The best wetsuit in the world is the one that is light, stretchy, comfy and it fits your well.
- your wetsuit needs the most common is warmth, but you could be after sun/reef protection
- your budget there are benefits in being a little flexi here
- the coverage you want such long legs/long arms
- your preferred features like zip location (more below)
- your size standard clothing size
By doing this you have narrowed down your options significantly.
Skim your way through the sub-headings to what you need to know if you must…But don’t miss the points at the bottom about shopping, finding the correct fit and wetsuit care.
Your new second skin is called neoprene
It’s the material that wetsuits are made out. The thickness of the neoprene is measured in millimetres. Generally speaking the thicker the wetsuit, the warmer it is. Usually the added thickness means flexibility is compromised. Although it may not seem like much, a 1mm difference in thickness can keep you feeling warm for an additional hour each every surf.
A “4/3” wetsuit mean that it is 4mm thick on the body and 3mm thick on the limbs.
A “3/2” is 3mm on the body, 2mm on the limbs.
The thickest panels provide added warmth to your core, the thinner panels more flexibility.
General temperature guide…
5/3 – under 11 degrees celcius
4/3 10 – 15 degrees celcius
3/2 16 – 22 degrees celcius
However, thickness is not the only determining warmth factor. A slighlty thinner wetsuit with quality neoprene and durable, water-tight stitching/seals can mean just as much warmth (sometimes even more) with the added bonus of better flexibility.
The 2 classic types of wetsuit cuts are:
Steamer: Full length arms with full length legs
Spring Suit: Short legs with either short length or full length arms
Women’s wetsuits now have a range of diverse cuts and styles. There are options of sleeveless, front zippers, bikin cut spring suits, low necks, vests. Most of these variations are designed for warmer water.
Try out different entry systems. The main two are either a back zip or a chest zip.
Chest zips (sometimes called zipper-less) are a little trickier to get into, but no water comes in through the zip which is a huge bonus. A common problem area for fit is around the neck. If it’s too tight it can rub. If it’s too loose water will gush through. Different entry systems may have a better fit on your neck and some have an adjustable option. Chest zip suits do keep water out, but if you can’t get a good fit or you prefer an easy entry, back zip up suits are a good option.
a note on the shopping experience
Getting in and out of wetsuits is a much lengthier process than shoe shopping so allow plenty of time. Wear your bikini (or underwear that has the equivalent properties as a bikini… i.e no push up bras) so that you get an accurate fit.
It can be sweaty after your 3rd suit but it is important and well worth the time you put into it. Be sure to try a range of brands and styles. Shop assistants from reputable surf stores are very knowledgeable so make the most of their expertise.
Finding the right fit
The key areas where you don’t want any bagginess or slack material are: under your arms, on your back, around your breasts, around your neck behind your knees. Also, the wrist, ankle and neck should all seal. If you’re not used to wearing a wetsuit, It’s common to feel like a good fit is actually tight. A good fit will sit on your body like second skin.
Move around, do squats, star jumps, paddle motions and streeeetch to test the range of movements the suit allows you to do freely. Neck height can vary a lot between different wetsuits. Try on a range to see what feels better for you.
This section is where we delve into the technical. If you are going to be purchasing a winter wetsuit this info can be really useful. To combat the stiffness that comes with added thickness, top end suits are continuously pushing boundaries with fewer panels, ultra flexible neoprene and more durable, water tight seams. This technology is beginning to filter down into cheaper options too.
Stitching and seamsThe method of stitching and the type of seam in a wetsuit make a big difference to flexibility, durability, warmth and price. As you now know, a well fitting wetsuit is essential for warmth and comfort. Separate, tailored panels of neoprene joined together create an optimum fit. However, the seams of these separate panels have pros and cons: More Seams a better fitting wetsuit can be glued to prevent water coming in reduces flexibility Increases the likelihood of chafing caused by a seam Less Seams Less chance of water entering the suit Poorer fit, although this is becoming less and less a problem with new hyper-flexible neoprene technology
There are three types of stitching
Overlock Stitching: The two edges of the panels are rolled together and then stitched. This method is commonly used on summer suits and cheaper suits. It is the least effective at keeping water out and it reduces comfort (the seam can be felt on your skin) and flexibility. Flat-lock stitching: two overlapping edges of material are stitched together and the seam lies flat on the inside and outside.The resulting seam is flexible and strong. The drawback is that the many tiny holes make it prone to high water penetration making it more suited to warmer water surfing.
Glued and Blind-stitched: Edges are glued together and then stitched. The stitching pierces only the inside layer of the neoprene so the join is nearly watertight. Result: watertight, flexible seams. This is the ideal seam for cold water temperatures, and is found on higher quality, more expensive wetsuits. If you are a cold water surfer, do yourself a favour and pay extra for blindstitching. Sealing the seams Seals counter water seepage issues that occurs with stitching. They also add strength and durability to seams.
Spot Taped Seams: Tape is glued to the inside of the seam in critical areas to add additional strength where needed Fully Taped Seams: Tape is glued to the inside of every seam. Neoprene tape can be used to ensure there is no loss in flexibility Liquid Seal Seams Latex based glue is applied to the inside seam, making it waterproof and more flexible.
Further helpful terms
Thermospan/ Firewall/ Poly pro panels are all fancy names for a lovely layer of insulating material that draws water away from your body.
Fast drying linings are a furry lining that genuinely do dry quickly and they keep you warmer. Not to mention that their quick drying makes your second surf in the chilly months much more appealing.
Batwing A flap of neoprene sitting flush inside the upper back of your suit which collects any water drips (rather than have them dribble down your back).
A salt encrusted wetsuit will perish very quickly. And a salt encrusted wetsuit left out in direct sunlight will perish even quicker. Wash your wetsuit well after every surf in cold, fresh water, leave it to drip dry in the shade and will add years onto it’s life.