From Surfing Wiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search

A wetsuit is a garment, usually made of foamed neoprene, providing thermal insulation, abrasion resistance and buoyancy. The insulation properties depend on bubbles of gas enclosed within the material, which reduce its ability to conduct heat. The bubbles also give the wetsuit a low density, providing buoyancy in water.

Hugh Bradner, a University of California, Berkeley physicist invented the modern wetsuit in 1952. Wetsuits became available in the mid-1950s and evolved as the relatively fragile foamed neoprene was first backed, and later sandwiched, with thin sheets of tougher material such as nylon or later Lycra/Spandex. Improvements in the way joints in the wetsuit were made by gluing, taping and blindstitching, helped the suit to remain waterproof and reduce flushing, the replacement of water trapped between suit and body by cold water from the outside.[1] Further improvements in the seals at the neck, wrists and ankles produced a suit known as a "semi-dry".

Different types of wetsuit are made for different uses and for different temperatures.[2] Suits range from a thin (2 mm or less) "shortie", covering just the torso, to a full 8 mm semi-dry, usually complemented by neoprene boots, gloves and hood.

How wetsuits work


A wetsuit should be a tight fitting garment which should be gently squeezing you all over. When you enter the water a very thin layer of water will squeeze between the wetsuit and your skin. If the wetsuit is baggy then a whole lot of water will flood in to fill the gaps between the wetsuit and your body. In both of the previous situations the cold water entering your body will have an instant cooling effect on your body.

Now lets take the first scenario; the tight fitting wetsuit: Here the thin layer of cold water that has squeezed into the suit is warmed up by your body heat. Because there's not a lot of water it doesn't take long to warm up and doesn't rob your body of a huge amount of heat. When you move about in the water, fresh water from outside is largely prevented from entering the suit as the suit is already 'full'. Having a good fit at the ankles, wrists and neck of the suit will help this resistance to fresh water entry, or 'flushing' as it is known.

In the second scenario, that of a baggy wetsuit, much more water will be inside the suit to begin with. Your body will take much longer to warm it up and the process will rob your body of much more heat. In fact your body may never be able to warm the water up significantly. When you are immersed in water and start to move around fresh water from outside easily flushes through the suit and displaces or dilutes the water that your body worked so hard to warm up. This constant flushing of cold water will make it impossible to maintain much body heat and will reduce the effectiveness of the wetsuit hugely.

So the first thing about wetsuits to understand is that a tight fitting wetsuit is critical to staying warm and a baggy wetsuit is unlikely to keep you warm. In fact it is fair to say that a well fitted thin wetsuit will probably be warmer than a baggy thick wetsuit.


Wetsuit insulation

So now we have a well fitted wetsuit and your body has warmed up the water that is in it. Both your body and the thin film of water around it are pressed hard up against a thin layer of neoprene. On the other side of the neoprene is icy cold water. Now whilst neoprene will insulate you from this cold water it is not 100% efficient insulator and some of your body heat (and the heat contained in the thin layer of water around you) will pass through the neoprene and attempt to warm the water outside. As this happens it cools down, and you in turn cool down. So there is constant heat loss through the material if the water outside is cold.

This is where thickness comes into play. Thicker neoprene will lose less heat through it that thin neoprene so in simple terms a 5mm wetsuit will be warmer than a 3mm wetsuit of the same fit as less heat is lost through the material as your warmth is better insulated from the outer cold.


If you have ever felt the warmth of the sun on an otherwise cold day you'll know what radiant heat is. It is heat in the form of infra red energy. The sun emits it, the bars on an electric fire emit it, even light bulbs emit it, and so does our body. Space blankets handed out at race events etc claim to reflect this radiant body heat back towards your body and thus keep you warm.

Body heat radiation

Still water (without currents or convection) conducts heat away from the body by pure thermal diffusion, approximately 20 to 25 times more efficiently than still air.[2][3] Water has a thermal conductivity of 0.58 Wm−1K−1 while still air has a thermal conductivity of 0.024 Wm−1K−1,[4] so an unprotected individual can succumb to hypothermia even in warmish water on a warm day.[5] Wetsuits are made of closed-cell, foam neoprene, a synthetic rubber that contains small bubbles of nitrogen gas when made for use as wetsuit material (neoprene as a plastic may be manufactured without foaming, and is made in that fashion for many other applications where insulating qualities are not important). Nitrogen gas (like any gas) has very low thermal conductivity with respect to water or to solids,[note 1] and the small and enclosed nature of the gas bubbles minimizes heat transport through the gas by gas convection currents (this is the same principle by which air containing cloth fabrics or feathers insulate). The end result of all these techniques is that the fabric layer of trapped gas cavities forces heat to travel slowly by a mostly diffusive process, in a direction that mostly passes through bubbles of entrapped gas, thereby greatly reducing heat transfer from the body (or from the layer of warmed water trapped between the body and the wetsuit) to the colder water surrounding the wetsuit.

Uncompressed foam neoprene has a typical thermal conductivity in the region of 0.054 Wm−1K−1, which produces about twice the heat loss of still air, or one-tenth the loss of water. However at a depth of 15 metres (50 ft) of water, the thickness of the neoprene will be halved and its conductivity will be increased by 50%, allowing heat to be lost at three times the rate at the surface.[6]

A wetsuit must have a snug fit to work efficiently; too loose a fit at water entry and exit points will allow water to escape from between the suit and the body, taking the body's heat with it. Cold water from the outside may enter the same way.[1] Flexible seals at the suit cuffs aid in preventing heat loss in this fashion.

Foamed neoprene is very buoyant, helping swimmers to stay afloat, and for this reason divers need to calculate the need for extra weight based on the thickness of their suit to achieve neutral buoyancy underwater.[2] At the same time, the suit loses buoyancy and thermal protection as the bubbles in the neoprene are compressed at depth.[7][note 2]

Semi-dry suits

Semi-dry suits are effectively a thick wetsuit with better-than-usual seals at wrist, neck and ankles. The seals limit the volume of water entering and leaving the suit. The wearer gets wet in a semi-dry suit but the water that enters is soon warmed up and does not leave the suit readily, so the wearer remains warm. The trapped layer of water does not add to the suit's insulating ability. Any residual water circulation past the seals still causes heat loss. But semi-dry suits are cheap and simple compared to dry suits. They are made from thick Neoprene, which provides good thermal protection. They lose buoyancy and thermal protection as the trapped gas bubbles in the Neoprene compress at depth. Semi-dry suits can come in various configurations including a single piece or two pieces, made of 'long johns' and a separate 'jacket'. Semi dry suits do not usually include boots, so a separate pair of insulating boots are worn. They are used typically where the water temperature is between 10 and 20 °C (50 and 68 °F).

Heated suits

Electrically heated wetsuits are also available on the market. These suits have special heating panels integrated in the back of the wetsuit. The power for heating comes from batteries also integrated into the wetsuit.[8] Even more versatile is the heated neoprene vest that functions the same as the heated wetsuit but can be worn under any type of wetsuit.[citation needed]

Wetsuits heated by a flow of hot water piped from the surface are standard equipment for commercial diving in cold water, particularly where the heat loss from the diver is increased by use of helium based breathing gases.[9]

Wetsuit creator history

In 1952, UC Berkeley and subsequent UC San Diego SIO physicist Hugh Bradner, who is considered to be the original inventor[3] and "father of the modern wetsuit,"[3] had the insight that a thin layer of trapped water could be tolerated between the suit fabric and the skin, so long as insulation was present in the fabric in the form of trapped bubbles. In this case, the water would quickly reach skin temperature and the air in the fabric would continue to act as the thermal insulation to keep it that way. In the popular mind, the layer of water between skin and suit has been credited with providing the insulation. But as his letter notes, Dr. Bradner clearly understood the suit did not need to be wet because it isn't the water that provides the insulation but rather the gas in the suit fabric.[3][4] He initially sent his ideas to Lauriston C. "Larry" Marshall. Marshall was involved in a U.S. Navy/National Research Council Panel on Underwater Swimmers.[5] However, it was Willard Bascom, an engineer at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California, who suggested neoprene as a feasible material to Bradner.[4]

However, Bradner and Bascom were not overly interested in profiting from their design and were unable to successfully market a version to the public.[4] They attempted to patent their neoprene wetsuit design, but their application was rejected because the design was viewed as too similar to a flight suit.[4] The United States Navy also turned down Bradner's and Bascom's offer to supply its swimmers and frogmen with the new wetsuits due to concerns that the gas in the neoprene component of the suits might make it easier for naval divers to be detected by underwater sonar.[4] The first written documentation of Bradner's invention was in a letter to Marshall, dated June 21, 1951.[5]

Jack O'Neill started using closed-cell neoprene foam which was shown to him by his bodysurfing friend, Harry Hind, who knew of it as an insulating material in his laboratory work. After experimenting with the material and finding it superior to other insulating foams, O'Neill founded the successful wetsuit manufacturing company called O'Neill in a garage in 1952, later relocating to Santa Cruz, California[6] in 1959 with the motto "It's Always Summer on the Inside".[7][8] Bob and Bill Meistrell, from Manhattan Beach, California, also started experimenting with neoprene around 1953. They started a company which would later be named Body Glove.

Neoprene was not the only material used in early wetsuits, particularly in Europe. The French-made Pêche-Sport Suit and the UK-made Siebe Gorman Swimsuit were both made out of sponge rubber. The Heinke Dolphin Suit of the same period, also made in England, came in a green male and a white female version, both manufactured from natural rubber lined with stockinet.

Wetsuit design history

Originally, wetsuits were made only with raw sheets of foam-rubber neoprene that did not have any backing material. This type of suit required extra caution while pulling it on because the raw foam-rubber by itself is both fragile and sticky against bare skin. Stretching and pulling excessively easily caused these suits to be torn in half. This was somewhat remedied by thoroughly powdering the suit and the diver's body with talc to help the rubber slide on more easily.

Backing materials first arrived in the form of nylon sheeting applied to one side of the neoprene. This allowed a swimmer to pull on the suit relatively easily since the tough nylon took most of the strain of pulling on the suit, but the suit still had the black sheet rubber exposed on the outside and the nylon was very stiff and rigid, limiting flexibility. A small strip reversed with the rubber against the skin could help provide a sealing surface to keep water out around the neck, wrists, and ankles.

In the early 1960s, the British Dunlop Sports Company brought out its yellow Aquafort neoprene wetsuit, whose high visibility was designed to improve diver safety. However, the line was discontinued after a short while and wetsuits reverted to their black uniformity. The colorful wetsuits seen today first arrived in the 1970s when double-backed neoprene was developed. Now the foam-rubber was sandwiched between two protective fabric outer layers, greatly increasing the tear-resistance of the material. An external layer also meant that decorative colors, logos, and patterns could be made with panels and strips sewn into various shapes. This growth from bare flat black rubber to full color took off in the 1980s with brilliant fluorescent colors common on many suits.

Wetsuit assembly history

The first suits used traditional sewing methods to simply overlap two strips of rubber and sew them together. In a rubber wetsuit this does not work well for a number of reasons, the main one being that punching holes straight through both layers of foam for the thread opens up passages for water to flow in and out of the suit. The second problem is that the stretching of the foam tended to enlarge the needle holes when the suit was worn. This meant that a wetsuit could be very cold all along the seams of the suit. And although the sewn edge did hold the two pieces together, it could also act as a perforated tear edge, making the suit easier to tear along the seams when putting it on and taking it off.

When nylon-backed neoprene appeared, the problem of the needle weakening the foam was solved, but still the needle holes leaked water along the seams.

Seam taping

To deal with all these early sewing problems, taping of seams was developed. The tape is a strong nylon cloth with a very thin but solid waterproof rubber backing. The tape is applied across the seam and bonded either with a chemical solvent or with a hot rolling heat-sealer to melt the tape into the neoprene.

With this technology, the suit could be sewn and then taped, and the tape would cover the sewing holes as well as providing some extra strength to prevent tearing along the needle holes.

When colorful double-backed designer suits started appearing, taping moved primarily to the inside of the suit because the tape was usually very wide, jagged, black, and ugly, and was hidden within the suit and out of sight.

Many 1960's and 1970's wetsuits were black with visible yellow seam taping. The yellow made the divers more easily seen in dark low-visibility water. To avoid this problem O'Neill fabricators developed a seam-tape which combined a thin nylon layer with a polyester hemming tape. Applied over the interior of the glued & sewn seam, then anneal bonded with a hand held teflon heating iron produced a seam that was both securely sealed and much stronger.

Seam gluing

Another alternative to sewing was to glue the edges of the suit together. This created a smooth, flat surface that did not necessarily need taping, but unfortunately raw foam glued to foam is not a strong bond and still prone to tearing.

Most early wetsuits were fabricated completely by hand, which could lead to sizing errors in the cutting of the foam sheeting. If the cut edges did not align correctly or the gluing was not done well, there might still be water leakage along the seam.

Initially suits could be found as being sewn only, glued only, taped only, then also sewn and taped, or glued and taped, or perhaps all three.

Blindstitch revolution

Sometime after nylon-backed neoprene appeared, the blind stitch method was developed. A blindstitch sewing machine uses a very unusual curved needle, which is designed to not go all the way through the neoprene but just shallowly dip in behind the fabric backing.[1]

The curved needle allows the fabric backing to be sewn together without punching a hole completely through the neoprene, and thereby eliminating the water-leakage holes along the seam. Blindstitch seams also lay flat, butting up the edge of one sheet against another, allowing the material to lay flatter and closer to the skin. For these reasons blindstitching rapidly became the primary method of sewing wetsuits together, with other methods now used mainly for decorative or stylistic purposes.

Further advances in suit design

Highly elastic fabrics such as Lycra/Spandex have mostly replaced raw nylon backing, since the nylon by itself cannot be stretched and makes the neoprene very stiff. Incorporating Lycra into the backing permits a large amount of stretching that does not damage the suit, and allowed suits to become closer fitting.

After the development of double-backed neoprene, singled-backed neoprene still had its uses for various specific purposes. For example a thin strip of single-backed wrapped around the leg, neck, and wrist openings of the suit creates a sticky rubber seal that greatly reduces the flushing of water in and out of the suit as the person's body moves. But since the strip is very narrow, it does not drag on the skin of the wearer and thus makes the suit easy to put on and remove.

As wetsuit manufacturers continued to design suits, they found ways that the materials could be further optimized and customized. The O'Neill Animal Skin created in 1974 by then Director of Marketing, E.J. Armstrong, was one of the first designs combining a turtle-neck based on the popular Sealsuit with a flexible lightweight YKK horizontal zipper across the back shoulders similar in concept to the inflatable watertight Supersuit (developed by Jack O'Neill in the late 1960s). The Animal Skin eventually evolved molded rubber patterns bonded onto the exterior of the neoprene sheeting (a technique E.J. Armstrong perfected for application of the moulded raised rubber Supersuit logo to replace the standard flat decals). This has been carried on as stylized reinforcing pads of rubber on the knees and elbows to protect the suit from wear, and allows logos to be directly bonded onto raw sheet rubber. Additionally, the Animal Skin's looser fit allowed for the use of a supplemental vest in extreme conditions.

In the early 70's Gul Wetsuits pioneered the one-piece wetsuit named as the steamer. Its name was given because of the steam given off from the suit once taken off allowing heat and water held inside to escape. Today one-piece wetsuits are still sometimes referred to as 'Steamers'.[9]

In recent years, manufacturers have experimented by combining various materials with neoprene to lend additional warmth or flexibility to their suits. These include, but are not limited to, Spandex, and wool.

Precision computer-controlled cutting and assembly methods, such as water-jet cutting, have allowed ever greater levels of seam precision, permitting designers to use many small individual strips of different colors while still keeping the suit free of bulging and ripples from improper cutting and sewing. Further innovations in CAD (Computer Aided Design) technology allow precision cutting for custom-fit wetsuits.

Return of single-backed neoprene

As wetsuits continued to evolve, their use was explored in other sports such as open-water swimming and triathlons. Although double-backed neoprene is strong, the cloth backing is rough and creates a large amount of drag in the water, slowing down the swimmer. A single-backed suit meanwhile has a very smooth, slick exterior permitting water to slide easily over the bare neoprene.[1] With the advances of elastic Lycra backings and blindstitching, single-backed neoprene suits could now be made that outperformed the early cousins from the 1970s. Other developments in single-backed wetsuits include the suits designed for free-diving and spearfishing. Single lined neoprene is more flexible than double lined. To achieve flexibility and low bulk for a given warmth of suit, they are unlined inside, and the smooth surface of the neoprene is removed mechanically to reveal a rougher "open cell" surface which adheres closely to the skin and reduces flushing of the suit. The lined outer surface may be printed with camouflage patterns for spearfishing.

Some triathlon wetsuits go further, and use rubber-molding and texturing methods to roughen up the surface of the suit on the forearms, to increase forward drag and help pull the swimmer forwards through the water. Extremely thin 1mm neoprene is also often used in the under-arm area, to decrease stretch resistance and reduce strain on the swimmer when they extend their arms out over their head.

Wetsuits used for caving are often single-backed with a textured surface known as "sharkskin" which is a thin layer where the neoprene is less expanded. This makes it more abrasion resistant for squeezing between rocks and doesn't get torn in the way that fabric does.

Another reason to eliminate the external textile backing is to reduce water retention which can increase evaporative cooling and wind chill in suits used mainly out of the water.


Different shapes of wetsuit are available, in order of coverage:

  • A sleeveless vest, covering only the torso, provides minimal coverage. Some include an attached hood. These are not intended to be worn alone, but rather as an extra layer over or under a longer wetsuit.
  • A hooded tunic, covering the torso and head, with short legs and either short or no sleeves, is generally intended to be worn over a full suit, and has a zip closure. It may be fitted with pockets for transporting accessories.
  • A jacket covers the torso and arms, with little to no coverage for the legs. Some jackets have short leg sleeves like a shorty, others feature leg holes similar to a woman's swimsuit. A third style, the beavertail or bodysuit, which was quite popular until the 1980s, had a flap which closed over the crotch and attached at the front with a[fastener. It was worn with (over) or without a long john.
  • A shorty or spring suit covers the torso and has short sleeves and long or short legs.
  • A long john, johnny, johnny suit, or farmer john/jane (depending on the gender the suit is designed for) covers the torso and legs only; it resembles a bib overall, hence the nickname.
  • A full suit or steamer[10] covers the torso and the full length of the arms and legs.

Some suits are arranged in two parts; the jacket and long johns can be worn separately in mild conditions or worn together to provide two layers of insulation around the torso in cold conditions. Typically, two-piece cold water wetsuits have 10 to 14mm of material around the torso and 5 to 7mm for the extremities.


Wetsuits come in different thicknesses depending on the conditions for which it is intended.[2] The thicker the suit, the warmer it will keep the wearer. Because wetsuits offer significant protection from jellyfish, coral, sunburn and other hazards, many divers opt to wear a thin suit which provides minimal insulation (often called a "bodysuit") even when the water is warm enough to comfortably forego insulating garments.[2] A thick suit is stiff, so mobility is restricted; at a certain thickness the suit would become impractical, which is one reason why drysuits may be worn in particular cold environments. A wetsuit is normally described in terms of its thickness. For instance, a wetsuit with a torso thickness of 5mm and a limb thickness of 3mm will be described as a "5/3". With new technologies the neoprene is getting more flexible. Modern 4/3 wetsuits, for instance, may feel as flexible as a 3/2 of only a few years ago. Some suits have extra layers added for key areas such as the lower back.

Surface coating

Most wetsuits are made from what is termed "Double lined neoprene". This means that the neoprene rubber is laminated to a fabric , normally stretch nylon, to give it added durability and to allow it to be stitched together.

This fabric is mainly advantageous to the functionality, construction and design of a wetsuit. However, when used in sports where the user is above the water, as opposed to in the water (Such as surfing) then the wearer can experience something call 'evaporative cooling'. This phenomenon is where the outer nylon skin of the wetsuit holds a thin layer of water on it which is heated up by the small amount of heat that has escaped through the neoprene material. If you are in a strong cold wind, this layer of water is then blown/evaporated away, taking your heat with it. Its probably best explained by blowing the back of your hand, noticing how cold it feels, then wet the back of your hand and blow again, it feels cooler! That is evaporative cooling. This effect can be slightly reduced by using smoothskin neoprene on the worst areas such as the chest panel. Smoothskin (or single lined neoprene)neoprene is essentially neoprene rubber with nylon laminated to one side of it with the other side bare and given a smooth finish. This smooth surface holds less surface water (Not no surface water) and thus is less prone to evaporative cooling. But this part of the suit is not as tough as the rest of the suit. Some manufacturers put this material on the chest panel area only, as this area is most at risk from heat loss.

The benefits of having smoothskin chest panels to alleviate evaporative cooling are, in our opinion, exaggerated. The effect is reduced, there is no doubt, but very few people actually benefit from it. Firstly, if your sport is mainly in the water then you don't have evaporative cooling (EG Diving, snorkelling, triathlon, swimming etc). Secondly, most above water sports are used with a buoyancy aid which covers your chest and core area thus protecting it from the wind and therefore stopping most evaporative cooling (sailing, windsurfing, kite surfing, kayaking, waterskiing, wakeboarding, canoeing all use buoyancy aids). This really only leaves surfers as people whose sport is above the water but don't use a buoyancy aid. Surfers however spend more of the time in the water than riding their board so again, the benefits are reduced.

So to sum up on the benefits of smoothskin chest panels, there are some, and they are a bit warmer when wet and exposed to the wind, but for most uses there is very little difference.

Finemesh neoprene is a variation on smoothskin where the bare rubber is finished differently and takes on a slightly more durable, textured finish. Like smoothskin neoprnene, finemesh holds less surface water than double lined neoprene.

A specialized kind of wetsuit, with a very smooth (and somewhat delicate) outer surface is used for long distance swimming and triathlon. These are designed to maximize the mobility of the limbs while providing both warmth and buoyancy.[1]


Triathlon wetsuits are usually completely made from smoothskin neoprene. This is not for warmth and is not to avoid evaporative cooling. Triathlon wetsuits are made from smoothskin neoprene to reduce friction in the water. A smoothskin wetsuit will slip through the water slightly easier than a nylon surfaced wetsuit. Most people will not notice the difference at first but after a mile long swim your times will probably be slightly less in a smoothskin wetsuit.

Triathlon wetsuits are also designed to have high flexibility and often use grades of neoprene and nylon that are more flexible that standard grades. Triathletes also benefit from the inherent buoyancy of neoprene as this allows the body to float slightly higher in the water thus reducing the amount of your body that is actually dragging through the water itself.


Zippers are often used for closure or for providing a close fit at the wrists and ankles, but they also provide leakage points for water. Jackets may have a full or partial front zipper, or none at all. Full body suits may have a vertical back zipper, a cross-shoulder zipper or a vertical front zipper. Each of these arrangements has some advantages and some disadvantages:

  • The front zipper is easy to operate, but the suit may be difficult to remove from the shoulders without assistance, and the zip is uncomfortable for lying on a surfboard. It is relatively inflexible and placed over a part of the body where a lot of flexibility is desirable. The top of the closure will leak to some extent.
  • Cross shoulder zipper can be made relatively watertight as it has no free ends, and is therefore used in semi-dry wetsuits. It is difficult to operate for the wearer and relatively highly stressed at the shoulders due to arm movement.
  • Vertical back zippers are possibly the most common arrangement as they can be operated with a lanyard. They are relatively comfortable for most applications, the suit is easy to remove, and they place the zipper directly over the spine, which though flexible in bending, does not change much in length. The top of the closure will leak to some extent.

Sizing and fit

Wetsuits that fit too tightly can cause difficulty breathing or even acute cardiac failure,[2] and a loose fit allows considerable flushing which reduces effectiveness of insulation, so a proper fit is important. The quality of fit is most important for diving as this is where the thickest suits are used and the heat transfer is potentially greatest. A diving wetsuit should touch the skin over as much of the body that it covers as comfortably possible, both when the wearer is relaxed and when exercising. This is difficult to achieve and the details of style and cut can affect the quality of fit. Gaps where the suit does not touch the skin will vary in volume as the diver moves and this is a major cause of flushing.

Wetsuits are made in several standard adult sizes and for children. Custom fitted suits are produced by many manufacturers to provide a better fit for people for whom a well fitting off-the shelf suit is not available.


See Wetsuit stitching.


Accessories to the basic suit include gloves, boots and hoods, for additional insulation and environmental protection, pockets for holding small items and equipment, and knee-pads, to protect the knee area from abrasion and tearing, usually used by working divers.

Usually a wetsuit has no covering for the feet or head, and the diver must wear separate neoprene booties and hood.

Using hoods: in the thermal balance of the human body, the heat loss over the head is at least 20% of the whole balance[citation needed]. Thus, for the sake of thermal protection of the diver, wearing a well-fitting hood is good practice, even at fairly moderate water temperatures. Hoods have been reported to cause claustrophobia[2] in a minority of users, sometimes due to poor fit.


In open water swimming events the use of wetsuits is controversial, with many participants believing that wetsuits are being worn for competitive advantage (by increasing their buoyancy and hydrodynamic curve[clarification needed]), and not just for warmth.[18]

Unlike triathlons, which allow swimmers to wear wetsuits when the water is below a certain temperature (the standard is 78 °F (26 °C) at the surface or up to 84 °F (29 °C) for unofficial events.[19]), most open water swim races either do not permit the use of wetsuits (usually defined as anything covering the body above the waist or below the knees), or put wetsuit-clad swimmers in a separate category and/or make them ineligible for race awards. This varies by locales and times of the year, where water temperatures are substantially below comfortable.

Wetsuit care

See Wetsuit care

Putting on a wetsuit

It can be a pain to put on a tight wetsuit. It's even worse when your wetsuit is damp and cold. The best way to overcome this is to put it on as quickly and as painlessly as possible. Here's a tribal knowledge tip for you. Put each of your feet in a plastic bag and slide it through your wetsuit as you're putting it on. You'll notice that you can get your feet right through the tightest part of the wetsuit with ease, without any tugging and pulling. Take the bag and do the same for your hands and wrist if you have a tough time getting your arms through. You should be able to get into your wetsuit in about half the time you normally would. This is great for cold mornings or surf shop dressing rooms.

Custom wetsuits

Custom wetsuits are a great idea for those of us who expect the very best from our surf equipment. Surfers whose body type doesn’t match the typical professional surfer measurements of 5’9” 160 lbs may also find a custom wetsuit to be the very best option. The ultimate result is a suit made to fit you perfectly that will offer the very best in warmth, comfort, and functionality.

Japanese based manufacturer Axxe Wetsuits has been in business for 35 years and produces custom wetsuits exclusively. They take such great pride in their wetsuits and believe in the quality of a custom fit that they never offer them off the rack.

“These wetsuits are 100% handmade by a craftsman in Japan. They’re really light and really warm,” says Axxe representative Eric Koike. “We measure 28 different parts of the body and put a lot of passion and soul into each and every wetsuit that comes out of our factory. Japan is notorious for being very particular about every detail. That’s what we’re all about.

“When someone wears a wetsuit that is too small for their dimensions it puts stress on the wetsuit’s seams. A custom wetsuit will help you avoid this premature wear and last longer as a result. Another thing to think about is the amount of stretch you’re asking of the material. If someone with extra broad shoulders or a big round belly is squeezing himself into a 3 ml wetsuit, it’s really not a 3 mm in those places. It becomes a 2 mm or even 1 mm due to the stretch. Our custom wetsuits offer an even distribution of thickness for maximum warmth.”

Harry Yearwood of Peru based Boz Wetsuits had a slightly different interpretation of who should buy a Boz custom wetsuit.

“We have a size chart with 11 different sizes and we use 100% superstretch material,” explains Yearwood. “One of those sizes will fit most people very, very well. I recommend a custom wetsuit only if you’re really tall and very skinny or if you are on the shorter, heavier side. You may also want to consider it if you have an unusually large neck or broad shoulders.

“A wetsuit worn too tight will stretch the material too hard, wearing it quicker than usual. You want it snug to keep warm, but not too stretched out. I get a lot of requests from people who want a custom wetsuit when really one of our sizes will work perfectly.”

Because both Axxe and Boz use an order form with over 20 different measurements it’s best to be as accurate as possible.

“Don’t go to a tailor to get measured,” suggests Koike. “That has happened before and it’s been difficult to work with their measurements. I recommend going to a shop taking Axxe Wetsuit orders and talking to the designated shop employee. That’s the best way to go.”

Conclusion: A custom wetsuit order may be the right move for your next suit. You will get a wetsuit perfectly fitted for your body, keeping you nice and warm while also putting less stress on the seams and materials. They tend to be more expensive, but the added comfort and warmth may be worth the cost. Still, a custom wetsuit may really be a big benefit only for those people with unusual body shapes. Whatever you decide, SurfScience.com has now armed you with the information you need to make this decision on your own.

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 "How Wetsuits Work". Lomo Watersport. Retrieved February 20, 2010.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Williams, Guy; Acott, Chris J (2003). "Exposure suits: a review of thermal protection for the recreational diver". South Pacific Underwater Medicine Society journal 33 (1). ISSN 0813-1988. OCLC 16986801. Retrieved 2011-04-13.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Taylor, Michael (May 11, 2008). "Hugh Bradner, UC's inventor of wetsuit, dies". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved May 23, 2008.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 Taylor, Michael (May 21, 2008). "Hugh Bradner, Physicist who worked on the Manhattan Project and invented the neoprene wetsuit". The Times (London). Retrieved May 23, 2008.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Rainey, C. "Wet Suit Pursuit: Hugh Bradner's Development of the First Wet Suit". UC San Diego, Scripps Institution of Oceanography Archives, Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Retrieved December 24, 2009.
  6. "Steamer Lane and Some Surf History". Santa Cruz Waves. Retrieved June 27, 2014.
  7. Kampion, Drew; Marcus, Ben (December 2000). "Jack O'Neill – Surfing A to Z". Surfline/Wavetrak, Inc. Retrieved December 7, 2008.
  8. "Oneill – Know Jack". O'Neill Inc. Archived from the original on February 19, 2008. Retrieved December 7, 2008.
  9. "Gul History". History. 17 May 2014. Retrieved 17 May 2014.
  10. "Steamer Wetsuit". History. 17 May 2014. Retrieved 17 May 2014.