How to Select a Wetsuit for Surfing

Three Parts:Considering Your OptionsTrying Potential Suits OnUsing Your New Wetsuit

Wetsuits for surfing require warmth, flexibility and comfort. If you're tackling this purchase, start at Step 1 for some tips and a guide on making a proper selection.

Part 1
Considering Your Options

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    Decide what seasons and weather conditions you need to cover. If you're not living in a tropical area and plan on surfing year round, you're going to need a wetsuit to help you stay warm in colder autumn, winter and spring conditions.
    • In warm areas like southern California, you can pretty much get by with two different types of wetsuits, a "spring" suit, which is also used in autumn and perhaps the summer depending on your tolerance levels. A full suit is recommended for the winter months. The full suit covers the entire body, from the neck to the feet and to the wrists.
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    Consider what thickness you need. Wetsuits have various thicknesses that are measured in millimeters. For example, a 3/2 will have a 3 mil thickness on the chest and back, a 2 mil thickness on the arms and legs. Most wetsuit companies offer 3 or 4 models with various features. Often the spring suit is the same as the full suit, minus the legs of course, for a particular model.
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    Compare features. The least expensive models will offer fewer features. The way the seams are sewn, for example, will vary on the inexpensive wetsuits and the more expensive models.
    • Less expensive models won't have taped seams either. Taped seams help keep the water out of the wetsuit by providing a barrier over the seams. The tape is applied so it makes a nice strong adhesion to the wetsuit material itself. It also helps the seams stay together longer.The type of neck enclosure also has a bearing on the cost of the wetsuit. Many wetsuits used to be made with a pull over type of enclosure. Most surfers found them awkward and uncomfortable, and they have now fallen out of favor. The more traditional velcro closure for the neck is now more common.
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    Look at average water temperature to decide what you're likely to need. Here's a quick guide to appropriate wetsuits temperatures:
    • 55 - 65 degree water temperature - For real comfort, a 4/3 with taped seams, if you handle cold reasonably well, a 3/2 will suffice. The warmer you stay, the longer you can be in the water.
    • 66 - 70 degree water temperature - A Spring suit of 2/1 or 3/2 should be ample for a two hour session.
    • 70+ degrees; Most people trunk it at these temps or wear a rash guard or 1 mil jacket. The rash guard protects from abrasion caused by the wax on the deck of the board. It also provides some UV protection. A jacket will help you stay warmer as it keeps the wind off fairly well.
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    Prepare to pay more if you want a wool lining. There are some high end models that offer wool lining. These can be very warm and very expensive. Proper care of a wool lined wetsuit is paramount in order to maintain it's quality and usefulness for an extended period.
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    Consider the material. Some of the high end wetsuits are made of materials that are evolutionary. The environmental concerns of the use of neoprene, etc. have forced the industry to look at other resources to be used to make suits, and they have been successful. There is lots of information available about the high end environmentally conscious suits, so suffice it to say that if you are in a financial position to be able to afford one, and are concerned with the environment, by all means...
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    Try potential suits on. When you're out shopping for a wetsuit, although they are awkward to try on, do so! Consult the dealer for an appropriate size and squeeze your way in. Don't be surprised if you work up a sweat, a dry wetsuit in a surf store dressing room is a hot place to be!

Part 2
Trying Potential Suits On

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    When trying it on, it should be very, very snug. Not constricting, but snug. The neoprene will stretch ever so slightly with use, so getting it snug now will mean that it will fit properly longer. If you're a person with long legs, make certain that a full suit reaches to the bottom of your ankles, almost to the top of your foot. If you have a long torso, make certain there are no binds constricting your arms and in the crotch area.
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    Check the zipper to make certain that it is sewn properly to the wetsuit. There should not be loose threads hanging about, and the zipper should be sewn straight up the back. Most wetsuit companies have stringent quality controls that avoid shipping sub standard suits out, but it happens, so best to check it before you buy it.
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    Look the seams over carefully. Do they appear to be well crafted or of shoddy workmanship? If the suit is taped, are the ends of the tape properly adhered to the suit, or are they beginning to peel off? Does the zipper transit smoothly while you are trying on the suit? Both up and down?

Part 3
Using Your New Wetsuit

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    Be prepared for a little bit of cold. A wetsuit works by trapping a thin layer of water between your skin and the suit itself. Your body temperature warms the water and helps you stay warm. It is unavoidable however that you will get a cold stream of water down your neck, down your arm or up your leg at some time. This is completely normal and to be expected. The water will warm soon after entering, and you will be able to maintain a comfortable body temperature and complete your session.
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    Take care of your new purchase! Regardless of how much you spend or how well you take care of your wetsuit, you can only expect to get 5 years good use of it. They wear out. The neoprene will crack and split, you'll get tears, abrasions that work their way through the material. It's great to have a newer wetsuit, but if you take care of the one you have, it should serve you well for many years.


  • The most important aspect of your wetsuit is fit. Whether you're getting a high end environmentally conscious suit or the bottom of the line rash guard, if the fit is improper, it can't do its job correctly.
  • ALWAYS TRY IT ON! 'nuff said.
  • If you're a serious enthusiast, you know that you want to be comfortable for extended periods in the water. If you're sitting on your board shivering, it's tough to concentrate on the waves coming in. Get the best quality with the most features you can afford.
  • Talk with other surfers. They've always got an opinion! They'll give you the real skinny on the suits they've owned, the ones they liked, the ones they didn't, why they liked the good ones, and why they didn't like the others.
  • Best time to shop for a full suit is when there's a sale on. The price reductions on last year's models can be amazing! On "Black Friday" one of the surf stores had a 50% off sale, now that's a deal. Get more features at a better price! Ask your dealers if they're planning a sale anytime soon if the need is urgent.
  • You can do a good deal of comparison shopping by visiting the various wetsuit manufacturer's websites. Learn about the features offered and what makes their suits better. Don't fall for celebrity surfers modeling a suit; go for what counts in a wetsuit!


  • Warranty repairs: Is it going to be worth it to ship your suit, pay for repairs and get it back? Most suits offer a 1 year guarantee on parts and labor, anything beyond that comes out of your pocket. If you're fortunate enough to live near a service center, you can take your "used" suit in for a recondition. They can make it like new (well, almost...) for a very reasonable price.

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Categories: Surfing