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Wetsuits for Surfing

In many locations a wetsuit is a required piece of equipment for surfing.  It is important to select the right type of suit and to get the correct fit so that you will be safe and warm in the water.

Why Wear a Wetsuit?

A wetsuit is a snug fitting neoprene rubber suit designed to insulate you in cold waters.   It will allow you to stay in the water much longer than you would be able to without one.   When you first submerge, differences in pressure force a thin layer of water between you and the wetsuit.  Your body heats this layer, while the neoprene insulates you from the outside cold. In a wetsuit under normal use, you will be completely wet on the inside.

When you find a suit that fits you, try on every suit of that size in the shop, You will find considerable difference in fit between brands and even within the same brand. Variance in cutting and sewing means that no two suits are exactly alike, so take advantage of this and find the suit that fits best.

Why Are Wetsuits Warm?

Wetsuits are made of a flexible material called neoprene, which is a synthetic rubber that contains thousands of tiny air pockets.  The type of  neoprene used impacts flexibility, and there are 3 types of neoprene available for surfing wetsuits. Standard Neoprene, Super Stretch Neoprene, and Super Stretch Water Repellant Neoprene. In order to offer wetsuits at different price levels, manufacturers use varying degrees of these neoprene types. For surfing, you need at least 30% Super Stretch.

Wetsuit thickness is measured in millimeters and impacts warmth ( i.e. 3/2 mm).  The first number represents thickness in the torso area and the second number represents thickness in the extremities. Less neoprene is used in the extremities to increase flexibility. As a rule of thumb, thickness increases warmth and decreases flexibility.

How Should a Wetsuit Fit?

A new suit should almost feel too tight. New materials will stretch out and conform to your body. Make sure you have lots of length in arms and legs. Make sure you can't grab a handful of suit over your lower back. There should be no folds of material under your arms or down your lats.

Zipperless suits add an extra degree of mobility and comfort but are a little tougher to get into and aren't as durable.  Zippered suits usually  last longer, are slightly cheaper, and are definitely easier to get on and off.

Is There Anything Else I Need?

Depending on the temperature and condition of the water, you may consider a hood, gloves, and/or booties.  Remember that your body cools much faster in water than it does in the air so keep your head and body warm!  There are a variety of styles of wetsuits to choose from and it really depends on when and where you will use it as to what you should buy.  Salespeople at your local surf shop should be able to answer all of your questions.

Types of Wetsuits

Shorties or Springsuits are great when the water or air is just a little too cool to be comfortable in just a swim suit.  Spring suits come in short or long sleeves.
Farmer Johns or Long Johns  are  great when the water is cool but the air is not.  These suits have long legs and no sleeves.
Full Suits are long sleeve and full length so it covers the whole body.  You can select the thickness of your suit depending on the water temperature.
Hoods are essential to keep your head warm and protected if you are going to be in cold water.   A suit with a built-in hood allows less water to seep in through the neck. However detachable hoods are available or you could purchase a hooded vest to wear under you suit for added warmth.

Five Finger

Three Finger


Gloves can also be purchased to keep your hands warm.  Again, they are recommended for cold water.  There are a variety of styles (three finger, five finger and mittens) and well as degrees of thickness available such as .


Round Toe 

Split Toe

Booties are used to keep your feet warm in cold water.  There are two varieties available  round toe or split toe.  Again, you can select the thickness of your booties.   
Rash Guards are stretchy lycra shirts that come in long or short sleeves and a variety of colors.  The purpose of a rash guard is to prevent a rash from surfboard wax and/or sand and to protect from sunburn.  So they can be used on warm days alone or under wetsuits on colder days to offer a little more warmth. 

Wetsuit Care And Repair

In order to keep your wetsuit in great shape it is necessary to care for it properly.  Occasionally wet suits will tear and it is important to know how to repair them appropriately.  For more information see our section on Wetsuit Care and Repair