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The Wetsuit Guide

Surf Tales General

The Wetsuit Guide

N 52° 22′ 12.778″  E 4° 53′ 42.605″ 

A wetsuit: sooner or later every surfer will have to deal with it. We all know that a wetsuit serves to keep a surfer warm in (relatively) cold water, but what exactly is a wetsuit? What material is the wetsuit made of, and what types of wetsuits are there and for which situations is which equipment required? This guide has been compiled to answer these questions.

What is a wetsuit exactly?

  • A wetsuit is a suit that protects its wearer against hypothermia. A wetsuit is used for diving, kayaking, wind and kite surfing and, of course, wave surfing.
  • A well-fitting wetsuit lets a little water through, which is heated by the body heat.
  • A wetsuit is made from Neoprene, a synthetic rubber. Neoprene was invented by the DuPont research laboratory led by Wallace Carothers, an American chemist who also invented nylon. Apart from wetsuits, this material is also used for various types of glue, insulation material and certain packaging.

History of the wetsuit

It is difficult to determine who exactly invented the wetsuit, but in general a number of important people are jointly seen as the inventors of the wetsuit

  • In 1951, physicist Hugh Bradner discovered the insulating effect of a thin layer of water between a suit and a body. With this Bradner is seen as the “founding father” of the modern wetsuit. It was then Willard Bascome who devised to use neoprene. However, the pair did not succeed in making a commercial success of “the wetsuit”.
  • Jack O’Neill started experimenting with neoprene in his garage in 1952, which led to the creation of the epic (surf) brand O’Neill. O’Neill is seen as the one who managed to turn the wetsuit into a commercial success. In 1959 he used the motto: “It’s always summer on the Inside”.
  • The California twin brothers Bob and Bill Meistrell also started experimenting with neoprene around the year 1950. The brothers are praised as developers of the first really practical wetsuit in the early 1950s.

The different types of wetsuits:

There are different types of wetsuits, all of which are used in different situations. The most commonly used types of wetsuits are set out below:

  • Shorty: covers the torso and has short sleeves and short legs.
  • Shortarm: A shortarm has short sleeves and long legs
  • Full suit of steamer: covers the torso, legs and arms

Thickness of the wetsuit:

The thickness of the wetsuit determines to a large extent how warm the wetsuit keeps the body. The thickness of the wetsuit is indicated by two numbers, separated by a /. The number before the / indicates the thickness in millimeters of the part that covers the torso. This number is generally lower than the second number, which indicates the thickness in millimeters that the limbs cover. The first number is often thicker, because this largely determines the basic temperature of the body. The area around the limbs is often thinner, because more flexibility and freedom of movement is required.

Example: the number 3/2 indicates that the part covering the torso is 3 millimeters thick, while the parts covering the limbs are 2 millimeters thick.


  • Hood: A “hood” (headpiece) serves to keep your head warm while surfing in very cold water. Your body cools faster if you don’t cover your head, so wearing a hoodie is definitely recommended in cold water.
  • Boots: Wetsuit boots are used for different purposes. First, it serves to heat the feet when it is very cold; In addition, boots protect against the hard and / or spiny seabed. It is important that a bootie has sufficient grip on the surfboard.
  • Gloves: Surf gloves serve – naturally – to keep your fingers and hands warm during cold conditions.
  • Rashguard: a rashguard is a shirt made of nylon, spandex and polyester. You will find rashguards with both short and long sleeves. Rashguards are generally worn when the water is too warm for a wetsuit and serves primarily to protect the skin on the chest and against burns.

Which wetsuit do i need?

Ultimately, a wetsuit primarily serves to keep you warm. As described above, you will find wetsuits in different thicknesses, which are suitable for different water temperatures. In the table below you will find an overview of the water temperatures and which type of wetsuit is suitable for this.

Watertemperature in ° Celsius Wetsuit
24 – 26  Rashguard
20 – 23  2/2 top of shorty
16 – 19  3/2 full suit
12 – 15  3/2 full suit + booties
9 – 12  4/3 full suit + booties
6 – 9  5/4 full suit + booties + hood
6 and colder  6/5 full suit + booties + hood

Quality of the wetsuit:

Stitching: as (if all goes well) meanwhile it is clear, a wetsuit consists of different parts of neoprene, which are attached to each other. This confirmation can be done in different ways:

  • Flatlock stitching: the parts are stitched on both the outside and the inside of the wetsuit; the seams are clearly visible.
  • Sealed: besides stitched, the parts of the wetsuit are glued, which prevents water from coming through the seams. In general, sealing is required when the temperature of the water falls below 16 ° Celsius.
  • Sealed en taped: the parts of the wetsuit are stitched, glued and provided with tape over the glued seams. This prevents water from seeping in through the glued seams and retains warm air in the wetsuit. This is the warmest way of wetsuit stitching and is needed in water colder than about 12 ° Celsius.

Zipper: most wetsuits have a zipper, which is located at the back of the wetsuit. Here too, different types of zippers can be distinguished:

  • Full zipper: this wetsuit has a zipper along the entire length of the spine, from the lower back to the back of the neck. This option offers the least flexibility, but is the most practical to use.
  • Half zipper:as the name implies, this zipper covers half of your back, starting in the middle of the back and closing at the back of the neck. This style offers increased flexibility and range of movement compared to a full zipper.
  • Zipperless: in this wetsuit you have to step into the neck, which opens very wide and then you have to put on one leg at a time, just like pants. Then do the same for your arms. Putting on and taking off in this wetsuit is not that easy, but this type of suit offers the warmest and most waterproof construction. The flexibility and range of movement is also greatly increased.

Quality of  neoprene (stretch vs. super stretch):

Neoprene has been used for over 60 years to produce wetsuits. Nowadays, the fabric is often used in collaboration with Lycra and and Spandex, making wetsuits stronger and more flexible. The two types of neoprene that are used today are “stretch” and “super stretch”. Wetsuits are generally made with 30%, 60% or 100% super stretch. The more super stretch the wetsuit is processed, the more expensive the wetsuit is in general.

Fit, flexibility and freedom of movement?

After (finally) having made a choice, a very important part of the final choice for a wetsuit is of course added: fitting. A good wetsuit must feel like a second skin, without pinching your arms or legs. A wetsuit must be tight, but not too tight; after all, there must be enough space between the wetsuit and the skin for a thin layer of water. Ultimately, every piece of wetsuit must fit well, while sufficient flexibility and freedom of movement is possible.

Well known wetsuit brands:

Thomas Oosterhof

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