Your wetsuit guide

Wetsuit! If you’ve never participated in a water sport before you may be surprised at the diversity when it comes time to go shopping for one. Each sport has its own specifications based on the types of movements that are most common and the conditions you encounter. Unless you happen to already have a suit that you use for diving and can’t spend the money for another, it’s best to buy a sport specific wet suit.

The biggest thing to consider when you are shopping is the water temperature where you surf. Just behind that is how your body responds to cold. People’s bodies actually vary about a degree on each side of the 98.6 F/37 C average, and if you normally run hotter or colder than most people you want to take that into consideration when shopping for your suit.

TROPICAL CLIMATE: Only the biggest ice queens need a wet suit in tropical climates. If your feet are constantly being used as refrigeration devices then you may want a spring suit (the wet suit equivalent of a T-shirt and shorts), but for most people the priority will be oodles of sunscreen.

SUB-TROPICAL CLIMATE: Typically you will need a wet suit only in winter. For most people a spring suit in winter with a thickness of 2-3mm will be all that you need. But if you run cold you will probably be better off with a full suit of the same thickness.

TEMPERATE CLIMATE: Now you are entering the two wet suit zone. For spring and fall you will want a spring suit about 2mm thick. For summer you want a bikini. And for winter you will want a full suit that is 3mm thick.

COLD CLIMATE: This climate generally means year round wet suit use. You will also need to invest in thicker wetsuits, from 3-5 mm depending on the specific water temps and how well you tolerate cold. You may want to spring for the additional cost of sealed seams so less cold water will get inside you suit. Most surfers will also be using booties and quite a few also be wearing gloves and a hood. Remember that places with warm air temps can have cool water temps, ocean currents and air currents can yield some extreme differences between the two.

EXTREME COLD: Only for those that are surfing when there is snow on the beach. For those that wish to join the ranks that surf in artic or sub arctic water. The cost of the dry suit that you need to participate in this extreme area of surfing should only be an outlay for the most extreme surfers.

Now you have an idea of what type of suit or suits you need. So when you are in the store trying them on, how should they feel? The principle behind the function of a wet suit is that a thin layer of water is trapped between the suit and your skin. The water is then heated by your body and insulates you. You want the suit to be snug enough to hold just a thin layer of water in and just loose enough to allow movement. You do not want a loose wet suit. So if you lose weight you will want to buy a new one.

Don’t let anyone working on commission try to push you into the wrong suit. Do a full stretch test on the suit, just like you did with your board shorts. Go through the motions you use when surfing. It the suit binds in any way or tugs, try the next one. Remember that when the suit is water logged it will be significantly heavier than when dry.

Also, don’t listen to anyone that tells you the suit will stretch. It won’t. Even if you are completely vigilant about washing your suit it will harden and become stiffer over time because of the salt water. Unlike your favorite pair of sneakers there will not be a break in period.

The best way to go shopping for your first wetsuit is to go with a more experienced surfer. They know what you need and don’t have a vested financial interest in your choice.

When you are buying your first wetsuit because you are just learning it’s a good idea to go the economical route. If it turns out that the sport is not for you, you can sell your board for a small loss, but your wetsuit is pretty much a write off. So wait until you are sure that you will stick with it before shelling out $500 for the premium wetsuit.

When you are not in the water there are two things to consider with your wetsuit. Cleaning and transportation. It is absolutely necessary to clean your suit in fresh water after every use. It is best to dry it in the shade. Drying it in the sun will break down the rubber the same way it destroys your windshield wipers. Putting a wet wetsuit in your car without having something to hold it in will do two things, give a funky aroma to your car and over time cause rust. Save yourself the rust damage and your friends the nasal damage and keep a watertight container in your car for your wetsuit.

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