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The Ultimate Wetsuit Guide

The perfect wetsuit for each season

Isn’t the water really cold? Won’t you be freezing? This is a common thing people ask when you tell them you are going for a surf in winter. The answers are Yes, the water is cold and No, I won’t be freezing. My wetsuit keeps me nice and warm.  

There are a few lucky ones that are blessed with a tropical home surf spot where they can surf in bikini all year round. Most of us however are not and will need a wetsuit to stay warm. There are winter and summer wetsuits and everything in between. So how do you know what type of wetsuit you need and what to look for?

First of all, what is a wetsuit?

A wetsuit is a tight suit made of neoprene (although there are some great other materials on the market nowadays). The idea behind a wetsuit is to permit a small amount of water to slip into the suit which, once heated by your body, forms an insulating layer of warmth.

Neoprene is a synthetic rubber material that is buoyant, flexible, stretchy and a great insulator. Jack O’Neill got to know the material and started developing the wetsuits out of neoprene for surfing in 1952. Wetsuits are measured by thickness in millimetres ranging from 2 to 6mm, the thicker the Neoprene the warmer the suit. The part around the torso is thicker compared to the arms and legs as they need more flexibility.

Full suit wetsuits
Full suit wetsuits / Photo by Roxy

Tips for finding the perfect wetsuit

Investing in a good wetsuit can be a smart thing to do, especially if you are planning to surf in winter. These tips will help you to find the perfect wetsuit:

  1. Don’t look for any 2nd hand wetsuits as they can be out of shape. You need a suit that fits like a glove and suits to your figure. It needs to fit tight but your face shouldn’t  turn blue. Usually when you are in the water the material feels more flexible and less tight.
  2. Look for suits especially for women/girls as they are shaped to the woman’s figure. Luckily women wetsuits have been developed a lot the last few years and are now available in all sorts of shapes, prints and colors.
  3. Always try on a few wetsuits to find your perfect match. It can be a real hassle and uncomfortably warm. But in the end you will be happy when you know you found the right suit for you.
  4. Check if the suit doesn’t have to much of a gap on your lower back. This means the wetsuit is either to small or isn’t the right shape for your body.
  5. Check out the Sea Melon wetsuit chart to find the perfect wetsuit for each season.

Types of wetsuits

1. Winter wetsuits

winter wetsuit snow female surfer
Winter wetsuit / photo by RedBull

If you know your teeth start to shiver as soon as the sun disappears, make sure to get a thick wetsuit. Preferably blind stitched. This means that the seams are glued and offer greater warmth because it locks the water inside the wetsuit, which warms up by the body temperature.

6/5  wetsuit

When to wear: Water temperatures below 5° C / 42° F

xcel-infinity-65-wetsuit
xcel-infinity-65-wetsuit

This is the thickest of them all. A 6/5 wetsuit consists of different neoprene thicknesses: 6mm on the torso and 5mm on other parts such as arms and legs. Although it keeps you warm, it does have a downside; it has more weight and less flexibility. As some might find that a deal breaker, others don’t even notice the difference.

If your budget allows it, look for a wetsuit with fleece or also called ‘firewall’ on the inside. This is a soft fleece layer that keeps your body even warmer and dries faster.

wetsuit with Firewall
Wetsuit with Firewall

5/4 wetsuit

When to wear: Water temperatures between 5-10°  C / 42°-52° F September-November / May-June

Roxy 5/4 Syncro Wetsuit
Roxy 5/4 Syncro Wetsuit

The 5/4 wetsuit might be the most common one in fall/winter in western Europe. 5mm of neoprene around the torso, 4mm throughout the arms and legs.

Winter wetsuit accessories

Winter wetsuits usually need to be combined with gloves and boots. They do not come with a wetsuit, you will have to buy them separately.  To keep extra warm, you can also wear a body shirt underneath your wetsuit.

Body shirt
Also great for the colder days are the fleeced body shirts or thermo shirts. You wear them underneath your wetsuit. It keeps you even warmer and your arms stay flexible. The armless shirt protects the most important part of the body, the torso. It will keep your arms free and flexible for paddling. They are available with or without hoodie. The longsleeve shirt will keep your torso and arms warm, which is realy great if  you get cold fast. They are both great, it just really depends on what you prefer.

Oneill womens rashguard thermo X / Rip Curl Thermo Flash Dry Hooded Vest
Oneill womens rashguard thermo X / Rip Curl Thermo Flash Dry Hooded Vest

Gloves 

Gloves can be found from 2mm till 5mm thickness. The thicker the warmer. It should fit the hand tight as you really don’t want water to come in. Water in your gloves means more weight when lifting your arm to paddle. As if paddling alone isn’t hard enough! Gloves made of a more flexible neoprene will fit better. Check if they have a good grip patch on the palm area and if they are long enough so they don’t scoop any water and fit well underneath the sleeves of your wetsuit.

Roxy Syncro Plus winter gloves
Roxy Syncro Plus winter gloves
 Roxy Performance split-toe
Roxy Performance split-toe

Boots
Very important to keep your feet warm! As you are bungling your feet in cold water get thick boots of at least 5mm.

2. Autumn / Early Spring

4/3 wetsuit

When to wear: When water temperatures are within the 10° – 15° C / 52°-58° F range.

Billabong 4/3 Synergy Geo Diamond
Billabong 4/3 Synergy Geo Diamond

A 4/3 wetsuit is an early spring or autumn wetsuit. When temperatures are slightly rising but the sea and wind are still cold. Can be worn from early/mid June to late October/mid to late November depending on the quality and condition of your wetsuit. The suit combines 4mm in the chest and 3mm through the arms and legs.

3. Spring /summer

3/2 wetsuit

When to wear: throughout spring and summer with water temperatures between 15°-17° C / 58°-63° F

Roxy womens performance 3/2
Roxy womens performance 3/2

A typical suit for spring/summer. Suitable for warm temperatures but will still protect you from a cool breeze. This wetsuit has 3mm of neoprene rubber in the chest and 2mm of neoprene rubber distributed throughout the legs and arms.

Long John/ Long Jane wetsuits

When to wear: Throughout summer 17° -20° C  / 62°- 68° F

Billabong Salty Jane 2mm
Billabong Salty Jane 2mm

A Long Jane wetsuit is similar to a full suit but made with thinner neoprene (usually 1.5 to 2mm) and comes without sleeves. Great about the Long Jane is that you can combine it with a neoprene jackets on the slightly cooler summer days. Making this wetsuit suitable for warm and cooler summer days.

Springsuit / shorty 2mm

When to wear: Best worn on summer days in August when water temps are 20° C +  68° F +

G-Bomb Madison L/SL Coral Springsuit
G-Bomb Madison L/SL Coral Springsuit

This is when things are really getting better. Sun and warm water temperatures, bring on the cute springsuits! The last couple of years small surfbrands arrised and introduced really nice springsuits with appealing colors and styles. Jeejj!! As the traditional springsuits were quite boring. Springsuits can be with short or long arms, short or no legs. They are available in all sorts of thicknesses, from 1 to 3 mm.

Rashguards / tops

Roxy Pop Surf RashGuard
Roxy Pop Surf Rash Guard

On warm summer days it can be too hot to wear a springsuit. A bikini could be enough but you also need uv protection and maybe your skin feels irritated when directly in contact with your surfboard and wax . Then a rashguard does the job. A light shirt that is usually made out of Lycra. If this is too chilly then try a top or vest made out of neoprene, usually from ½ to 2mm. The better rashguards and tops can be attached to a board shorts.

Bottoms

Wave rider surf legging by Schatzibrown
Wave rider surf legging by Schatzibrown

Inspired by other yoga and other sports, the surf legging arose. You find them with the craziest prints and patterns. You can wear it with a bikini top or rashguard. Surf leggings are usually made of neoprene.

Bikinis

Surf bikini by We Are Mona
Surf bikini by We Are Mona

With small waves sometimes a normal triangle bikini can be just fine. When things are getting a bit more stirred up you might want to choose a surf bikini. These are crossed on the back and can be tightened as tide as you want. A sport top can be a good alternative. There are some very nice female surf brands that offer special surf bikinis that stay on and also look amazing. For example Mona surf wear.

Wetsuit chart

Sea Melon Ultimate wetsuit chart
 Sea Melon Ultimate wetsuit chart

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