You’re headed to the beach for some good old sea time activities, you’ve booked everything in advance, congratulations you organised human, you’ve turned up 10 minutes early as requested then you’re handed what can only be described as a wetsuit worn by the masses loved by the few, to continue your day’s activities in. ‘Oh gee thanks’, you mumble as you try not to think about those people that secret wee or how to arrange those patterned colours so you don’t look like Regina George in that cut-out boob tank. The thought crosses your mind: ‘When am I going to get my own wetsuit?’. Well don’t panic, I’ve got all your wetsuit questions covered. Here’s my guide on how to choose the perfect wetsuit for any season and a little bit of wetsuit history to broaden the mind. Enjoy.
A History Of The Wetsuit
The modern wetsuit is a real work of art. There was a time when they were stiff, like real stiff, and usability was limited. Most give credit to Hugh Bradner for the creation of what was to become the wetsuit we love today. His research began after WWII when he was assigned to improve the US Navy’s underwater equipment. Although he didn’t invent Neoprene or invent the underwater diving suit, it is his combining of the two that gives us what we have today. Plenty of credit should also be given the Jack O’Neil who, as far as I can tell, was the first to popularise the wetsuit and offer it to budding surfers of the day. And yes that is Jack O’Neil founder of O’Neils the surf brand.
How Wetsuits Work
The idea of the wetsuit is to keep you warm and it does this in two key ways:
- The first, the many layers which make up a wetsuit prevent your body heat from escaping. It traps the warm air which in turn keeps you warmer!
- Secondly, to help this warmth stay close to your body a small amount of water is let through to the inside of the wetsuit. The water is trapped between you and the suit and because it cannot leave your body heat increases the water temperature which in turn keeps you warm!
Top Tip: It is crucial that your wetsuit fits properly otherwise you may be letting in fresh, cold water instead of keeping in the warm water which would be not all that helpful. Essentially, the tighter the better, but remember you do need to be able to move.
Buying A Wetsuit By Seasons
If you’re going abroad opt for a rashguard, Lycra t-shirt or Lycra vest with a thickness of around 0.5 – 2mm. Depending on how much and how long you’re going to be in the water the thickness you go for will vary. If you’re surfing in the UK you’ll likely need something towards the higher ends of this range due to the ‘traditional British Summer’ weather conditions, however, if you’re just paddle boarding, for example, you could go for 1.5mm as you won’t necessarily be in the water.
Go for a shorty or long john with a thickness of around 1.5 – 3 mm for surfing abroad during Autumn and Spring. If you’re going for a steamer, a thickness of 3mm should be comfortable. You’ll want to be looking at Neoprene wetsuits at this stage and certainly, if you’re doing any water activities in the UK where you should look at a long john or steamer of at least 3mm thickness. You may notice some wetsuits show two measurements, like 3/2mm, this refers to the different areas of the wetsuit having a different thickness which is excellent if you want more flexibility around your arms and legs for example.
You’ll most likely need a steamer for winter surfing. They can vary in thickness from 3-6mm so you will easily be able to find something that you like, that fits and is the right thickness for the location you are. If you’re in the UK you’ll most certainly need something towards the higher end of the spectrum as you are likely to be freezing otherwise. Check out the chart below for further guidance on water temperatures and wetsuit thickness as well as making sure to ask your local surf boutique for advice! Nobody knows the water like the locals. Ain’t that the truth.
Water Temperature & Wetsuit Guide
25C and Above – you should be ok in a bathing suit and some SPF but you could put a rash vest in your bag just in case.
22C-25C – opt for a rash vest, Lycra vest or shorty
20C-22C – think about getting a thicker shorty or even long john at 1.5mm
15C-20C – you’re looking at a thick long john (3mm) or steamer (3/2mm)
Below 15C – you’ll need a thick steamer and possibly some booties, hood and gloves if you’re in Iceland.
Environmentally Friendly Wetsuits
Patagonia & Picture
The material neoprene is actually considered harmful to the environment as in order to make neoprene you need petroleum which is derived from drilling oil. Whilst you can also make neoprene from limestone, which is considered marginally more friendly for the environment, it is still considered a non-renewable resource (check out this article about green neoprene if you’re keen to learn more). For a long time, there was no alternative to neoprene but those with an environmentally conscious mind will be pleased to hear surfing brands have been hard at work. Patagonia and Picture have both developed a renewable, plant-based replacement for Neoprene made from 85% certified natural rubber and 15% synthetic chlorine-free rubber. This means their wetsuits produce considerably less damaging CO2 as well as removing the majority impurities. Bravo Patagonia and Picture.
Brands To Watch
The relatively unknown Neon Wetsuits have really stylish wetsuit separates which look like they’d be perfect for summertime water activities whilst Finisterre is in the middle of a wetsuit testing extravaganza to bring you a cold water wetsuit of the likes we’ve never seen.
Top Tips On How To Look After Your Wetsuit
- Put on and remove carefully trying not to pull the suit too much as this can cause damage.
- Rinse off that salty water asap. Use the showers provided on the beach until you get home then give it a good rinse through in your wetsuit bucket or the bath. You can use wetsuit shampoo every once in a while if you fancy it.
- Hang the wetsuit out to dry across the torso area, not by the neck, not by the arms, not by the feet, not by the zip. That was ‘by the middle’ if you didn’t catch it.
Top Tip: Your wetsuit might take some time to dry properly so be sure to turn it inside out every now and again to make sure it dries thoroughly on both sides.
(Image Source: Blue Tomato, Neon Wetsuits, Picture Clothing, Patagonia, Roxy, Annie Spratt & Luis Camacho on Unsplash)