Ein Neoprenanzug hält beim Standup-paddeln Kälte und auch Sonne ab.

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Surfing, kitesurfing and wakeboarding are the new trend sports. In tropical waters, all you need is a bikini or board shorts. But in Europe, particularly if you want to stay in the water longer, it can get cold quickly without a wetsuit.

The water can be pretty cold even when it’s warm outside. A wetsuit also has other advantages. It doesn’t just protect you from the cold, it also protects you from abrasions and bruises. Wetsuits serve as a protective layer against hazards in the water, such as corals and shells.

If you want to enjoy your favourite water sport even when the water is colder, you need a wetsuit. The following section will tell you more about which wetsuit is suitable for which sport, as well as what to look out for when buying one.

Surfer entering the water
Wetsuits are well known for their use by surfers.

What is a wetsuit?

Before you even think about getting the basic equipment for your new favourite water sport, you should get your own wetsuit. You can easily pack it in your luggage when you travel. It even fits in carry-on luggage if you roll it up small enough.

But what actually is a wetsuit? Essentially, a wetsuit is a kind of second skin. It not only provides protection against the cold but also sun protection and protection against injuries.

Wetsuits are designed to retain body heat within the suit. This means that you don’t freeze as quickly. As it fits like a second skin, it also protects against injuries. When surfing or kitesurfing in particular, falls are part of life. The firm wetsuit fabric protects you from abrasions and bumps.

Wetsuits also provide sun protection. Water sports are a lot of fun. It’s easy to lose track of time. Sun protection is indispensable. On the water, UV radiation is significantly higher than on land. This means that it is even more important that you protect yourself from the sun’s rays. Wetsuits help prevent unpleasant sunburn.

Which wetsuit for which sport?

The range of wetsuits is almost limitless. They are available in different thicknesses and with long or short sleeves. The entry point also varies depending on the model. Some are closed at the back, some at the chest. So it’s no surprise that it’s easy to get confused.

Depending on the sport, wetsuits must have different features. For kitesurfing or stand-up paddling, for example, a wetsuit needs to be less flexible than it needs to be for surfing.

Choosing the right wetsuit depends on the requirements of the sport you’re partaking in. A wetsuit for swimming, for example, has different features than a wetsuit for surfing. Wetsuits also differ greatly from one another in terms of workmanship and material. There are also different levels of thermal insulation which is distributed depending on the requirements of the sport.

For swimming, for example, the added value of good streamlining is important when it comes to wetsuits. Surfing, on the other hand, calls for a particularly high degree of flexibility. When it comes to wetsuits, it’s best to stick to the classic manufacturers for your sport.

Free diver with wetsuit
There are different wetsuits for different sports, such as this one for diving.

What’s the right thickness?

The thickness of the wetsuit depends on many different factors. Firstly, it depends on where you’re going to be using it for water sports. Do you get cold quickly or are you generally warm? You should consider this before buying a wetsuit.

Wetsuits for surfing or kitesurfing are different from each other in their composition and the thickness of the fabric. The thickness is given in millimetres. The colder the water where you’re going to do your water sports, the thicker the wetsuit needs to be.

The most common thicknesses are 2/1, 3/2, 4/3 and 5/4. The first number indicates the thickness on the body. When surfing, your arms are usually constantly moving and also out of the water. Therefore, the arm area is usually slightly less thick than the rest of the suit. The second number indicates the thickness of the suit on the arms.

So if you buy a 4/3 wetsuit, for example, there are 4 millimetres of neoprene on your body and 3 millimetres on your arms and legs.

Choosing the right wetsuit thickness depends not only on your perception of cold and warmth, but also on the air and water temperature.

In water temperatures above 20° C a spring suit or even just a neoprene top will probably be enough for you. These usually have a maximum thickness of 2 mm. And even if it’s a bit windy outside, you’ll still be warm in your wetsuit in the water.

The warmth of a wetsuit is not just determined by its thickness, but also by the seams. Water-permeable seams and thinner neoprene will keep you less warm than taped seams.

If the water temperature is below 20° C, you should always use a thicker wetsuit. In the summer, a 3/2 wetsuit is probably enough.

In winter or in particularly cold water, it’s worth getting a 4/3 or even a 5/4. The latter is often also available with an integrated hood. This protects not only your body, but also your head and ears from the cold.

On the Atlantic coast of Europe, the water temperatures are between 15 and 20° C depending on the location. For these conditions, it’s worth getting a steamer. This is a full suit with a thickness of 4/3. Many suits have blind-stitched or taped seams to keep the warmth inside the suit and to minimise water penetration. The zip also has a sealing lip or an underlaid cuff.

But you can get even warmer: if it’s windy outside or there’s no sunlight, you’ll need an even thicker wetsuit. You can opt for a wetsuit up to 7 mm thick. The thickness is usually combined with waterproof closure constructions and special materials with high thermal insulation. However, when choosing a thicker wetsuit, be aware that the thicker the suit, the more your freedom of movement will be restricted.

Surfer in wetsuit trudges through the snow
Various suits are available for different temperatures. They differ not just in their thickness, but also in how their design. Some have masks and shoes integrated.

What should you consider in terms of size?

Getting the fit of a wetsuit right is crucial to how warm it will keep you. It should fit very tightly, basically like a second skin. This means that you can start to sweat when putting it on. However, there should be no wrinkles.

It is still important, however, that you have sufficient freedom of movement. The wetsuit can only keep you warm if it is tight enough against your skin. A thin film of water forms between your body and the wetsuit. This is warmed by your body and keeps you warm.

When trying on, make sure that the neck and sleeve openings fit tightly against your body. This is the only way to ensure that no unwanted water gets into the suit. If the wetsuit is too big, it won’t keep you warm as you would like. Water can enter freely and you will get cold quickly.

This is why companies distinguish between women’s wetsuits, men’s wetsuits and kids wetsuits. Feel free to try on many different suits. This is the only way you can find the right wetsuit for you.

How do you put on a wetsuit correctly?

If you want to change on the beach, you might want a surf poncho. This is a kind of cloak that shields you from unsolicited glances.

Putting on a wetsuit is like a mini workout . It can be exhausting, especially when it’s new. Start with the legs. The best thing to do is to pull the suit over both legs and slowly work your way up to the thigh. Only pull on the legs and not on the hips.

Pro tip: When putting it on, placing a plastic bag over your foot can be very effective. This makes it much easier for the neoprene to slip over your foot.

When the suit is on correctly, the knee pad sits just above the knee. There should be no wrinkle in the knee bend when it is on.

You can then pull the suit over your hips. The lower part of the wetsuit should already be fitting well by this step. Then pull the upper body up and slip into the arms. Make sure that the suit does not wrinkle. There shouldn’t be much space between the suit and the skin, especially around the armpit. If there is, the wetsuit may rub uncomfortably.

If you have a front zip, pull the head section over your head and then close the zip. If you have a back zip, simply pull the zip upwards using the extension. Make sure you don’t get any neoprene caught in the zip.

Surfer closes her wetsuit
When closing a suit with a back zip, be especially careful not to catch any neoprene.

Can you wash wetsuits?

Over time, salt water and chlorine will damage a wetsuit. It’s therefore essential that you care for your suit properly so that you can enjoy it for as long as possible.

Clean your wetsuit after every use with clean fresh water. Make sure that you rinse both the inside and the outside thoroughly.

You can kill two birds with one stone. Simply bring your wetsuit into the shower. Take the suit off in the shower and then rinse it. However, make sure that your suit does not come into contact with any soap or shampoo. These will damage the durability of the material.

If you want to clean the wetsuit more thoroughly, you can use a special wetsuit cleaner.

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Alpinetrek-Expert Daniela

Alpinetrek-Expert Daniela

Although I grew up in Germany, I have always had a great longing for the seas of this world. As a child on summer holiday, it was always hard to say goodbye to the sea. On a trip through California, I discovered not only my love of the sea, but also my love of the waves. That’s why I’ve been packing my board bag more often than my suitcase for the past 8 years. For me, there is no better feeling than standing with both feet on my surfboard and surfing the perfect wave.

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