Choosing the perfect wetsuit is the first step for any epic surfing adventure. But with the dizzying array of suits out there, how do you know which one will keep you warm, allow you to move freely, and, most importantly, let you charge the waves in comfort?

Here, we cut through the noise and so, so many options to make selecting your ideal surfing wetsuit a breeze. From understanding wetsuit fundamentals to matching thickness and features to your local conditions, you’ll be ready to suit up with confidence and prepare for some memorable sessions in the water.

Wetsuit Fundamentals: How They Keep You Warm

Have you ever wondered how a thin neoprene layer keeps you warm in the cold ocean?

It’s all thanks to the clever design of surfing wetsuits. They harness the insulating power of this unique material by trapping a thin layer of water against your skin. Your body heat then warms this water, creating an insulating barrier.

It means the right wetsuit acts like a personal heater, using your body’s natural warmth to keep you toasty even in cooler waters.

Getting the right fit, however, is super important for the system to function effectively. A good wetsuit should cling to you like a second skin, snug enough to keep that thin layer of water in place without restricting movement. Wetsuit thickness plays a central role in this delicate balance—too thick, and you’ll struggle to paddle, but too thin, and you’ll be shivering through your surf session. 

An image of a Person stretching their shoulders and arms in a wetsuit to prepare for surfing.

The Wetsuit Spectrum: Types Tailored for Temperature

When you first venture into the world of wetsuits, you’ll quickly find they come in a spectrum of styles. Each one is suited for varied waters, and this is something you should know before even learning to surf.

It all lies in the neoprene’s thickness, which ranges from sleek and flexible to keep you cool during the summer’s warmth to sturdy and resilient to guard against the winter’s bite.

Let’s take a closer look at the different options:

Chilling in Cold Water: Full Suits and Thermal Linings

A full suit becomes your best ally when winter winds whip up the waves you ride. With options like a 5mm suit for moderately cold temperatures or a 6mm hooded suit for chillier waters, you’re armored against the cold’s clutches.

These suits often have thermal linings that hug your core, providing added warmth where it counts the most. More resilient wetsuits sometimes also feature wind-resistant panels and anti-flush gaskets that, again, go a long way to protect against the chill.

A good wetsuit doesn’t compromise on comfort for the sake of warmth, however. That’s why it’s so vital to look for features like poly fleece fiber linings, which not only offer added heat but also preserve the suit’s flexibility.

With modern materials and technologies, a full suit with poly fleece fiber linings is the way to go if you want to strike a balance between warmth and flexibility.

Warmer Waves: Springsuits and Shorties

In warmer waters, springsuits and shorties are preferred by beginner surfers who value flexibility. These lighter suits, often in the one to two mm range, provide just enough neoprene to protect against the ocean’s chill and the sun’s keen edge. With less coverage, however, you’ll feel every twist and turn of the waves and have the flexibility to respond.

But don’t be fooled by their streamlined design, as these suits still shield you from the scrapes and stings that come with surfing.

Pro Tip: Rip Curl is a brand famous for providing high-quality spring suits and shorties. 

Layer Up: Jackets, Vests, and Accessories

Layering is a practical solution for maintaining warmth in the waves, especially when water temperatures fluctuate. Wetsuit jackets and vests are your versatile heroes in this scenario, offering an extra layer of neoprene to combat the cold without hindering your paddle power.

Similarly, when the water temperatures dip below 18°C (64°F), accessories like surfing boots, gloves, and hoods become fundamental bits of kit for providing extra insulation for braving the chill. 

An excellent example of where layering comes in handy is in winter months. To surf during this time, a 4/3mm full suit paired with the accessories just mentioned is ideal for adapting to the varying conditions, adding or shedding layers as the water temperature dictates.

An image of a man who has fallen off a surfboard and is about to land in the water. He is wearing a wetsuit

Entry Systems Unzipped: Finding Your Fit

Your wetsuit’s entry system sets the stage for comfort and performance. Whether you choose the traditional back zip, the snug chest zip, or a sleek zip-free design, each option brings its own benefits.

While examining these systems, remember that the perfect fit should feel seamless, like the wetsuit is an extension of your skin, when choosing a wetsuit

Back Zip Ease: The Classic Choice

The back zip wetsuit is a timeless classic, beloved for its straightforward charm. With a broad zipper running along the spine, it’s a breeze to slip in and out of, making it a go-to for those spontaneous dips in the ocean.

While the back zip wetsuit offers a comfortable fit and often a more budget-friendly price tag, its design may sacrifice some flexibility and warmth due to the potential for water flushing. 

Many wetsuit manufacturers, however, have cleverly countered this with neoprene panels and velcro closures to seal in the heat, so that even with a back zip you can get a suit that’s as cozy as it is convenient to put on. 

Chest Zip Advantages: Balancing Warmth and Flexibility

Chest zip wetsuits embrace you with a horizontal zipper across the chest, creating a snug seal while affording an expansive range of motion for executing dynamic maneuvers on the waves.

With fewer seams and a tighter fit, they’re resistant against the cold, keeping water at bay and warmth within.

Yet, every hero has its Achilles heel, and for the chest zip wetsuit, it’s the slight discomfort it may arise when you’re lying on your board. It’s a small compromise to experience its many benefits, but still one to consider when choosing your wetsuit.

It’s also worth noting that chest zip wetsuits are typically a bit trickier to put on. The design’s added warmth and flexibility still make it a worthy contender, however.

Zip-Free Innovation: Maximizing Stretch and Style

The zip-free wetsuit is the maverick of the group, breaking away from traditional designs to maximize stretch and minimize restriction.

Superstretch neoprene and an overlapping closure system offer unparalleled freedom of movement so the wearer has a full range of motion to respond to the sea’s unpredictable nature.

But innovation often comes with its own set of challenges. In this instance, without the structural support of a zipper, these suits require a bit of finesse to wrangle into, especially once they’re wet. Plus, their durability may not quite match that of their zipped counterparts.

Still, for surfers looking for a wetsuit that makes a statement with both performance and style, the zip-free wetsuit is undoubtedly worth a second glance.

Stitched to Perfection: Wetsuit Seams

Wetsuit seams, i.e., the careful stitches that bind your aquatic armor, are the unsung heroes of wetsuit design.

From the comfortable flatlock to the fortified glued and blind stitched (GBS), taped, and liquid taped seams, each type plays a pivotal role in a suit’s performance.

For example, GBS seams are renowned for their durability. They’re expertly crafted to keep the chill out without fully piercing the neoprene. In contrast, taped seams add an extra layer of reinforcement, while liquid taped seams provide protection against the invading cold.

So, when choosing your wetsuit, consider which waters you’ll brave and the benefits of the different types of wetsuit seams. With this knowledge, you can pick a wetsuit featuring seams that best meet your unique needs.

An image of a person stood at the beach putting on a wetsuit with a surfboard, boots and bag (surfing accessories) to his left

Surf-Specific Features: What Sets Good Surfing Wetsuits Apart

Surfing wetsuits are marvelously engineered to enhance your surfing experience.

Some surfing wetsuits are crafted using superior materials such as Japanese Yamamoto neoprene and Technobutter 3 neoprene to prioritize flexibility and durability over heavier, pressure-resistant dive suits.

Again, a good surfing wetsuit should fit like a glove, contouring to your every move, reducing drag, and allowing you to perform a full range of surfing maneuvers.

Beyond their form-fitting nature, surfing wetsuits often come equipped with various features tailored to the surfer’s needs. Some of these features include:

When choosing beginner surf gear, specialized features like these can make all the difference in enhancing your performance and safeguarding your body against the elements.

Women’s Wetsuits: Designed for the Female Surfer

While unisex wetsuits can certainly get the job done, elite female surfers know the performance advantages of choosing a suit cut specifically for the female form. Brands dedicated to women’s surfing have pioneered designs that perfectly balance feminine style with maximum functionality.

Take Roxy’s line of women’s wetsuits for example. Their suits utilize female-specific patterning that hugs curves in all the right places for an ergonomic fit tailored to the physiques of female surfers. This ultra-contoured cut boosts flexibility and range of motion while reducing drag and restriction.

But it’s not just about aesthetics, as women’s wetsuits integrate features like boarded chest panels for comfort while lying on your board and seamless underarm flex zones that eliminate chafing and rashes from repeated paddling. Specialized composites like Dri-Flex jersey linings also help regulate temperature and manage moisture.

For ladies who appreciate both form and function, a premium women’s wetsuit is the ultimate piece of high-performance surf gear. With customized craftsmanship for the female athlete, your surfing experience becomes turbo-charged.

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Seasonal Suit-Up: Summer Wetsuits vs. Winter Warriors

While the 3-2mm full wetsuit is a versatile choice for mixed conditions, having the right suit for the season can transform your surf session from an endurance test to an enjoyable experience.

During the summer, a light 2mm shorty might be all you need to keep the chill at bay while you soak up the sun’s warmth.

But thicker wetsuits take center stage when summer fades, and the water grows colder. When temperatures plunge below nine degrees Celsius, 5-3mm wetsuits and additional accessories like hoods, gloves, and boots become the perfect companion surfing gear for sealing body heat and maintaining body temperature to keep the cold at bay.

Maintenance Matters: Keeping Your Wetsuit in Wave-Ready Condition

Experienced surfers understand that the lifespan of their wetsuit is directly linked to proper maintenance, especially for back zip designs where zippers can suffer from wear and tear.

Keep your wetsuit in good order by thoroughly rinsing it in cool, fresh water after each use to wash away the salt and sand that can degrade the neoprene over time.

Drying your wetsuit is just as important—after turning it inside out, hang it halfway over a hanger in a shaded area with good air circulation to prevent stretching and sun damage.

Once completely dry, store your wetsuit flat or on a wide-shoulder hanger to maintain its shape and functionality.

Are You Ready to Choose the Right Wetsuit for Your Surfing Adventure?

From the fundamentals of neoprene insulation to the finer details of wetsuit seams and zips, we’ve navigated the vast waters of wetsuit wisdom.

Think of your wetsuit as more than a piece of gear—it’s your ticket to embracing waves in different conditions. So, consider the fit, warmth, flexibility, and features that will enhance your surfing experience and allow these factors to guide your purchase. If you do that, you’ll be ready for the waves in no time at all. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the ideal wetsuit thickness for winter surfing?

For winter surfing in cold waters, a full wetsuit thickness of at least 5mm is ideal to prevent hypothermia and retain warmth.

How does a wetsuit keep you warm in cold water?

A wetsuit provides warmth by trapping a thin layer of water against your skin. This water is warmed by your body heat and creates an insulating barrier.

What are the differences between back zip, chest zip, and zip-free wetsuits?

Back zip wetsuits are easier to put on and take off but may restrict movement and warmth, while chest zip wetsuits offer better insulation and flexibility. In contrast, zip-free wetsuits maximize flexibility and reduce water flushing but may be less durable. As such, you need to choose based on your priority; ease of use, flexibility, or durability.

Can an entry-level wetsuit be good quality?

Absolutely! An entry-level wetsuit can provide great value for beginners, offering everything needed without a high cost.

How can I maintain the condition of my wetsuit?

To maintain your wetsuit, rinse it with cool fresh water after each use, dry it inside out in a shaded area, store it flat, regularly check for wear and tear (especially zippers), and do monthly soaks in neoprene-friendly soap to prevent saltwater deterioration. These simple steps help extend the life of your wetsuit.