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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 1991…

What are the 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

Sometimes called a “steamer,” this wetsuit is designed to trap and warm a layer of water against the skin. It covers the whole body down to the wrists and ankles. Full suits come in varying thicknesses. Unless you live in the tropics, this will be your best option for a first suit.

Spring suit or shorty

The spring suit/shorty covers your torso and has short legs and long or short sleeves. Designed for warmer water, spring suits are usually made with thinner neoprene (1-3mm) for comfort, freedom of movement and sun protection.

Long Janes

The female version of ‘Long John’, Long Janes/Farmer Janes feature a sleeveless upper with full-length legs, giving the wearer completely unrestricted freedom to paddle with good levels of warmth for submersed 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/bottoms

Made with 1-2mm neoprene and ideal for extended surf sessions in warm water, the Short Jane’s sleeveless arms and short leg design makes it easy to change into and out of, and allows for a full range of motion in the water. Likewise, neoprene tops and bottoms can be paired with a bikini for extra warmth and coverage 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. That said, 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?

A wetsuit’s thickness rating directly equates to its insulating properties, so matching your wetsuit’s thickness to the water temperatures you’ll be surfing in is vital. The colder the water, the thicker the wetsuit will be need to be. If you’re planning on hunting winter waves in Norway, Iceland or Canada then you’ll need something in the 5-6mm range, whereas if you’re summer surfing in moderate climates, you’ll be fine with something in the 1-3mm range. There are a few other factors to take into account – wind chill, your own sensitivity to cold, and whether you’ll also wear boots and/or a hood – but the main thing to remember is when it comes to the trade off between stretch and warmth, keeping your core temperature warm and constant is key to having fun in the water.

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 available, each with its own advantages and disadvantages – there is no ‘perfect’ solution. For full suits there are three choices: back zip, chest zip, and zip free/zipperless. For spring suits, it’s a choice between a (vertical) front zip, and back zip.

Back Zip:

This is the original wetsuit design: the suit opens down to the waist, making it relatively easy to put on and zip up (provided the zipper doesn’t snag), but that long zipper also reduces stretch across the back, a little. A Velcro fastener is needed to secure the neck entry.

Chest Zip:

With this design, you squeeze yourself through an opening at the neckline, then pull the ‘bib’ over your head, and zip it up across the chest. Compared to the back zip, the chest zip is less restrictive and better at sealing out water, but it’s also less easy getting in and out of.

Zipperless:

This is the newest development in full suit design – rather than using a zipper, the zip-free suit relies on a looser entry via the neckline, and 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:

An increasingly popular choice for springsuits, the vertical front zip design is comfortable, stylish and makes changing into and out of your suit easy. However, the water seal at the neck isn’t as tight as with a back zip, so flushing might 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).

Flatlocks : Cheapest

Flat against the skin for comfort and offering good stretch, the main drawback with flatlock stitching is the needle goes though 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: Most Expensive.

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

Roxy Wetsuit Seam Technologies

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 good 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?

When it comes to wetsuits, Neoprene – a petroleum-based synthetic rubber – is the most commonly used material, and for most users it’s ideal, being light, durable, stretchy and insulating. Lycra, aka Spandex is the most commonly used fabric for rash vests, being extremely stretchy and fast drying. However, both neoprene and Lycra can provoke an allergic reaction in a small minority of wearers, in which case alternative materials like Polytherm ,Thermocline and neoprene made from natural rubber are gradually coming onto the market.

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 specialised 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 prioritises high flotation, flexibility and low resistance through the water ahead of warmth and durability, whereas a surfing wetsuit is optimised for warmth and durability, ahead of flotation and Hydrodynamic resistance.

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