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What wetsuit should I buy?

Are all wetsuits made from the same material?

Beginners’ guide to surfing

Read Time: 5 Minutes

Throughout the course of our previous articles, you’ve learnt about what equipment you need to take with you in the water – from the board itself to the accessories that come with it. One thing we haven’t yet covered, however, is what you’ll be wearing. Unless you’re lucky enough to live somewhere with warm water all year round, this will be a wetsuit, at least some of the time. So what kind of wetsuit should you be looking for?

Wetsuits come in many different forms. You’ll find variation in where the zip is – or whether there is a zip at all – in the thickness of the material, in the technology employed to keep you warm and comfortable, and, of course, in the price.

Let’s start with the zip. The zip is what will close up your wetsuit after you get into it and keep you and the water as separate as possible, and typically you’ll find it either vertical on the back of your wetsuit, or horizontally across the chest. Each has their pros and cons. Back zips allow the wetsuit to open up significantly more and as a result are much easier to get into, but once on the chest zip is preferred by most surfers as it gives you a little more flexibility when paddling and is also less prone to popping open. There are also some wetsuits these days which have no zip at all – these behave a little like a wetsuit with a chest zip in that they’re tough to get into but offer good flexibility once on.

The second, and arguably most important, thing that you need to consider when purchasing a wetsuit is its thickness. As you may have guessed, the thicker the wetsuit the warmer you’ll be, and there’s a pretty significant difference between the various thicknesses. A 3/2 – which means the suit is 3mm thick on the torso and 2mm thick on the arms and legs – is suitable for water in the range of around 13-18o, while a 5/4 is something you’ll wear when it’s closer to single digits – ie in the winter time a long way from the equator. It’s important to have a wetsuit with the appropriate thickness because a 3/2 in freezing water will not keep you warm, while a 5/4 in temperate waters will have you sweating and very uncomfortable. Unsurprisingly, the thinner the wetsuits the more flexible they are to move around in, but cold water wetsuits are becoming increasingly comfortable, particularly if you’re willing to part with a reasonable sum of money.

Now to the materials. Typically wetsuits have been made from a material called neoprene, which is a type of synthetic rubber. This is still generally the base from which most wetsuits are made, but a number of other materials are now often included in the process to make them both more durable, and more comfortable. Rip Curl is one such brand, whose ‘flashbomb’ wetsuit has become one of, if not the, most popular on the market. The flashbomb has a soft, carpet-like interior – something which bemuses many people initially but which ultimately helps to keep you warmer, and dries more quickly. This is just one example of the lengths brands are going to these days to keep you warm in the water.

The second, and arguably most important, thing that you need to consider when purchasing a wetsuit is its thickness. As you may have guessed, the thicker the wetsuit the warmer you’ll be, and there’s a pretty significant difference between the various thicknesses. A 3/2 – which means the suit is 3mm thick on the torso and 2mm thick on the arms and legs – is suitable for water in the range of around 13-18o, while a 5/4 is something you’ll wear when it’s closer to single digits – ie in the winter time a long way from the equator. It’s important to have a wetsuit with the appropriate thickness because a 3/2 in freezing water will not keep you warm, while a 5/4 in temperate waters will have you sweating and very uncomfortable. Unsurprisingly, the thinner the wetsuits the more flexible they are to move around in, but cold water wetsuits are becoming increasingly comfortable, particularly if you’re willing to part with a reasonable sum of money.

Now to the materials. Typically wetsuits have been made from a material called neoprene, which is a type of synthetic rubber. This is still generally the base from which most wetsuits are made, but a number of other materials are now often included in the process to make them both more durable, and more comfortable. Rip Curl is one such brand, whose ‘flashbomb’ wetsuit has become one of, if not the, most popular on the market. The flashbomb has a soft, carpet-like interior – something which bemuses many people initially but which ultimately helps to keep you warmer, and dries more quickly. This is just one example of the lengths brands are going to these days to keep you warm in the water.

The most important thing about a wetsuit for many will, of course, be the price. This is understandable, as there is a massive difference in how much you’ll pay for a low-end wetsuit and a high-end one, and many don’t want to part with a significant sum of money for their first suit. This is perfectly understandable, but it’s worth remembering that there is a pretty significant correlation between the price you pay and how long your wetsuit will last. You might be able to get out of the shop with a $250 suit from a lesser known brand, but if you stick with surfing, you may find that you’ll have to fork out again for a new one a year later. In contrast, if you are willing to spend upwards of $500 you may well save in the long run, with the best wetsuits able to last for season after season, particularly if you take good care of them.

How do you do that, you might ask? The most important moments in taking care of your wetsuit comes immediately after you take it off. The first thing to be aware of is where you remove it. Try to ensure that as you’re struggling your way out of it, you aren’t stepping all over it on a gravel carpark or something similar – it’s best to take it off on a less abrasive surface. After that, it’s key to give it a good rinse both inside and out to ensure as much salt water as possible is removed. Finally, hang it up somewhere to dry – don’t just chuck it back in your bucket soaking wet. You’ll probably need to leave it hanging in the sun for a few hours to get it dry, but once it is make sure you bring it back inside or to somewhere out of the harsh sunlight. Follow these steps, and you’ll get many more surfs out of your wetsuit than you would if you didn’t take care of it, and save plenty of money in the process.

And that’s pretty much all you need to know. There are a couple of other things that first-time wetsuit buyers may become a little flummoxed by, such as how on earth to get your body into that tiny little hole, and whether you need to wear anything underneath, but these are things that you’ll figure out relatively quickly. Personally, I don’t like to wear anything under my wetsuit, but some people prefer to wear a pair of jocks or a bikini. And in terms of getting it on – it might seem tough at first, but you’ll figure it out. If you stick with surfing, it’s a technique that you’ll become very used to.