It’s great surfing in swim shorts. But sooner or later, when the water temperature drops, it’ll be time to hang up the board shorts and crack out the wetsuit. Nevertheless, when you haven’t been surfing in a long while, choosing a wetsuit is no simple matter. There are all sorts of criteria to take into account.
OBJECTIVE QUALITY CRITERIA WHEN CHOOSING A WETSUIT
What we want from the neoprene in a surf wetsuit is for it to be supple, lightweight and hydrophobic (i.e. doesn’t let water through). Current surfing wetsuit manufacturers do a great job regarding these criteria. However, the lighter and more supple the neoprene, the less durable and tough the wetsuit. Flexibility and light weight are therefore limited by the need for a wetsuit that doesn’t tear when you put it on in the car park or on the beach.
The comfort of a wetsuit is judged on various criteria.
The main one is freedom of movement; ‘S’ seams along the arms, for example, make it much easier when paddling.
The design of the wetsuit’s extremities impacts on comfort. At the wrists and ankles, a tighter fit will limit water ingress. The wetsuit collar can cause irritation around the neck; if it’s a 360° double collar made from smooth neoprene, this irritation can be avoided.
The reinforcements at the knees are important for protection, not only for your knees but also for your surfboard: it prevents hollows in the board caused by your paddling position.
The more panels your wetsuit is made up of, the easier it’ll be for water to get in, so a wetsuit with relatively few panels will keep you drier.
There are three different types of seam technology: flatlock, GBS and seamless.
Flatlock seams are, as you might have guessed, flat. They’re often used on entry-level wetsuits and do nothing to limit water ingress.
GBS seams, or Glued Blind Stitched, are generally found on mid- to high-end wetsuits; they help limit water ingress but do not stop it completely.
Seamless technology is used on premium wetsuits and is currently the best construction method available. Not only does it provide freedom of movement, but it’s also 100% waterproof.
The back zip makes it much easier to put on but does compromise the waterproofness of the back of the wetsuit; this is one of the main areas through which water can penetrate. It’s also not very comfortable when paddling, as it concentrates all the tension of the closure in the back of the wetsuit, pulling the shoulders back and encumbering the surfer’s movement.
FRONT ZIP OR CHEST ZIP:
The front or chest zip (depending on the name the manufacturer chooses) makes the wetsuit more difficult to put on, although the stretchier the neoprene, the easier it is. The advantage of this type of closure is that it provides greater waterproofness, avoiding all water ingress into the back of the wetsuit. Concerning comfort when paddling, the front closure makes next to no difference to freedom of movement.
SUBJECTIVE CRITERIA WHEN CHOOSING A SURFING WETSUIT
CRITERIA RELATING TO HOW YOU SURF
What you’re looking for in a wetsuit will be different depending on how you surf and how often: for example, the more regularly you surf and the longer you spend in the water, the more you’ll be looking for exceptional thermal properties.
If you’re just starting out, perhaps going surfing once or twice a month for one or two hours at a time, an entry-level wetsuit will do you just fine.
If you’re more experienced and go once or twice a week for two to three hours at a time, opt instead for something mid-range.
If you’re a bit of a surf fanatic, hitting the waves more than two or three times a week, your wetsuit is going to have a significant impact on your surfing; you’ll therefore want a high-end model.
The water temperature changes depending on the season. It’s important to bear this in mind when choosing a wetsuit so as to avoid being too cold in winter or too hot in summer and spoiling your surfing enjoyment.
There are four standard thicknesses of wetsuit. We’ve listed them from warmest to least warm:
THE 5/4/3 WETSUIT:
This thickness (5 mm for the body and back, 4 mm for the legs, 3 mm for the arms) is best suited to water below 10°C. The varying thickness is designed to allow greater freedom of movement in the areas that need it, thereby making it less tiring to paddle, for example. The wetsuit can be completed with booties, which must also be chosen carefully, gloves and a hood.
THE 4/3 WETSUIT:
Its 4 mm neoprene body and 3 mm neoprene arms and legs will keep you warm in water of between 10 and 15°C.
THE 3/2 WETSUIT:
This wetsuit is ideal for mid-season, its 3 mm body and 2 mm arms and legs providing an excellent compromise between heat retention and freedom of movement. For use in water of between 15 and 20°C.
THE 2/2 WETSUIT:
Once the water gets over 20°C, you’ll probably be tempted to get the board shorts out. There’s nothing better, but it’s only for short sessions. If you plan on surfing all morning or all afternoon, you’ll want at least a 2 mm spring suit (2 mm on body, arms and legs) as a bit of a thermal second skin.
We all feel the cold differently. If you’re more sensitive to it, go for a thicker-than-average neoprene; if you’re particularly warm-blooded, you’ll be happy with something a little thinner than average.