Wetsuits or Steamers are an important addition to your surfing arsenal. They allow you to endure long sessions of activity in cooler water in relative comfort by maintaining your core body temperature. A good wetsuit fit is key to maintaining this capability. I have literally fit hundreds of other people over the years in wetsuits and have seen many of the pitfalls in fitting and what it takes to get the right fit.
But first a little lesson on what a wetsuit is and how a wetsuits works.
Generally speaking, wetsuits are manufactured by stitching and sealing together pieces of neoprene. Neoprene is a synthetic rubber and there are several different blends on the market. Each with its own credentials of being “stretchy”, “eco” or “durable” etc. They are also measured by thickness, so a 2mm wetsuit is 2mm thick, a 3/2 is 3mm across the core and 2mm across the moving parts such as arms. As a rule of thumb a thicker wetsuit is generally warmer than a thinner one but the more rubber the less mobility for paddling/swimming etc.
So how does a few mm of rubber keep you warm in frigid water? Surprisingly, it’s the water inside the wetsuit that is the key and also the reason they are called a wetsuit! A thin layer of water is basically trapped within the wetsuit between your skin and the neoprene layer. Your body then heats this layer and it provides the insulation you need while the neoprene keeps it in place and prevents it cooling through exposure to external water and wind.
So its incredibly important from a functional and comfort point of view to wear a wetsuit that is the right fit. Pick a loose fitting one and you will be swimming inside of it while losing heat and gaining rashes. Pick one too tight and you will constricted at best or be bowed over like a hunch back while suffering a minor voice change.
Wetsuits are sized on two factors, height and girth, this then allows manufacturers to provide off the peg wetsuits that accommodate the majority of the population. As an example a medium (M) sized suit is middle of the road for a man who is 5’9-5’11 and around 68-77kgs. A medium short (MS) will be for the similar girth but less height, in this case 5’6-5’8. Likewise a Medium Tall (MT) will be for the taller person in the same range. If you consult the sizing below you will see the chest and neck are identical for each variation in the medium range with slight variation on weight.
Here are a few points to check when fitting your wetsuit. Demonstration wetsuit is a Mens Patagonia R2 Front Zip.
General fit and first rule: A new wetsuit should be quite snug. The neoprene will give a little when wet and over time. So a perfect comfortable fit in the shop can be turn into a loose cold nightmare in the water. If stuck between a slightly tights fit vs slightly loose fit – pick the former every time.
Crotch: You should not have acres of space hanging in the crotch area. This should be reasonably flush. Pull the wetsuit up more and if you have too much excess neoprene consider going down a height size e.g. Medium (M) to Medium Short (MS). Likewise if your voice has changed (not an indicator on ladies) then go up Medium (M) to Medium Tall (MT).
Lower back: The wetsuit should be reasonably flush with your lower back. If it stands out like a washboard then its tight and potentially a size too small. Go up a height size e.g. Medium (M) to Medium Tall (MT).
Armpits: Its never a good sign to have a lot of neoprene floating in the armpit region as it will lead to very uncomfortable chafe when paddling. Consider sizing down the girth e.g. Large (L) to Medium (M). It should be reasonably negligible
Wrists: Unless you are a form of spider monkey then the cuffs should sit on your wrist bones. If its much shorter then go up a height size e.g. Medium (M) to Medium Tall (MT). Longer is less of a worry as long as your core fit is right and the cuffs aren’t loose enough to allow water to run up your arm
Ankles: Same principal as the wrists – if your full wetsuit is sitting on your shins then its way too short. A good fit rests snugly on the ankle bones.
Neck: A lot of people complain that the neckline is too tight when trying on a new wetsuit. Look if they or you are turning blue then it is probably true! However, considering the neck is the easiest way for cold water to enter wetsuit (especially when duck diving) and ruining your warm comfort then its imperative it provides a good seal. With back zips you get to adjust this but with a front zip its one size and it will give over time and use – so aim snug with a view to becoming more comfortable.
Lastly, we are all different people with great variety in body shape. So you might not be able to match all the points above as you are built like a short version of the hulk with really long arms. In which case focus on the core body fit as that where you need the warmth most, with the extremities next.
Hope that helps – please feel free to comment with further suggestions
See you in the water!
Has spent over 30 years of his middle aged life trying to spend more time in the ocean. Likes to surf, bodysurf, free dive and pretend he enjoys chasing big waves.