Unless you are fortunate enough to live in the tropics, you know how important a wetsuit is to your comfort and health when surfing in the chilly waters of the open ocean. There is a wide array of wetsuit types to choose from, as well a range of material thicknesses, allowing you to customize your gear to the water and weather conditions wherever you may be.
Types of Wetsuit
- FULL SUIT:
This suit envelops your entire body, usually with long sleeves (some have short sleeves) and full leg coverage.
- SPRING SUIT / SHORTY:
With legs that cut off a few inches below the knee, and either short or long-sleeved arms, this suit is designed for warmer conditions and is usually made of a thinner material.
- FARMER JOHNS:
The overall of the surfing world, this suit is sleeveless with long legs, designed for use with a rash guard on days when the outside air is warm.
- SHORT JOHNS:
This suit is a shorter version of the Farmer John, with the same sleeveless construction but the cooler feel of cut-off legs.
- MIX-AND-MATCH PIECES:
Neoprene vests, jackets and shorts, all made with the same construction as a typical wetsuit, fall into this category. These pieces allow customization based on the weather and temperature, both in and out of the water.
The idea behind a wetsuit is to permit a small about of water to seep into the suit initially, which, once heated by your body, forms an insulating layer of warmth. Foam neoprene, treated with water-repellant chemicals, prevents the cold ocean water from continuing to wash in and disturb the temperature within the suit.
The thickness of the suit determines how warm the surfer will remain after time spent submerged in the frigid water; the fatter the material, the warmer he’ll be. Neoprene panels come in several thicknesses: usually between 1-6 millimeters. Depending on the water temp, neoprene wetsuits are usually pieced together using different thicknesses of neoprene, heavier on the chest and back areas, and thinner on the arms, legs and shoulders. This multi-thickness construction leads to nominal classifications such as 3/2mm (3mm on the core and 2mm on the extremities, in this case).
- BACKING MATERIALS
Because of neoprene’s rigid and grippy nature, it can be really tough to yank on a wetsuit and pull it up into place. Luckily, suit manufacturers figured out a way to lessen the resistance formed between the wetsuit and the rider’s skin. Smooth skin nylon facing is attached to the inside of the wetsuit, making getting in and out much easier, as well as providing added warmth to the surfer. Sometimes, the material is attached to both the inside and outside of the suit – a material construction known as Nylon 2 – which increases warmth, but also makes the suit more bulky. Smooth skin was a needed advance in wetsuit construction; however the added bulk coupled with a decreased durability in nylon-backed suits are the unfortunate side effects of such a progression. Manufacturers have now begun using lycra, spandex and even wool blends as a replacement for raw nylon backing, leading to wetsuits with much more flex and stretch, and a more streamlined fit.
Fit of Wetsuit
The fit of a wetsuit is not only important for comfort’s sake but also to ensure that the suit is properly insulating the wearer. Basically, the pocket of extra space between the suit and the surfer’s skin is designed to trap and heat a layer of ocean water to provide a cocoon of warmth. If a wetsuit is too baggy, the water won’t heat up enough; if it’s too tight, there won’t be enough water to heat. Either way, a proper fit is the only way to get the most out of a wetsuit.
The way that the neoprene material flexes and moves is also a significant aspect of a suit’s fit. To surf in comfort, you need to have a wide range of motion through the shoulders and knees to help you paddle and pop up with fluid motions.
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