A wetsuit is a must if you are the typical surfer and want to surf year round. You are one lucky surfer if you are fortunate enough to be able to wear your board shorts all the time, or rich enough to follow the summer year round. First used by surfers in the early 1950’s, wetsuit technology has come a long way. Modern wetsuits are are super-light, super-stretchy, and some don’t even have zips! There are many different wetsuit types for surfers, but they are all constructed from similar material, by similar methods, and all work in a similar way.
Wetsuit Material and Construction
Wetsuits are made from neoprene, a stretchy synthetic rubber material. The wettie (you like that cool surfer speak?) is made out of several of these pieces of neoprene stitched together to cover the desired body parts. Wetsuits come in many forms, including shorties (the wetsuit has short legs and arms) and full suits, and some even have detachable arms and legs.
The neoprene of wetsuits comes in different thicknesses, from 2 to 6 mm. The thicker the neoprene is, the warmer the suit will be. Note that some surfers who brave extremely cold conditions usually wear a semi-dry suit, which isn’t made out of neoprene at all. (But we won’t be discussing those for now.) There are now wetsuits that contain heating elements, such as the Rip Curl H-Bomb.
Your average wetsuit will have a zip, making it possible to get in and out of the wetsuit a little easier. With a particularly tight suit this can be the most exhausting part of your day! The zips are situated in different places on the suit. They’re traditionally found down the back of the wetsuit, but they can also be found across the shoulders or high up on the chest. The latest wetsuits are made out of neoprene so stretchy that you can get in through the neck. Pretty cool stuff.
Wetsuit Stitching and Sealing
There are various ways a wetsuit can be sealed together, depending on the designed use of the wettie. We won’t go into details, but some of the different methods of stitching and sealing are blind stitching, taped, glued, flatlocked and heat sealed. Interesting, eh? Anyway, what type of wetsuit you go for depends on the conditions that you will be surfing in. In England, for example, you may require a 5/3 mm, waterproof zipped, blindstitched/taped suit with booties, wetsuit gloves and a wetsuit hood for winter surf, and maybe a nice warm titanium rash vest for those long mid-winter surfs. Makes you cold thinking about it, yes?
How Wetsuits Work
A wetsuit works by trapping a thin layer of water between the wetsuit and the skin. The body temperature of the surfer heats this water giving a nice warm water blanket. This is why getting a wetsuit that fits well is a must. It should have a nice tight fit (not so tight that you can’t move freely) and shouldn’t have baggy areas where the suit comes away from your body. For cold water use, make sure that there is also a nice tight-fitting neck; there is nothing worse than ducking under a wave and getting a blast of cold water right down your back.