Choosing the right wetsuit is one of the most important investments surfer can make.
Depending on where you live – it is most likely that the seasons can change drastically, and so do the types of wetsuits surfers wear. A proper wetsuit is often more important than the surfboard as it determines the duration and comfort levels of an average surf session.
WETSUIT. As you are going to spend countless hours in one, you want it to be appropriate for the right temperatures and withstand your performance abilities. Luckily, there are a selected (about 16) of good wetsuits brands and various types to choose, each designed with a bunch of features and innovative technologies.
Have a look at the main types of wetsuits for surfing down below – explore the differences, and why to prefer one over the other.
How to properly choose a surf wetsuit?
- Pick the appropriate type for the weather – Full suit, spring suit, shorty / 5mm, or a 3/2.
- Choose the right size by WEIGHT.
- And then by the HEIGHT.
- Choose brand & model.
*The right size wetsuit has to fit snug – not too tight nor too loose. It takes several sessions to completely ‘break in’ a new wetsuit.
Table of Contents
1. Wetsuit Types
Down below we have listed 9 different types of surf suits, from warm to cold water surfing. We didn’t include any variations of 1mm jackets or tops as those aren’t considered as wetsuits, but mainly to protect against UV rays and prevent chest rash from paddling on the board.
Short John / Short Jane
A sleeveless shorty wetsuit.
This type is known as a warm water spring suit with an average thickness of 2mm. Extra insulation around the thighs and groin area adds warmth, and the upper area helps to prevent chest rash from paddling hours on end. An ideal choice for warm water surfing, paddling, and kayaking.
- Maximum mobility – no restrictions.
- Added warmth around the core area.
- Plenty of breathability to the body.
- Prevents chest-rush.
- Protects from excessive UV-rays.
Short sleeve – short arm surf wetsuit.
Here’s one of the least restrictive wetsuits on the market that provides a good amount of warmth on the body, protects you from the sun and adds some extra core strength. A typical warm-weather surf wetsuit at an average price range of under $100.
- The average thickness is from 2/1 to 3/2 (3mm thick on the torso area, 2mm on arms and legs).
- Ideal for water temperatures above 22’C.
- Great breathability & freedom of movement.
Long John / Long Jane
As you spend the majority of the time sitting on a board, waiting for waves – your legs are always soaked in the water. This type of wetsuit helps to save a lot of warmth, therefore energy in the long run. An ideal choice for warm air and chilly waters.
- Keeps the legs warm and cozy.
- Unrestricted upper body movement.
- The average thickness is from 2mm to 3mm.
Long Sleeve Shorty
Another warm-water surf suit to help protect from excessive UV rays, and keep the core nice and warm. Preferably suitable for warm waters and slightly colder air.
- Average thickness from 2mm to 3mm.
Short Sleeve Springsuit
A long leg shorty wetsuit is a popular surf suit used in the early days of summer. While the legs and body stay nice and warm, there’s plenty of ventilation through arms, especially on more demanding sessions. You don’t have to worry about adding sunscreen to the back of your legs as well since they are all covered in a suit.
- Average thickness from 2mm to 3mm.
Fullsuit – Springsuit
A popular 3/2 range for warm water sessions during the late and early season. Sometimes the cold swells can hit too early, or vice versa – here’s why the spring suit is one of the most widely used wetsuits all around the world. Compared to a steamer, spring suits generally have no insulation inside the suit, and the light layers help a ton regards maximum mobility.
- Generally 3mm thick around torso area 2mm on arms and legs.
- No inner insulation.
- Basic flatlock stitches.
Fullsuit – Steamer
Called a ‘steamer’ since once you take off the suit there’s a warm cloud of steam exiting the suit
For cold water surfing. A good-quality full suit steamer with inner insulation is a tool one couldn’t enjoy the sport properly. There’s a marginal difference between spring suit and a steamer, especially when it comes to thickness, seams, and the overall build. There’s also more float to a suit and obviously more insulation which helps to stay in the water for longer periods of time.
Many high-end brands have set their focus to creating warmer, more stretchy, and fast-drying wetsuits, and this is the industry that also progresses the most.
- Thicknesses – 5/4, 5/4/3, or 4/3.
- Extra inner fleece from just the torso area to all the inside of the wetsuit.
- High-quality seams to prevent any water leakage (Blindstitch & overlock, sealed & taped).
A heavy-duty cold water surf suit with the most rubber on it. A mixture of diving and a triathlon wetsuit. Being in cold water with a wrong suit can get dangerous, therefore there are only a few wetsuit brands that have succeed making a good 6/5 or 5/4 hooded wetsuit.
- Available in 6/5/4, 5/4 and sometimes even on a 4/3.
- Welded seems.
- Waterproof zippers.
- Better windproof.
- Extra fleece inside the suit to insulate the body.
Heated Steamer Fullsuit (Vest)
This type of wetsuit has become the past due to the increased quality of steamer wetsuits.
A wetsuit for those who love snow as much as they love the sea. There have been only a few heated surf wetsuits (that have a heated vest inside the suited) for example H-Bomb by Rip Curl. Although by today, this type of surf suit is not as common since the technology has advanced to a degree where a typical 6/5 or even 5/4 with great inner fleece holds the warmth as well as a heated vest. Heated wetsuits vests are often found on diving wetsuits.
Although the majority of wetsuits come from pretty much the same factory in Taiwan, there are a few, more eco-friendly alternatives to choose from.
Made of oil
Made of limestone
Made of natural rubber trees
One of the most used wetsuit materials for over 50 years.
- Neoprene is made out of oil.
- 65% water impermeable.
- Filled with air or nitrogen gas.
- Not as eco-friendly to make and recycle.
- When damaged, the air/nitrogen-filled pores won’t insulate any longer.
- Not bio-degradable.
Derived from limestone, a material that has about estimated reserves for 3,000 years
- Made out of limestone by Japenese neoprene factory Yamamoto.
- The reason why is called as GEOprene is since it’s not made out of oil (petroleum).
- Used by four main wetsuit manufacturers – Matuse, Isurus, Patagonia, and West Wetsuits.
- 98% water impermeable.
- Closed microcell structure.
- More durable = will last longer.
- All geoprene bubbles are filled with nitrogen and stick to their own making them highly water-impermeable and long-lasting.
- Absorbs way less water (if any) compared to a standard neoprene wetsuit.
- Won’t stretch – Geoprene’s maximum elongation is around 500% compared to the greatest 70% found in the armpit.
- Long & expensive process to make one.
- On the more expensive spectrum.
The Yulex natural rubber is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, Patagonia, for example, uses bio rubber that’s derived from guayule plants. It is believed to be the greenest way to make a large number of surf wetsuit to this day.
- More eco-friendly process of making a suit as it emits less CO2 during the manufacturing process.
3. Wetsuit Thickness
Here are the recommendations combined by a few of the best surf wetsuit brands on the market. As you can see, the recommendations can vary – so make sure to check your local break and the thickness recommendations again. For example, Patagonia and Xcel 4mm wetsuits are as warm as 5mm wetsuits for other brands.
4. Surf Wetsuit Zip Types
Listed in chronological order
Back Zip Wetsuits
This is where the history of surf wetsuits first started out. The first back zip surf-specific wetsuit was allegedly made by Jack O’Neill in the 60s. It was easy to use – both to put on, and take off, while it lacked complete waterproofing. The suits often got flushed with water when duck-diving or getting wiped out by a wave.
A modern-day back zip wetsuit has increased in technology and quality which means that this common problem has been removed. Well at least by the most well-known wetsuit brands.
By today, back-zip surf wetsuits are found on entry to mid-range wetsuits, although you’ll come across some high-end cold water wetsuits alike.
- More panels = more stitches = more ways for water to enter the suit.
- Easy to use = A great choice for those who have limited mobility and don’t like crawling through a small hole to get in/out of a suit.
- Basic design.
- Often used for stand-up paddleboarding, kayaking, rafting, etc.
Chest Zip Wetsuits
When the chest zip wetsuit came along, it offered a great alternative to back-zip wetsuits. As there are less stitching and larger panels – the water entering the suit has been eliminated to a considerable degree. Chest-zip wetsuits have a double-layer around the neck which helps to reduce the amount of water entering the suit.
- More difficult to put on & take off (especially after surfing).
- Larger panels & less stitches = better flexibility = more durable.
- Advanced design.
- A majority of surf wetsuits have a chest-zip entry these days.
The newest addition to surf wetsuit types is the zipless wetsuit. The wetsuit’s zip area has been one of the weakest points when it comes to water-proofing, and this type totally eliminates that. It doesn’t mean that zipless wetsuits are completely dry and won’t let any water in – but they do a great job maximizing the flexibility and warmth.
Similar to chest-zip wetsuits, a zipperless wetsuit has an entry pocket on the neck area, and there’s another layer that goes over the top. You can tighten the neck closure panel with a rubber cord for maximum fit.
- The design was borrowed from a chest zip wetsuit.
- No zip = more panel area = more flexibility.
Before choosing – here are the basics you need to know
There are three main types of wetsuit qualities on the market.
- ENTRY – Mass-produced wetsuits that range from entry to high-end on price & technology.
- MID/HIGH Surf-specific performance wetsuits.
- CUSTOM-made wetsuits by body dimensions aka tailored wetsuits.
What does 5/4/3 or 5/3 mean on a wetsuit?
- 5/4/3 means that the core/torso area of the wetsuit is 5mm, and 4mm on the thig and upper arms area, and 3mm around wrists to elbow, and from
- 5/3 means that the torso area is 5mm thick, and 3mm on arms and legs.
What is the average cost of a surf wetsuit?
- $100 – $250 – entry to mid.
- $250 – $400 – mid-range wetsuits.
- $400 – $600 – high-end wetsuits.
- Up to $1,000 – custom / tailor-fit surf wetsuits.
A surfing wetsuit is something to not corners on. If you are choosing a wetsuit, choose it the right way by the Weight, and then Height. High-quality wetsuits ARE worth the money as they dry faster, are more flexible. You obviously stay warmer for longer periods of time as well.
I created Nulltuul to share my experience, research and analysis with other surf enthusiasts out there. If I'm not surfing on my travels - I like to photograph waves, surfers, and the surf lifestyle in general.