Love Your Wetsuit
At times this can be a challenge. I have had a love-hate relationship with wetsuits for quite some time. I love that they keep me warm and toasty so I can continue enjoying the water even as temperatures slip to frigidly cold, but I hate what a pain they can be. I have spent an unnecessary amount of time fighting my way in and out of wetsuits (occasionally destroying them in the process) only to be uncomfortable and agitated the entire time I’m in one. After years of struggle I have befriended my wetsuits, at least most of the time. Hopefully the following tips can help you do the same so all you have to focus on is shredding.
Buy a good wetsuit. It’s awesome to have friends kind enough to lend you an old wetsuit, but lets face it, it’s leaky and full of someone else's urine. If you haven’t already, invest in your own, quality wetsuit. Choose a suit that has good quality neoprene with enough elasticity to allow you to move freely. Look at the seams. Seams that are stitched and sealed with liquid rubber will be more durable and water tight, and in turn warmer, than seams that are only sewn. Suits with a wool or fleece lining like Patagonia’s collection and Rip Curl’s Flash Bomb will add extra warmth and allow the suit to slide on and off easier. There are a variety of suits that put heightened emphasis on one specific feature like elasticity, warmth, wind resistance or durability, and others that do a great job balancing all features. Choose one with features most inlined with what you want and what you’re doing. It doesn’t need to be the most expensive wetsuit out there, but the expensive ones are usually worth it.
Get a great fit. For a suit to keep you warm it needs to be the appropriate thickness for the conditions you’re in AND fit correctly. Knowing your measurements and the water temps you are going to be in will allow you to use each brand’s temperature and sizing chart to guide your decision. These charts provide great guide lines, but they are not cold, hard facts. We come in a variety of shapes and sizes that can’t be summed up by our height and weight alone, so try on the suit. It should fit snuggly without restricting your range of motion, chocking you out, or giving you a massive wedgie. If you can squat, high step and wind mill your arms without discomfort you are doing good. It’s very important that the suit be snug at the wrist, ankle and neck openings (you shouldn’t be able to fit more than a couple fingers between you and the suit) to prevent water from flushing in and quickly cool you off. The air temperature, average wind speeds, and your tolerance for cold will also factor into how effective a suit is in keeping you warm so adjust accordingly. For example, if the air is much colder than the water, it’s very windy, and you get cold really easily I’d recommend getting a thicker suit than the chart suggests.
Use finesse, not brute force, to get in and out of your wetsuit. Take your time inching your suit up your legs (like putting on panty hose). Make sure you have the crotch of the suit in place before you start pulling the body up and the arms on. Use your fingertips, not your nails, to grip the neoprene. Know whether the zipper of your suit goes in the front or the back before cramming yourself in. When removing your suit slowly peel it off, rolling it inside out as you go.
Keep it sleek and simple underneath. Wearing nothing under a wetsuit is usually the most comfortable, but if your suit is suction cupping to your butt, you require a little more support up top, or you prefer some coverage for a quick car-side change, choose a simple bikini that will stay in place. Hard clasps, decorative metal rings, chunky bling or thick, braided ties will dig in and quickly become painful. The Dawn top and Lindsy bottom are great picks for a wetsuit friendly bikini. If the seams of the suit leave marks or aggravate your skin, slip a slim fitting rash guard on before suiting up.
Treat it right. Rinse your suit with fresh water after each use and hang it up to dry, ideally out of direct sunlight. Never put it in the dryer. Drying the inside of the suit first will make slipping into a damp suit less painful on a multi-session day. When packing your suit roll it instead of folding it to avoid creasing and crushing the neoprene.
Accessorize appropriately. If you’re venturing into really cold water make sure you have booties, gloves and a hood. They will help keep you toasty a lot longer than a wetsuit alone will. I usually choose booties that are thicker than my suit because my feet are never warm, and gloves thinner than my suit so I don’t loose all dexterity.
Know when to replace it. It is time to retire a suit when: seams are cracking or blown; the neoprene has become inelastic and uncomfortable or so loose that large amounts of water pool inside the suit; water is seeping through the neoprene; wrist and ankle openings are loose and frayed; you can’t get a tight seal on the neck closure and it’s leaving you with a black ring around your neck. Essentially, if your suit is no longer keeping you warm it’s time to replace it, downgrade it to warmer temperatures, or move it to the costume bin.