Buying your first wetsuit is a huge decision based on so many factors. This ultimate wetsuit buying guide breaks down all the important components so you can make an informed decision.
The wetsuit is a very important part of the kit for a bodyboarder and in many cases will cost you more than the bodyboard itself.
As a result of the big expense, you want to make sure that you know as much about them before you go out and buy the first one.
To make the process easier for you, we have put together the ultimate guide for buying a wetsuit so that you can make an informed decision and purchase a wetsuit that will last you for a long time.
Where Will You Be Bodyboarding?
The main thing to consider before you start looking is where and how often during the year you think you will be using the wetsuit.
Do you think it may only be a summer recreational sport or would you like to also bodyboard in the other seasons?
The obvious reason for determining this is to understand how cold the water will be, wherever you are.
For instance, the temperature of the water in Victoria is often colder than it is in Queensland and thus requires a different wetsuit.
Therefore, I highly recommend taking a few minutes to work out where you will be bodyboarding most often.
What Does Thickness of Wetsuits Mean?
Wetsuit thickness will determine how much warmth they provide. You have probably seen wetsuits being referred to as a 4/3 or 3/2.
The first number refers to the thickness of the neoprene in the millimetres in the chest or torso whilst the second number refers to the thickness in millimetres of the arms and the legs.
The deciding factor of how thick a suitable wetsuit would be for you is not only about warmth. The other important factor to consider is the trade-off between warmth vs mobility. The thicker the wetsuit, the less flexible it is.
The general rule is that 4/3 wetsuits are good for winter whilst 3/2 wetsuits are great for spring and autumn. 5/3 wetsuits are available too be very rarely used.
If you’re thinking of only bodyboarding in the warmer temperatures where it’s too cold for just regular board shorts or bathers but too hot for a full wetsuit, you might like to invest in a thinner 2/1 or even just a 1mm thick spring or shorty suit (continue reading below for an explanation of what a spring or shorty suit is).
What Type of Wetsuit Should I Buy?
So now that you’ve worked or at least have an idea of the conditions that you will be using the wetsuit in and understand that there are different levels of thickness, the next step is to get an understanding of wetsuit basics.
Wetsuits generally fall into two categories, called steamers and spring or shorty suits.
Steamers are thicker and are designed for cooler water. They generally have long arms and legs but are also available in a combination of either. These are generally 4/3 or 3/2 in thickness as mentioned above and offer great protection from the cold.
For us, we have 3/2 wetsuits with long arms and legs. This allows us to be in the Victorian waters from late October to early May where the average sea temperature averages 14°C – 15°C or 57°F – 59°F. We have no desire to be in the water during the winter months!
The 3/2 wetsuit has worked well for the whole family as we all run very different body temperatures.
For me, I never feel the heat, so I am always comfortable being hot. My daughter on the other hand, always runs hot and I was worried that it would be too warm for her. For her, long legs are a must but she fluctuates between the long and short arms.
Amy is the total opposite. She is always cold, and I was concerned it wouldn’t be thick enough. But as I didn’t want her to sacrifice on mobility, we thought we would try a 3/2 in the first instance. So far, it has worked a charm and she doesn’t feel the cold.
Spring or Shorty Suit
These wetsuits are designed for warmer conditions and have shorter arms and shorter legs or a combination of these.
Spring suits or shorties come in 2/1 thickness generally and are great when the water is not really cold but too cold for just shorts and a rash vest.
The girls both have a 1 mm spring suit which are like bathers with long arms. Good for those warmer than expected days.
Also, particularly handy when you’re in the warmer water for long periods of time and you start to get tired. Your body tends to expel more energy by that time and you start to get colder.
Importance of Wetsuit Fit
Wetsuit fit is very important. The fit of a wetsuit should be snug but not too restrictive. You need to be able to swing your arms around freely and be able to squat down easily without discomfort.
The wetsuit should be tight at the collar without choking you and fitted at the wrists and ankles to stop water from getting inside involuntarily.
You will never stop all the water however it can’t be a continuous flow of water into your wetsuit. In fact, wetsuits work best when there is a small layer of water between your skin and the wetsuit as that layer of water acts as an insulation.
You’ll know if the wetsuit is too tight as it can restrict breathing or if you’re feeling it cutting off circulation. A good wetsuit will feel like it’s your second skin, so it should be snug in all areas of your body.
Technology has enabled manufacturers to create neoprene to be stretchable which is perfect for bodyboarding as it gives you the flexibility you will need in the water. Many people have made the mistake however to then downsize their wetsuit thinking that since it will stretch that it will give them a fit that’s even more snug.
This is not recommended at all as you are then stretching the material incorrectly. A 3mm wetsuit will be stretched to become 2mm, defeating the purpose of being able to keep you warm.
Do I Need Lining in My Wetsuit?
Modern wetsuits have lining in them made from nylon. This adds comfort and durability.
Brands are now adding additional lining in the torso and sometimes in the legs made of wool or polyester microfleece for additional heat retention and comfort.
This is particularly useful if you are going to be in cold water as it effects how warm you will feel.
If you are mostly in warmer water, then a basic lining will do whereas if you are like me and in the water in Victoria, then a better-quality lining will make a big difference in the colder months.
I find that lined wetsuits reduce and, in some cases, eliminates chaffing which in turn means you may not need to wear a rash vest underneath.
Do you need to buy a wetsuit with lining? Well, for many years, wetsuits existed without them and we all did just fine.
So, if you’re on the market to purchase a second-hand wetsuit or a cheaper one as it’s an older style, don’t fret. Just ensure you buy the right thickness to suit your needs.
But for those of you buying a new wetsuit and can afford to invest in wetsuits with lining, go ahead and get one. It sure is nice and toasty!
Types of Wetsuit Zips
Wetsuits generally come with either a back zip or chest zip.
Back Zip Wetsuits
The greatest advantage of the back zip is that it is very easy to get in and out of your wetsuit.
However, these wetsuits are not as good at keeping water out and you’ll experience a greater level of flushing.
Flushing occurs when cold water enters into your wetsuit from the exposed neck area and flushes out all the warm water that was keeping warm. That usually happens at the most inopportune time and isn’t exactly the most pleasant feeling.
Chest Zip Wetsuits
For those of us who have transitioned from a back zip to a chest zip have noticed a remarkable difference when it comes to flushing. It just offers so much more protection around the neck area as it creates a good seal at the collar.
The biggest disadvantage of a chest zip wetsuit however is getting in and out of it. The first time you get into a chest zip wetsuit is always a struggle, particularly if you are transitioning from a back-zip wetsuit.
Amy has a zipless wetsuit. Much like the chest zip wetsuit, it’s a bit tricky to get in and out of at first but she loves how it is so efficient at keeping the water out, especially when she gets dumped!
In saying that however, she was diagnosed with frozen shoulder at one point and getting in and out of the zipless or even the chest zip wetsuit was quite difficult.
Wetsuit Seams and Why They Are Important
There are basically three different types of seams in wetsuit construction these days and they can have very different impacts on the performance of the wetsuit itself.
The wetsuit seams affect comforts, stretch and warmth as it is the seam which determines how much water is let into the wetsuit.
Flatlock or Overlock Seams
Flatlock seams are two pieces of neoprene sewn together and is generally found in cheaper wetsuits.
These seams tend to allow a higher rate of water to seep through into the wetsuits and as a result are better in warmer conditions where this can provide a cooling effect.
Glued and Blind Stitched Seams
Blind stitched seams are seams that are glued together then stitched from the inside. These seams are often finished with a tape to add extra support and water proofing to the seam.
The tape is extremely useful as in most cases where a wetsuit requires repair, all you’ll need to do is glue it back down with Neoprene glue.
Fluid Seam Weld
The fluid seam weld offers the highest level of water proofing. The seams are glued together then finished with a liquid sealant that is basically air tight and extremely flexible. Chances of a lot of water getting in when you’re doing that duck dive? Minimal to none.
In Built Knee Pads
In built knee pads are a great addition to a wetsuit as it offers you protection from bumps and scrapes and helps prevent wear and tear on the wetsuit.
It’s funny how often I get knocked around in the shallow surf when I am teaching my daughter how to bodyboard.
Also, they are a great way for beginners to tell which side of the wetsuit is the front when you are putting it on when it is bunched up.
This sounds obvious I know, but I know of a few people who have inadvertently put their wetsuit on back to front up to their waist before getting the hang of it.
Bonus Tip: Additional Bodyboarding Accessories
If you think that you will be bodyboarding in really cold water, there are a few optional extras that you can get to help keep warm even in extreme conditions.
As we lose most of our heat from our heads, you might like to consider investing in a hood if you’re thinking about bodyboarding in colder water. You can find wetsuits with built in hoods or buy a hood separately.
A good hood will also be made of neoprene and looks much like a balaclava. It not only covers your head and ears but should also covers the neck area so only your face will be exposed.
The neoprene is also great at reducing wind chill when you’re waiting for that one elusive break.
Some other great advantages of a hood are keeping longer hair at bay and reduces possible head pains or ear aches when you come in contact with very cold water.
Just as you would when selecting the right wetsuit, ensure the fit is snug. It should not be so tight that it is restrictive around the chin area and you can’t turn your head easily.
Do your hands get so cold that you’re not able to move them very much? You might like to think about investing in some gloves.
Just like wetsuits, you can get gloves of varying thickness. Ideally you should get gloves that will help keep your hands warm without losing much dexterity.
You can get gloves with extra grip, great for being able to hang on to that board, slightly longer in the wrist to go over the sleeve of the wetsuit and even webbed ones.
Although the webbed ones are probably better for surfers but if you’re spending more time paddling out into the deep blue, this might just work for you.
Wetsuit Booties and Socks
If there are accessories to keep your hands warm in the surf, there are obviously booties to keep your feet warm. There are so many varieties of booties you can get including split toe, round toes and they both come in ankle or shin high.
I use fins when I bodyboard as it helps me paddle out quicker. Because I use fins, I have a pair of fin socks. Having your feet covered does make a big difference in how warm you are.
They are not as thick as booties however so if you are looking for something to keep you really warm, go for a pair of wetsuit booties.
Frequently Asked Questions
The answer to that is neither. A wetsuit should be snug and fit well. Too big and water will get in through the neck, arms and legs which will make the entire exercise of getting one pointless. Too small and you risk chafing, discomfort and inability to move your arms and legs properly. That will not help you swim and bodyboard properly.
The best way to buy a wetsuit is to physically try it on. The sizes usually run true to clothing size. If you’re a size 8 women’s, you should be a size 8 women’s wetsuit. Children’s wetsuit usually run by age as well and if your child is a regular age size, this will work.
If you have no choice but to purchase it online, ensure that they have a flexible return policy that you are happy with. This includes a return shipping policy as wetsuits are heavy and can be costly.
When buying online, always check the sizing guide. When measuring, ensure the measuring tape is snug around the area you’re using it on. If you have family or friends who have wetsuits, you can ask to try them on for sizing so that you’re making a more educated decision.
It is perfectly ok to purchase second hand wetsuits, especially for kids as they usually only get one season out of it. Just ensure that they are in good condition and there are no rips or holes.
In surf towns, you’ll probably be able to find outlets that sell wetsuits at heavily discounted prices. They are usually last season’s wetsuits but the difference between the seasons is minimal. Always worth a stop to have a look so you can invest in different styles i.e. steamer or shorty and different thickness so you’re well equipped for all weather.
A good wetsuit can last you up to 10 years provided it’s of good quality and you take care of the wetsuit vigilantly.
Zip free wetsuits are the most flexible wetsuits. This is simply because zips don’t stretch whether it be on the back or on the chest.
Buying your first wetsuit can be a daunting task and I hope that this ultimate guide for buying a wetsuit is useful.
Wetsuits all come with so many different characteristics so it’s vital that you understand what is important to you, based on the type of bodyboarder you are and hope to become.
If you can afford it, don’t skim. The greatest expense for us is the pain for having to invest in a good wetsuit for our daughter very year or two.
But at the same time, we refuse to get the cheaper wetsuit which won’t keep her warm or offer her the protection we have come to expect from a good one. The better equipped she is, the faster she will improve.
Don’t underestimate a good wetsuit. You are better off getting a good one from the start rather than investing in a few cheap ones, which in the end only ends up costing the same had you bought a good one in the first place. Here are some of the best wetsuits on the market today.
If you’re unsure or are not convinced it will change your bodyboarding adventure, hire one or borrow one to test it out. I promise you it will change your life!
- 8 Ways to Take Care of a Wetsuit
- 8 Reasons To Get A Wetsuit for Bodyboarding
- Parts of A Bodyboard: Ultimate Guide
- How To Catch Waves on a Bodyboard for Beginners
- 11 Things to Know About Bodyboard Leashes
We’re Andrew & Amy and we are a small blended family that love to bodyboard! We’re here to share everything we know to help you with your bodyboarding adventure as a beginner, with your family or if you’re transitioning onto intermediate level. Let’s go!