Buyer’s Guide: Best Wetsuits for Surfing
Just because the weather’s turning cold doesn’t mean you can’t go surfing. In fact, some of the best waves to catch are winter waves.
That’s why you need the best wetsuits for surfing — products designed to keep you warm and comfortable without limiting your range of motion and flexibility.
I picked up surfing a few years back when I was living on the coast. I tried a few different wetsuits, and I finally found one that works perfectly for me.
To help you in your search for the best wetsuits for surfing, here’s a look at the best products on the market for both men and women — as well as key decision factors to consider and answers to pressing questions.
Why do Surfers Wear Wetsuits?
Visit a beach and you’re likely to see surfers wearing full body suits. These suits are called “wetsuits,” and they are worn for several reasons. Here are the 2 main reasons:
- Warmth: The chief purpose of a wetsuit is to keep surfers warm. Surfing can be a year-round sport, but the waters of some surfing destinations get awfully chilly in wintertime. A wetsuit keeps you as warm and comfortable as possible when riding the waves.
- Buoyancy: A wetsuit also provides buoyancy, which simply means it acts as a type of flotation device. When you’re surfing and you wipe out, a wetsuit helps pull you back to the surface. This is really helpful in those moments after a wipeout when you’re feeling a little disoriented.
If you’re participating in a triathlon or deep-sea diving, there may be other reasons to wear a wetsuit. For example, wetsuits help triathletes swim faster. But, for surfers, the use of a wetsuit revolves around primarily warmth and secondarily buoyancy.
What to Look for in a Wetsuit
There’s no cut-and-dry solution when you’re searching for the best wetsuits for surfing. Your body is unique. So too is the location where you’ll be surfing. Your budget is going to vary from others, and you will want features that others don’t — and vice versa.
So, to help you make the best decision for your needs, here’s a look at 7 key decision factors when searching for the best wetsuits for surfing:
You’ll find basically 4 main types of wetsuits:
- Rashguard: Also known simply as a “top,” a rashguard is a basically a neoprene shirt that covers only the upper body.
- Shorty: A shorty wetsuit is going to cover your torso, as well as the upper legs and upper arms.
- Spring Suit: A spring suit takes it one step further than a shorty, covering the torso and upper legs as well as fully covering the arms.
- Full Suit: A full suit covers everything except the head, hands and feet — and you can find accessories that cover those parts, too, if you’re looking for full coverage.
Almost all wetsuit are made from neoprene, which is officially classified as the chemical polychloroprene. If you’re allergic to neoprene or if you prefer something more eco-friendly, you can find alternative materials. Geoprene, for example, is a material used to make wetsuits that uses limestone to create a more eco-friendly solution. That said, geoprene isn’t nearly as effective an insulator as traditional neoprene — which is to say it won’t keep you as warm.
The thicker a wetsuit, the warmer it’s going to be. The thinner a wetsuit, the more flexible it’s going to be. You need to find the right balance between the two — a wetsuit that’s just thick enough to keep you comfortable and just thin enough to allow you to move freely. Thickness is measured in millimeters. If you see multiple numbers — 5/4/3, for example — they mean that a wetsuit is 5 mm thick through the body, 4 mm thick through the legs, and 3 mm thick through the arms.
I address this in depth below, but you want your wetsuit to feel incredibly tight — almost too tight. Once you get in the water, the wetsuit will begin to loosen up. Plus, a tight wetsuit prevents any air pockets from forming, which can thwart a wetsuits ability to keep you warm while surfing.
Stitching is so important when choosing a wetsuit. The less stitching, the warmer and more effective a wetsuit is going to be. That’s why manufacturers have created advanced stitching methods that are incredibly effective at keeping a wetsuit nice and warm. Here’s a look at different stitching methods, starting with the least effective and working down to the most effective:
- Over Lock Stitching: You won’t see this much anymore. And you certainly shouldn’t invest in a wetsuit that features over lock stitching. If you’re renting a surfboard somewhere, your rental place my offer you a wetsuit with over lock stitching. That’s about it.
- Flat Lock Stitching: Flat lock isn’t much more effective than over lock stitching at keeping out water and maintaining body heat. But it does make a wetsuit a little more comfortable. Over lock stitches are prominent, while flat lock stitches aren’t nearly as noticeable when you’re wearing a wetsuit.
- Blind Stitching: Blind stitching provides a big jump in warmth over flat lock stitching. The blind stitching process includes bringing the stitches through the outside of the neoprene so that they exit on the same side they entered — rendering a wetsuit completely waterproof.
- Basic Blind Stitching and Glue: This type of stitching adds glue that further strengthens the neoprene. One issue with this type of stitching is that the disparity in flexibility between stitching and glue can lead to the need for stitching repair.
- Blind Stitching, Glued and Spot Taped: When you add spot tape, it helps strengthen stress points and prevent the early onset of repair needs.
- Double Blind Stitching and Glued: Double blind stitching simply means that the double blind stitch process if followed both inside and outside the neoprene, providing waterproof stitching inside and outside the wetsuit.
- Blind Stitching, Glued and Fully Taped: This is the point where stitching gets expensive. The entirety of stitches is fully reinforced with tape, which leads to a high-quality seal — that you pay a premium for.
- Blind Stitching, Glued and Fully Taped With Neoprene: Using neoprene tape enhances a wetsuit’s flexibility, which makes this type of stitching one of the best and most desirable you’ll find.
- Liquid Taping: Depending on the manufacturer, this may be called liquid taping, or super seal. Basically, both inner and outer stitches are completely sealed through use of a special rubber.
- Stitchless: When stitching is the enemy of a wetsuit, the best solution is no stitching at all. It’s still hard to find truly stitchless wetsuits, and you’ll pay a premium for them if and when you do find them, but this is the next wave of innovation in wetsuits, made possible only through advanced technologies.
A zipper is another point where water could potentially enter your suit. Most wetsuits include what’s called a “bat flap,” which is simply neoprene constructed under the zipper to stop water from entering. You can find some zipper-less wetsuits, too. A zipper-less wetsuit is more flexible once you get it on — but the challenge is getting it on. Slipping into a zipper-less wetsuit is hard, and it can also stretch and damage the point of entry over time.
A wetsuit doesn’t have to stand by itself. You can add to what you choose by purchasing accessories: hoods for your head, gloves for your hands, booties for your feet. And, as you’ll see below, at some cooler water temperatures, these accessories are recommended for safe surfing.
8. Other Features
Ah, technology. You can even find battery-powered wetsuits that heat themselves. Search around for the best wetsuits for surfing, and you’ll discover all sorts of additional features. Like with anything, choose the features that you really want — and never pay extra for features you don’t want or won’t use.
Reviews: Our Picks for Best Wetsuits for Surfing
Below, you’ll find our top pick for a wetsuit — one that offers both a men’s and women’s model. This top pick is based on my own personal experience. We’ve also offered up a few alternatives broken up into specific men’s and women’s categories. This is based on my own personal tests (on the women’s side), as well as input and advice from men I trust who know and love surfing.
Take a look, and choose one that fits your budget and your needs. Don’t see your favorite wetsuit listed below? Let us know about it in the comments section. So, without further adieu, here’s a look at our picks for best wetsuits for surfing.
For Everyone: The Best Wetsuit for Surfing (Our Top Pick!)
Let’s start with the best. Here’s a look at our top pick from among the best wetsuits for surfing. This particular model just so happens to come in a men’s and women’s version. Check it out, and keep reading below for more recommendation specific to men and women.
Rip Curl Flash Bomb for Men and Rip Curl Flash Bomb for Women
Before I go any further, I have to admit: This is the wetsuit that I own. Many Rip Curl customers are loyal customers, and I now count myself as part of that loyal crew after my experience with the Flash Bomb.
There are two things that jump out at me about the Flash Bomb. The first is its flexibility. I’ve tried other wetsuits that get the job done, but they can feel a bit like wearing a straight jacket. When you wear a wetsuit, you’re always going to sacrifice some freedom of movement — that’s non-negotiable. But how much freedom are you willing to sacrifice in exchange for warmth? The Flash Bomb provides a nice balance between warmth and insulation and flexibility.
For both men and women, you’ll find a number of different color schemes if you’re wanting something other than plain black. The stitching is blind with glue, and I’ve experienced no durability with my Flash Bomb after 3 years of use.
There are plenty of other quality wetsuits on the market. But, for a good blend of flexibility, warmth, durability and price, you won’t beat the Rip Curl Flash Bomb for my money.
For Women: Best Wetsuits for Surfing
Female surfers are among the most kickass surfers in the world. And those kickass female surfers often wear wetsuits that are designed just for them. If you’re not interested in the Rip Curl Flash Bomb, consider these the women-only wetsuit models listed below.
First, it’s really easy to get into and out of, without sacrificing fit and warmth. This ease of entry and exit is made possible by the Synergy’s horizontal chest zip, which creates a larger opening than you’ll find with other models.
Also, the Synergy maximizes warmth by using a thermal hollow yarn jersey (that is recycled, too, if you want something eco-friendly). You might guess that this additional warmth takes away from the Synergy’s flexibility, but that’s not the case.
Made of AX2 Superflex neoprene, the Synergy feels lightweight and flexible while maintaining powerful insulation abilities. Triple glued and sealed seams further reinforce the suit against water, while also providing much-needed durability as you give you wetsuit plenty of time in the water.
And, finally, you’ll love the price on the Synergy. If you’re looking for something affordable, you’ll find this available at a lower price point than the Rip Curl Flash Bomb.
Men who like the look of this wetsuit, don’t despair — it’s essentially the same as the Billabong Foil.
O’Neill is a wetsuit original. The Santa Cruz-based company was an innovator in using neoprene technology for wetsuits. And, while there may be other companies that have surpassed O’Neill for peak performance, you can still find plenty of great options in the O’Neill collection.
Like the Reactor, for example. This is another model that you can find for around $100, depending on where you’re shopping — making it perhaps the ideal wetsuit for beginners. It uses dated flat lock stitching, and it’s not the type of wetsuit that you’d want to use in water colder than 65 degrees. But it does offer flexibility and decent performance for the investment.
You can also find a number of different color options, if you’re interested in making a statement with your wetsuit. I really like the version that includes coral sleeves.
Xcel is a beloved brand for wetsuits known for its use of fully taped, glued and blind stitching. I’ve heard complaints from long-time users of Xcel wetsuits that the tape depends to deteriorate quickly, meaning replacement or repairs. But that’s a common challenge with fully tape stitching — it takes a beating and starts to fall apart, for whatever reason.
This Xcel Axis is an ideal mid-range wetsuit for women. Given its full taping, the Axis offers watertight construction that keeps you nice and warm while out in the water. Paddling is easy thanks to shoulders and armpits free from seams. And built-in kneepads keep you comfortable when catching a wave.
There’s nothing more frustrating than getting a wetsuit — only to find that it doesn’t include a key pocket. That’s not an issue with the Xcel Axis, which includes a hidden key pocket along the back zipper.
Roxy is Quicksilver’s line of clothing and equipment for women, and it makes one of the best performance wetsuits in its Performance model. As noted above, liquid taping is one of the most advanced forms of stitching, behind on stitchless wetsuits. And the Roxy Performance uses liquid stitching to fully prevent leaks and make this model the assuredly waterproof wetsuit you can find.
The Roxy Performance provides a high-level of flexibility and warmth, which is difficult to achieve when you opt for more inexpensive models. The neoprene is packed with air cells for lightweight performance, and the thermal lining promotes insulation and warmth.
While this wetsuit does offer incredible performance once you get it on, getting into it alone can be a challenge. That’s not terribly surprising. You want a wetsuit to fit closely to your skin. But the Roxy Performance is more challenging than other wetsuits to get into — even if the ordeal is worth it once you actually get it on.
For Men: Best Wetsuits for Surfing
Yes, some manufacturers make men’s and women’s models of the same version — but not all. Here’s a look at the best wetsuits for surfing that are just for men. In addition to the Rip Curl Flash Bomb above, consider these when you’re in the market for a wetsuit.
One of the reasons this wetsuit is so effective in cold temperatures is its triple-glued blindstitching and proprietary S-curve welding. If you’re looking to hit the waves off the coast of Northern California, this is the durable suit you need to stay comfortable in water temps that drift into the mid-50s.
The Heat is also popular because of its ability to block out water without reducing flexibility. One of its major design features is a large rear panel that’s added just for this purpose — blocking water while promoting flexibility.
If you’re looking for bonus features, the Heat is pretty simple and straightforward. You do get Krypto kneepads for increased comfort while surfing, as well as an external key pocket with a loop for added security. But that’s about it. The O’Neill Heat gets the job done in no-frills fashion.
Almost everything said about the Billabong Synergy for women above can be said about the Billabong Foil for men. You’re getting easy in and easy out. You’re getting great warmth without sacrificing too much in the way of flexibility.
And the price — oh, the price. This is an ideal wetsuit for anyone who’s just exploring the sport of surfing and who doesn’t want to make a huge investment in a wetsuit. When you choose the Billabong Foil, you’re getting a trusted and well-known brand name, as well as quality and durable performance.
Could you find a wetsuit that offers a little more in the way of features and performance? Sure. But that’s not always what entry-level surfers are looking for. Think of it this way: Buy the Billabong Foil as you’re just getting started, and then you can use it as a backup if and when you get really into the sport and opt for a more performance-focused wetsuit.
If you’re looking for more of a performance product, look no further than the Xcel Infiniti. This wetsuit is designed for maximum performance in the water. What’s to like about the Infiniti? Several things.
First, this model features full tape stitching. As noted above, this can lead to durability problems down the road. But, for right now, it creates a hard-to-beat blend of warmth and flexibility.
The Infiniti also uses an extremely lightweight style of neoprene, which features a soft foam and tightly woven textiles. The results is a material that checks off the three most important boxes for a wetsuit: durability, stretchiness and the ability to stop water absorption.
Naturally, you’ll pay a little bit more for the Infiniti than you would for an entry-level product like the Billabong Foil. But you’re getting performance that’s hard to beat. You spend more, but you get value for your investment in this wetsuit.
If you’re familiar with Quicksilver wetsuits, you’ve no doubt heard of the AG-47. The AG-47 is now the Highline, which is a wetsuit known for its comfort and warmth. In fact, there are some who think the Highline is too warm for everyday use — that it’s best reserved for particularly cold days, early mornings, or anytime when the wind is whipping and it’s hard to stay comfortable.
As part of the update, Quicksilver added thermal lining to the Highline. Known as “far infrared,” this lining reinforces the insulation created by glued and blindstitched seams.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the Highline is the absence of a zipper. As noted below, zipper-less models are great for insulation, though they can be tough to get into. You can find some models with zippers so innovative and advanced that they perform just as well as zipper-less options — without making it so difficult to get the wetsuit on and off.
Frequently Asked Questions About the Best Wetsuits for Surfing
I have to say: There are an overwhelming number of options when shopping for the best wetsuits for surfing. And there’s SO much to think about even after you make a purchase. How can you make sense of it all? Hopefully, this frequently asked questions section will help. I’ve taken the most commonly asked wetsuit questions and provided as succinct of answers as possible. If any answer isn’t enough, just ask a follow-up in the comments section. Here are the answers to your pressing wetsuit questions:
What to wear under a wetsuit?
Here’s the easy answer: nothing. Yes, it’s perfectly acceptable to go “naked” under your wetsuit. Only you aren’t naked. You’re wearing a wetsuit.
This is an issue for newbies to surfing, which I totally understand. We were all there once upon a time, right? If you really (really, really) don’t want to go commando underneath your wetsuit, you can always wear a bathing suit. This may or may not cause issues depending on how substantial your bathing suit is and how loose or tight your wetsuit fits.
Some surfers like to wear something underneath a wetsuit to help prevent chafing. This is understandable, too, but let me make a recommendation: anti-chafing cream. I use it. That’s what it’s here for. And it prevents you from having to wear anything under your wetsuit.
How to clean a wetsuit?
Almost all surfing takes place in saltwater. Yes, you can find some surfing spots in the Great Lakes, but, by and large, surfing is a saltwater sport. And salt has acidic qualities that are going to break down and degrade almost anything they come in contact with.
That’s why you should rinse your wetsuit immediately after use. Take as much fresh water as needed, and rinse away all that salt. Submerging your wetsuit in fresh water is great if you can pull it off. And always use cold, cool or room-temperature water, as hot water can actually affect a wetsuit’s neoprene, making it less flexible — which you absolutely don’t want.
Rather than using a traditional washer for cleaning a wetsuit, choose a special wetsuit cleaner. Once you’re finished cleaning, turn your wetsuit inside out and let it hang dry in a place without too much heat and without direct sun — shade is OK, indoors is better. The sun’s rays are only going to age your wetsuit and shorten its usable life, which you want to avoid.
Dealing with a nasty smell? Mirazyme Odor Remover works like a charm. Simply add the Mirazyme to a sink or bucket during the rinsing process, and your wetsuit should dry odor-free. Rip Curl offers a product called Piss Off, which is an odor fighter designed to combat, well, the chief cause of wetsuit odors. Listerine works in a pinch, too.
How should a wetsuit fit?
A wetsuit should feel tight when you put it on. In fact, when you’re just starting out and getting used to wearing one, a wetsuit should actually feel like it’s too small. Why? Because a wetsuit needs to form to your skin to be effective. The last thing you want is air pockets inside your wetsuit, which will render it ineffective.
So, how do you get into a wetsuit that feels like it’s too small? Start at the bottom. Step into your wetsuit, inch it up over your knees, then over your groin area, then up over your stomach and toward your chest. Make sure your wetsuit is smooth on your skin before you insert your arms as the last step.
How to store a wetsuit?
Never fold up or stuff your wetsuit into a drawer. You always want it to hang loose and free. The best way to store your wetsuit if on a specialized hanger that is strong and nicely padded.
Before you store your wetsuit for an extended period of time, make sure the zipper is completely free of any salt. If salt is left on the zipper, it’s going to become incredibly difficult to get up and down. Also, consider using Zip Tech (or a similar lubricant) to help the zipper work smoothly as your wetsuit ages.
What thickness wetsuit do I need?
EVO offers a really helpful temperature guide for wetsuits. Here’s what they recommend by temperature:
- 72 or higher: Rashguard
- 65 to 75: Top or Shorty Wetsuit (.5 mm to 2/1 mm)
- 62 to 68: Springsuit or Full Suit (2 mm to 3/2 mm)
- 58 to 63: Full Suit and Boots (3/2 mm to 4/3 mm)
- 52 to 58: Full Suit, Boots, Gloves and Hood (4/3 mm to 5/4/3 mm)
- 43 to 52: Full Suit, Boots, Gloves and Hood (5/4 mm to 5/4/3 mm)
- 42 or lower: Full Suit, Boots, Gloves and Hood (6/5 to 6/5/4 mm)
What do the multiple numbers mean? They indicate a wetsuit of variable thickness. When you see two numbers, the first indicates the thickness through the body and legs while the second indicates the thickness through the arms. When you see three numbers, the first indicates the thickness through the body, the second through the legs and the third through the arms. For example, a 5/4/3 wetsuit is 5 mm thick through the body, 4 through the legs and 3 through the arms.
How do you know the water temperature near you? Government agencies are always reporting water temps. Start with the National Centers for Environmental Information, which is reporting the following temperatures in November 2017:
- Sandy Hook, NJ: 48.7
- Montauk, NY: 52.7
- Ocean City, MD: 53.6
- Charleston, SC: 61
- Virginia Beach, VA: 61.7
- Los Angeles, CA: 62.2
- San Diego, CA: 66.7
- Corpus Christi, TX: 70.7
- South Padre Island, TX: 73.8
- Daytona Beach, FL: 77.5
Of course, temperatures are dipping as the weather changes, so be sure to check out the NODC website for average temperatures throughout the year if you’re planning a surfing trip in the future. You’ll find that some surfing destinations remain remarkably stable ocean temperature-wise (like California) while others swing widely with the seasons (like Texas).
How to fix a wetsuit tear?
Don’t fret if and when your wetsuit tears! It’s going to happen eventually. Trust me. You have 3 good options for repairing a tear.
- Aquaseal Urethane Repair Adhesive and Sealant: This product is designed for repairing wetsuits. Simply fold your wetsuit so that you can see the entire cut. Then apply sealant to both sides of the cut. Let the sealant dry before reconnecting the two sides. Once dry, close the cut, and you’ll find that the seal works instantly.
- Puncture Repair Kit: Can’t find Aquaseal for any reason? Try a puncture repair kit for bike tires, which you should be able to find at any bike repair shop. Use the same process for applying as you would for Aquaseal, and you’ll get the same results.
- Send to the Manufacturer: Here’s a cool thing about some wetsuit manufacturers: They help you repair your wetsuit. This isn’t universal, but be sure to check your manufacturer’s site for information about free repairs. It’s always best to use the experts rather than DIY when it comes to caring for a wetsuit.
What to do with old wetsuits?
Neoprene can be recycled! Just because your wetsuit is no longer serviceable doesn’t mean its materials can’t be reused for some other purpose. Look for retailers in your area that recycle wetsuits. If you can’t find a recycler near you, send to a recycler like Lava Rubber or Green Gear Guru.
Final Thoughts on the Best Wetsuits for Surfing
This is a lot of information to take in, I know. So, if you’re on the hunt for the best wetsuits for surfing and you need to break this down into a simple process, just ask yourself the following 3 questions:
- How much can you spend? If a wetsuit isn’t in your budget, it’s not an option. Simple, right? Besides, there are plenty of quality, affordable options listed above.
- Where will you be surfing? If you’re doing most of your surfing in Texas, you don’t need to invest a lot in a thick, heavily insulated wetsuit. That said, if you’re surfing Northern California, you do.
- What feels good? Nothing beats comfort. If you aren’t comfortable in your wetsuit, you’re not going to enjoy surfing. Yes, a wetsuit should fit tightly when you first try it on, but it should also feel comfortable, warm and flexible when you’re in the water.
And there you have it: Your guide to finding the best wetsuits for surfing. Do you choose a model that’s not listed above? If so, let us know in the comments section below, or message us directly through our contact page. And, as always, feel free to add anything else of value to this topic in the comments section. Happy hunting!
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