the waist
Getting Your Wetsuit On And Off
As well as washing and drying your wetsuit there are a few things you can do to help protect your wetsuit whilst getting it on and off.
Getting your wetsuit on
- Wear plastic bags on your hands and feet before venturing into your wetsuit. This makes putting a wetsuit on much quicker and protects the inside of the wetsuit from sharp fingers and nails.
- Remove any sharp rings, watches or bracelets. Again, this protects the inside of the wetsuit from possible tearing and will make it easier and quicker to get on.
- Dont force your zips. These weird little things help keep the cold water out so be gentle and only push/pull in the same direction as the zip goes, not at an angle.
Getting your wetsuit off
- Try and slow down; you’re better off removing it gently in time then turning into The Hulk and tearing it off.
- Remove it in the car park on a changing mat or on some grass, nobody likes a sandy wetsuit. If you do take your wetsuit off on the beach try to rinse the sand off in the sea before reaching the car.
- Try not to stand on the wetsuit with one leg and pull it off with the other. I know we’re all guilty in this regard but neoprene has never been the biggest fan of over stretching.
There are some great little changing mats that double up as a wetsuit bags that make all of this easier. Check the full collection out HERE.
Renting vs Buying
So do you rent or buy a wetsuit?
Reasons to rent a wetsuit
- Renting a wetsuit can be much cheaper than buying one
- You dont have to clean it or look after it after your surf session
- There’s less to take to the beach
- It doesn’t require any storage space at home
Reasons to buy a wetsuit
- You’re guaranteed a wetsuit every time to reach the beach
- A new wetsuit should be of greater spec
- It won’t be wet or sandy when you put it on
- Your wetsuit will fit you perfectly every time
Of course it depends on your own situation to whether you rent or buy a wetsuit. I do have one piece of rental etiquette for you though, don’t go full commando.
Brand New vs Second Hand
If you’ve decided to buy your own wetsuit – do you buy new or second hand?
Advantages of buying a second hand wetsuit
- Buying a second hand wetsuit is always cheaper then buying a brand new equivalent. This is great if you’re on a budget.
- You’re likely to get a much higher spec wetsuit compared to spending the same amount of money on a brand new wetsuit.
Both of these points make buying second hand pretty inviting but there are a few things to think about before purchasing.
Disadvantages of buying a second hand wetsuit
- You don’t know how well it’s been looked after. As we know there are lots that can be done to ruin a wetsuit as well as prolong its life. With a second hand suit you just wont know which one has been utilised.
- You don’t know how often the suit has been used. Even if someone looks after a wetsuit as best they can the performance will deteriorate naturally with use.
- There is less choice so might be harder to get the one you want.
- A small drawback but lets face it, someone else would have probably gone number one in the wetsuit.
Advantages of buying a brand new wetsuit
- It’s brand new, you’ll know nobody has every used it so will be performing at the top of its ability.
- It will have a better resale value if you decide to sell it.
- Lots of choice in terms or thicknesses and sizes so should be able to get the one you want.
Disadvantages of buying a brand new wetsuit
- It will cost more than a second hand equivalent.
Well guys that completes this longer than expected wetsuit buying guide.
I hope it helps you with future wetsuit purchases and hope it was an interesting read. As always, it would be awesome to hear from you in the comments section below and any social shares would also be very much appreciated – this one took a while.
Feel free to check out my other social media channels and let me know what you think!
Recommended next read: ‘Wetsuit Size Charts’
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