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How to choose the perfect wetsuit

Wetsuits are an amazing invention and an invaluable tool for surfers, divers, and anyone else wanting to keep warm in cold water. Essentially a second skin that traps a warm layer of water next to your body, wetsuit design has come a long, long way since its introduction in the 1950s. With the vast array of shapes, styles and technologies available, choosing a wetsuit that’s perfect for you can be hard – so we’ve put together this guide to give you a hand. After all, we’ve been doing this since 1969…

What are the different types of wetsuit?

From ultra-warm full suits for frigid water to thin and stretchy reef shorts for the tropics, wetsuits come in all shapes and sizes. Identifying the right type of wetsuit for the water temperature you’ll be surfing or swimming in is the first step to choosing your suit. Whichever type you choose, the simple rule of thumb is that a full suit is best for cool to cold water, while for warmer water, a spring or summer suit provides the ideal balance between warmth and freedom of movement. In this section, we’ll look at the four main categories of women’s wetsuits.

Full suit

Also known as a Steamer, this classic wetsuit covers the whole body from the wrists and ankles up and comes in every thickness variation from 2mm up. Unless you live in the tropics, this is the first style you should own.

Spring suit or shorty

The spring suit/shorty design covers the torso and has short legs and long or short sleeves. Designed for warmer water, spring suits are made with thinner neoprene (1-2mm) for maximum comfort and freedom of movement.

Long Janes

The female version of ‘Long John’, Long Janes/Farmer Janes features a sleeveless upper with full-length legs, giving the wearer completely unrestricted freedom to paddle with good levels of warmth for submerged legs. Like Spring suits, the Long Jane is designed for warmer water and is usually made with thinner neoprene (1.5-2mm).

Short Janes, Neoprene Tops and Surf Leggings

Made with 1-2mm neoprene and perfect for longer surf sessions in warm water, the Short Jane’s sleeveless arms and short leg design gives you a full range of motion in the water. Neoprene tops and surf leggings can be paired with a bikini for extra warmth, coverage and UPF sun protection in warm water. 

One-piece surf suits

One of the newest surf trends, functional, stylish and a great source of UPF protection, one-piece surf swimsuits and bodysuit rashguards are crafted with 1mm neoprene or thin, stretchy, high-performance swim fabrics that give you extra coverage in warm water. 

Roxy Wetsuits Range Guide

Fit: How to get the perfect fit for your wetsuit

Getting the right fit for your wetsuit is crucial. Too small, and not only will it be hard to get in and out of, it will restrict your paddling power and reduce your freedom of movement. Too loose, and you’ll have to put up with cold water flushing through the suit, and pockets of water sloshing around in all the wrong places. First step: measure your chest, hips, waist and inside leg, then consult a fitting guide to get the closest match for your size and body type.

When trying on a wetsuit:

  • DO watch out for excess room around the lower back, crotch, shoulders or knees – this will lead to cold pockets of water – and make sure there’s no bunching at the ankles and wrists. 

    DO make sure the suit isn’t too restrictive: test out your range of motion with a few stretches and paddling movements. If it feels like a (slightly tight) second skin in the store, you’re good to go.

    DO test the seal around the neck, wrists and ankles – see if you can comfortably pinch the neoprene between two fingers, stretch it, and feel it snap back tight against the skin.


    DON’T forget that neoprene stretches when wet, so if a dry suit feels slightly too tight in the store, it’s a good thing but if the wetsuit is so tight that raising your arms above your head or making a paddling motion is difficult – it's probably too small.

How thick does your wetsuit need to be?

Most wetsuits are made with a mix of thicker panels where you need the warmth and thinner panels where you need the stretch. The thicker the wetsuit, the warmer it is. If you’re hunting winter waves in Norway, Iceland or Canada then you’ll need something in the 5-6mm range. If you’re summer surfing in moderate climates, you’ll be fine with something in the 1-3mm range. Don’t forget to take wind chill, your own sensitivity to cold, and whether you’re wearing boots and/or a hood into account. When considering stretch and warmth remember that keeping your core temperature warm means more fun in the water. 

To learn more about wetsuit thickness, read our full-length guide here:

How to choose a Wetsuit thickness guide

Wetsuits Zip Systems:

Zipper: Front or back?

When it comes to getting in and out of your wetsuit, there are several options. Full suits feature back zips, chest zips, and zipperless designs. For spring suits, it’s a choice between a (vertical) front zip, and a back zip.

Back Zip:

The suit opens at the back down to the waist, making it easy to put on and close, but the zipper can reduce stretch across the back slightly.

Chest Zip:

You get in through an opening in the neckline, pull the ‘bib’ over your head, and zip it up across the chest. The chest zip is less restrictive and better at sealing out water but is harder to get on/off.

Zipperless:

The newest development in full suit design – a zip-free suit relies on a looser entry via the neckline with overlapping layers of neoprene to keep the water out. The result is great stretch and comfort, but a less effective water seal – making it a good choice for warmer water.

Front Zip:

A popular choice for springsuits, the vertical front zip design is comfortable, stylish and makes changing easy. The water seal at the neck isn’t as tight as with a back zip, so flushing can be an issue.

Roxy Wetsuits Zip System Technologies Guide

Stitching/Sealing

A good-fitting wetsuit, especially one designed for a high-motion activity like surfing, requires sewing many neoprene panels together. The resulting seams are the weakest link in the chain: it’s where strength and flexibility is compromised, and once the corrosive effect of salt water has taken its toll, a weak seam is where water is most likely to find its way in. To strengthen this link, there are several stitching and seam sealing solutions used in modern wetsuit construction. Understanding the pros and cons of these solutions will help you choose the perfect wetsuit for your needs (and budget).

Flatlock: 

Flat against the skin for comfort and offering good stretch, the main drawback with flatlock stitching is the needle goes through the neoprene, which means water does, too. It is used on the cheaper wetsuits and for summer suits.

Glued and Blind-stitched (GBS):

The stitching does not pass all the way through the neoprene, and the seams are glued before stitching. GBS is just as stretchy as flatlock, but more water-resistant, and so much warmer.

Taped:

GBS is used, then internal seam taping is added, which increases durability, reinforces the seam, and makes them completely watertight.

Liquid Taped:

Running a bead of liquid rubber along the exterior and/or interior seam creates an ultra waterproof seal that’s more durable than regular tape.

Welded: 

Instead of stitching, the panels of the wetsuit are glued together, resulting in maximum waterproofness, durability and flexibility.

Roxy Wetsuit Seam Technologies

The difference between swimming and surfing wetsuits

Although there is some crossover between design and construction, the fact is, wetsuit design has evolved to a very specialized degree and wearing a swimming wetsuit for surfing (or a diving/triathlon wetsuit) will involve various compromises on performance. For example, a swimmer’s wetsuit prioritizes high flotation, flexibility and low resistance through the water ahead of warmth and durability, whereas a surfing wetsuit is optimized for warmth and durability, ahead of flotation and Hydrodynamic resistance.

Other wetsuit features

There are a host of other wetsuit features that can make a good wetsuit perfect for your individual needs. If you are using your suit mainly for surfing, then reinforced knees are a must for your comfort and the suit’s durability. Swimmers and triathletes will benefit from high buoyancy, low resistance neoprene, while cold water surfers can look out for ankle zippers to help make thick fullsuits easier to get in and out of.

Wetsuit design is a highly evolved science, and we’ve hardly scratched the surface of what we do to ensure every Roxy wetsuit performs as well as it looks and feels. A good wetsuit isn’t cheap, but when you look at what goes into one, we do feel it’s worth every penny. Limestone enriched neoprene, infrared thermal tech and Hydrolock seam sealing are just a few of the industry-leading technologies we offer, not forgetting the relentless R&D from our roster of world-class athletes that goes into every suit.

Material: Neoprene vs lycra vs rubber - which is right for you?

To reduce the use of petroleum-based synthetic products – all our ROXY wetsuits are now made with natural limestone-derived neoprene with recycled scraps of rubber tires and waste neoprene. Lycra, aka Spandex and recycled Vita Xtra Life™ are the most commonly used fabric on our surf swimsuits and rash vests. Stretchy and fast-drying Vita Xtra Life™ Lycra® is UV, chlorine and sunscreen resistant.

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