This morning I bought a new windsurfing wetsuit. During over 20 years of windsurfing I have owned more than 5 suites, and tested many more. Still it wasn’t easy to find the perfect suit. So, I did a lot of research and testing. In this Blog I share my experiences in 6 steps to choose the perfect suit.
In my opinion, windsurfing is one of the best experiences one can have. Throughout the year it’s a great way to have a lot of action and to relax the mind. For a lot of windsurfers, though, the season is pretty short without a wetsuit.
In fact, even when sailing the warmest spots a wetsuit might be nice. For many windsurfers having one or two wetsuits can double or triple their time on the water. And, at the same time, increase the fun return on investment on boards, sails and other kit!
Windsurfers in Cape Town, for example, have nice warm air during the season, but deal with water temperatures about 43°F/6°C. Windsurfers in western Europe have the strongest winds in autumn, when temperatures can easily drop below 50°F/10 °C.
A wetsuit not only increases your opportunities to go windsurfing, in many occasions it is also more convenient and more safe.
There are basically two different wetsuits. The ‘summer suit’ and the ‘winter suit’ I call them. They differ in thickness of the neoprene used (2,3,4,5 or even 6 mm), length of sleeves and legs. Different suits also have special materials like O’Neill’s TechnoButter3 and their FireWall that is made out of special hydrophobic yarn. Whether you’re sailing in cold or medium conditions, you need to wear a suit to protect you from cold by either water, air or chill factor. Differences between suits can really impact your choice. So let’s talk about the steps you need to take to choose the right one.
Step 1 Determine What Conditions You Want to Go Sailing In
Before you read on it’s, a good idea to realize that imagining outside conditions while sitting behind your laptop with a hot cup of coffee is not to be underestimated.
I once prepared for a trip to Cape Town. Knowing that air temperatures in the windsurf season would be around 86°F/30°C I could not have imagined what the effect of 43°F/6°C water would be. I found out about it, while swimming back to shore for half an hour, after breaking a mast. The full 5/4mm wetsuit I had, saved my life. Ever since I always check with locals before windsurfing at a new spot to learn more about local conditions.
So, were are you going to sail and what conditions will you be in? Water temperatures, air temperatures and chillfactor do matter. A wetsuit can be used for more than 5 years by most windsurfers (rinsing with fresh water, don’t dry in direct sunlight and not sailing more than 30 times per year that is in my experience). So thinking about the future might lead to a better choice too.
Here is a few questions I ask myself before choosing:
- Are you going to sail different spots?
- Or one spot in various seasons and conditions?
- Going to do tricks that increase chances on hitting board, fin or rig?
- Where will you be you sailing three years from now?
- What conditions will you face?
- Plans to move from a lake to sea?
- What differences will you experience if you expand your list of spots?
- Getting more advanced and sailing in stronger winds? What chill factor will be added?
- Plans for holiday’s in different conditions? I would ask same questions for these spots.
In my experience it is always a good idea to wear a wetsuit while windsurfing, unless you are sailing on a small lake or bay with warm water and air temperatures above 68F/20°C.
I prefer to use a wetsuit in 95% off my sessions. If not for warmth, than for protection of my skin against bruises and scratches from learning new tricks.
Unless water is really cold, like in my Cape Town example, I prefer a 2/3mm wetsuit with long sleeves and legs in air temperatures down to 64°F/18°C. If the sun is shining full time, and thus heating me up in a dark colored suit, the limit drops for me to 61°F/16°C.
When air temperatures drop further, I wear a 5/4mm full wetsuit. To extend my season further I wear a neoprene hood to keep my neck and head warm. It’s also nice to avoid cold water from entering my ears. Read this article about Surfers Ears Symptoms to understand why I am serious about this issue.
I summerize my personal preferences based on 20 years of experience in various conditions in the table beneath (one with temperatures in °F, once in °C). Please note that every human body is different and that your preferences might differ. I have a pretty active surf style. If you are just freeriding long straights you might get cold a little faster. It is an indication, not an exact truth.
|Air temp (°C)||Water temp (°C)||Suit type I prefer|
|> 28||> 21||Shorts & anti UV shirt. Neoprene shoes are optional.|
|> 26||< 8||5/4 mm full suit. Neoprene shoes are optional.|
|18 -28||15-21||2/3 mm full suit or 2/3 mm short sleeve/long leg. Neoprene shoes are optional.|
|12-18||10-15||4/5 mm full suit (and earplugs). Optional Neoprene Hood, Gloves, Shoes.|
|5-18||1-10||4/5 mm full suit with TechnoButter & FireWall or if not possible 5/6mm full suit. Neoprene Hood, Gloves, Shoes|
|Air temp (°F)||Water temp (°F)||Suit type I prefer|
|> 82||> 70||Shorts & anti UV shirt. Neoprene shoes are optional.|
|> 79||< 46||5/4 mm full suit. Neoprene shoes are optional.|
|64 -82||59-70||2/3 mm full suit or 2/3 mm short sleeve/long leg. Neoprene shoes are optional.|
|54-64||50-59||4/5 mm full suit (and earplugs). Optional Neoprene Hood, Gloves, Shoes.|
|41-64||34-50||4/5 mm full suit with TechnoButter & FireWall or if not possible 5/6mm full suit. Neoprene Hood, Gloves, Shoes|
If you like you can check a temperature table from xcel wetsuits here (link: https://www.xcelwetsuits.com/page/help/temperature-guide) for a double check
Step 2 Choose Between 1 or 2 Wetsuits
Wetsuits can be expensive and it is tempting to try to find one that fits all conditions. In my experience this is possible if I would sail in conditions described in my table that require the same wetsuit.
If you want to expand your window of opportunity in a temperature range that is larger, a second suit might be the right option. Again, this is personal. I have used a 2mm neoprene short sleeve shirt, with a hood, under my suits to keep me warm. While the suit was a bit too thin this helped me out quite a bit. But eventually my arms and legs got cold faster. That forced me to get of the water. While a full 4/5 mm suit could have let me have more fun.
If you are improving your windsurfing after a few lessons in warm condition, buying a 2/3 mm full suit can be a good first option. Too extend your range a 2 mm neoprene shirt can be a second (cost effective) step. Later a 4/5 mm full suit can complete your range. It’s up to you to decide.
Step 3 Measure Your Body Height, Weight, Chest and Waist
Now that you have decided which wetsuit to buy, it’s time to pick the right size. My experience is that a wetsuit only functions properly if it fits good.
A suit that is too small will limit your movements. Asking too much from a suits flexibility might also speed up wear and tear. Believe me, you don’t want to rip your neoprene while putting on your $430 suit on a perfect (but cold) day at the beach.
A suit that is too large can lead to water entering the suit and other issues that will cool you down.
So, how do you find the perfect size? A little body measurement , and a look at a manufacturers size chart worked great for me. Some brands have traditional sizes like Large, and Medium and special sizes like MediumTall (MT) (for a Medium chest and a Large length). Here is a link to a size chart. I consider it important to have both the right length and waist since a suit that is to narrow or wide around the shoulders can be a massive killjoy.
Step 4 Choose Features Like the Front or Back Zip
Wetsuits not only differ in neoprene thickness, and sleeve/leg length. Other features vary too. And that can impact your customer satisfaction. Some wetsuits have a zip at the back, while other suits have a frontzip. Some use Velcro straps to close the collar others don’t.
I have tested a back zip suit with a Velcro strap at the collar (it had a neoprene flap that went over the head under the collar), and a frontzip suit with a neoprene collar flap that goes over the head and seals watertight at the neck. The front zip has a little press button to prevent it from opening voluntarily.
Depending on the length of your arms and the flexibility of your joints a backzip suit might be a little harder to get in to since it requires a little more grabbing behind the back to find the neoprene flap that goes over the head if the suit has one. Despite that I know a lot of surfers that use a backzip suit.
The front zip suit feels a little more stiff at the front when moving. Guess it is a matter of personal preference what you choose.
Other features to be considered are special materials like a TechnoButter FireWall for extra warmth.
Step 5 Think of Other Neoprene Windsurf Accessories You Might Need With the Wetsuit
Once you have found the perfect suit, adding the right neoprene accessories could improve your windsurfing experience a lot. I am talking shoes, hoods, under shirts and/or beanies here.
Personally I always wear shoes. They provide me with more grip on the board and they protect my feet from sea urchins, broken glass, rocks and other things that I happen to step on more than I planned. Some brands offer windsurfing shoes with a reinforced sole that is hard to penetrate by sharp object. I consider this a valuable option. At the bottom of this article you can find a few extra bullet points on shoes since I consider them really important. Because feet can be different in width and height I never buy windsurfing shoes online. I want to try them on. Having said that, I know people that just order 2 pairs and send back what they don’t need.
As said, a hood or a beanie and extra neoprene shirt can extend your window of opportunity on the cold side of your suit. If my suit is warm enough I prefer the beanie. If it is so cold that my suit can use a little extra help, I choose the neoprene under shirt with the hood. It keeps my neck warm too. Possible downside can be that water entering your hood will find its way down into the shirt. And that is cold!
Gloves can work, but I found out that this is a very personal preference. Since gloves will be between your hand and the boom they make the diameter you hold larger. This might require more grip strength. And thus your under arms might get tired sooner. Personally I never use gloves. Other windsurfers I know are happy to use them or use mittens (glove without individual fingers) that they just hold loosely over their hand to prevent winds from cooling them down. Guess this is something everybody has to find out for themselves.
Step 6 Buy What You Need for the Best Price
I always used to go to physical shops to buy neoprene stuff. Since neoprene types have become more and more flexible, and since brands have introduced the extra sizes like the MT, I am perfectly happy to buy a wetsuit online. This enables the customer to compare prices and availability rather fast.
I found out that the sizes I chose got me a perfect fitting wetsuit. This is a O’Neill wetsuit. I prefer these since their TechnoButter is called the most warm and flexible by a lot of windsurfers I asked. I am not saying other brands are less good. I was happy with my previous O’Neill wetsuit. My research on the beach, asking people, and my online research just gave me the impression that I was fine sticking with this brand.
At the recommended products page you can find a few wetsuits that can be bought at Amazon.com.
Things to consider when buying windsurfing shoes.
- Thickness in mm. 2 or 3 mm neoprene can be OK in water temperatures down to 50°F/10°C. If water gets colder 4 or 5 mm might be preferable.
- Size and overall fit, try them on! They should not feel too loose.
- Reinforced sole for extra protection against penetration by sharp objects
- Split toe or round toe? Split toes might provide with a better board feeling.
- Velcro strap to fasten the shoe easily
- High or low ankle sleeve. High is warmer and can easily be pulled over the suits leg to keep water out.
- Pull up ankle loop for easy entry
Why do I need a wetsuit when I go windsurfing?
- a wetsuit protects you from cold by air, water, chillfactor or all of these
- a wetsuit will keep you warm if you have to swim back and is therefore more safe
- a wetsuit can protect your body when climbing on the board. Even experienced windsurfers who waterstart have their legs better protected against cuts by the fin(s) that can be bad.
If you have any suggestions or extra tips please let me know via the comment section! I appreciate your feedback.