Posted by Chase O'Briant | 10.28.2016 | Learn To Surf
Wetsuit season and what to expect.
Summer is over. As much as I want to convince myself that it isn’t…it is. Over. Gone. Autumn is here and soon enough it will be (please allow me a second to properly prepare myself for this) Winter. No more sunshine, boardshorts and bikinis. Time to strap on the rubber and suit up. “Wet”suit up that is. A good wetsuit is a crucial tool if you want to keep surfing through the chill and score the sometimes epic swells that the colder months bring.
We’re pretty lucky in Southeastern North Carolina in that we don’t see temperatures that dip too far into the frigid zone. I give major kudos to our surfing brethren from the northern part of the country who endure long, bitterly cold winters that plunge water temps into brain freezing territory. From June to early October water temps are practically tropical in NC making Wrightsville Beach perfect for surfing without a suit or “bareback” if you’re looking to use some cool surfer lingo.
And then winter comes…and then the water turns cold. Are you ready? Do you have a wetsuit? Do you understand how they work? Does your suit fit properly? These are some easy questions you should ask yourself. Knowing the answers can be the difference between staying warm and cutting your session short due to the cold.
How do wetsuits work?
Wetsuits are primarily made of neoprene, a synthetic rubber used as an insulation material, most notably in water sports gear. Neoprene is made of small, closed cells that are filled with air which provide insulation against cold water by trapping heat in.
One of the most important aspects when considering wetsuit warmth is the thickness of the neoprene. Wetsuit thickness is measured in millimeters represented with two numbers separated by a slash. The first number represents the thickness of the neoprene in the torso area, the second number represents the thickness of the neoprene in the extremities. The thicker the suit’s neoprene, the warmer the suit will be because it has more heat trapping insulation. Mostly, in our North Carolina waters, a 3/2mm or a slightly thicker 4/3mm suit will be sufficient to keep you warm. It is important to research the water temperature in the region where you will primarily use your wetsuit.
What is the proper fit for my wetsuit?
It is very important that you buy a suit with the right fit. If your wetsuit doesn’t fit correctly, it will not keep you properly warm or allow you the mobility needed to enjoy your surf session. A wetsuit should fit like a second skin with no sagging in the back or excessive bunching in the arms or legs. If your suit is loose, an abundance of water will flush through, making the suit less effective at keeping you warm. Using a brand specific sizing chart is probably the best way to get started in choosing the correct size wetsuit.
Here are a few tips on the correct way a wetsuit should fit:
- After you have your wetsuit on there should be no excess room, including the torso, crotch, shoulders and knees. A proper fitting wetsuit will be hard to put on when dry.
- Lift your arms over your head and stretch out your shoulders. This move should only be slightly restricting. If you feel a lot of pressure during this movement then the suit is too small.
- You should be able to squat down and move your arms easily
There will be many more questions you’ll have when buying your first wetsuit. Do I need a fullsuit? Spring suit? Is a front chest zipper or a back zipper better? What is the difference between flatlock seam stitching as opposed to sealed and taped seams? The best thing you can do is ask these questions to your local surf shop employee. Any shop salesman worth his or her salt should be able to answer and help you find the right suit for your needs. Different brands seem to fit different body types in different ways. Try on a few different suits before making your decision. The more bells and whistles (or zippers in this case) a suit has, the more you’ll pay, but the warmer you’ll be. Do your research, ask questions, go a few surf shops and dig around.
When you finally find that perfect fitting suit at the right thickness your cold water surfing game will only get stronger. You’ll also start to feel like a surfing superhero in your suit of rubber armor…at least that’s how I feel as I pretend to be batman on a surfboard!
Program Director/Wetsuit Lover