Unfortunately, whilst Cornwall has a lot of qualities when it comes to surf and scenery, it's not exactly tropical and that means we have to rely on wetsuits if we want to enjoy the waves for anything longer than about 10 minutes!! Buying your own wetsuit can be daunting, there are a lot of choices out there and hopefully this guide will help you in making the best choice!
In future blog posts we're going to deal with how wetsuits work, as well as the emerging "Neoprene-Free" wetsuits that are starting to become available, for today's post we're just dealing with what to look for in a standard, traditional wetsuit.
This is an easy one, if you want to surf anytime outside of August & early September then you want a full-length suit. Shorties can be a nice addition for the peak summer months but if you've only got 1 suit, go full length and you'll surf longer!
There are 3 standard thicknesses that you'll come across in the UK, they all relate to how thick the neoprene is, measured in milimetres. Depending on the quality of wetsuit then that measurement may include the thickness of any lining, if you go for a really good company (like C-Skins who we work with) then they'll tell you the thickness of just the neoprene itself as that's the bit that'll keep you warm!
If the thickness is described as 2 or even 3 different numbers (eg. 5/3), that means that they'll be using thicker 5mm material in the core body areas, and thinner 3mm neoprene in areas that need more flexibility such as the arms & shoulders. The following are the thicknesses you'll most often see:
• 5mm (5/4/3 or 5/3 etc.) - If you want to surf year-round then go for one of these. In the peak summer it'll be a bit overkill but unless you've got a 5mm suit then December to March is pretty much a write-off!
• 4mm (4/3 etc.) - If you're only surfing April until November then this is probably the best suit. The only problem is that most brands will only offer this thickness in the higher-end models that they sell.
• 3mm (3/2 etc.) - Ideal from about June to October, if you'll only be surfing in the summer then you'll love the extra flexibility!
2 choices here; back-zip or chest-zip. It's generally just a personal preference thing but there are advantages and disadvantages of each one:
• Back-Zip suits are easy to get in and out of, generally a little bit cheaper and sometimes a bit more hard-wearing. However the zip down the back means they're not as flexible generally, they can also allow water in at the neck, known as "flushing", meaning you can get a cold chill when ducking under waves.
• Chest-Zip suits generally have a much closer fit, you'll hardly get any "flush" from the suit and are a lot more flexible as they don't have the stiff zipper running down your spine. However they ARE much harder to get in and out of (especially for kids!) and subsequently they can degrade a bit quicker as you fight and stretch them when you're getting changed.
There are tons of brands out there, to be honest there are so many good wetsuits from a range of companies that there's no use in listing them all. Here at BGSS we've been working with C-Skins for over 8 years and have always been really impressed with them. If you've borrowed a wetsuit off us for a lesson then you'll have been wearing a C-Skins suit. As they're based in Bodmin they're specifically designed for UK conditions and will always be our recommendation.
One big difference between brands is the cut or shape of the suit. In a similar way to clothing brands, you'll typically find that certain brands fit you well and others just never fit quite right. As we'll explain below, the fit is everything in a wetsuit so bear that in mind.
This is the be-all-and-end-all for buying wetsuits. It doesn't matter how much you spend on a suit, if it doesn't fit well then it won't keep you warm and will be a waste of money. You want a suit that fits snugly all over, not too tight that it's constrictive but definitely no baggy or saggy areas.
To make sure you're getting the right fit we would ALWAYS recommend to avoid buying wetsuits online, head to a proper surf shop like Sunset Surf in Newquay, who can give you honest advice on whether a suit fits you or not. If you get proper advice from guys like the team at Sunset then you don't have to worry about being mis-sold, they're not just driven by selling you the wetsuit with the best profit margin (as online retailers will) - they want to build a lasting relationship so that you'll stick with them for all your surfing needs - always shop local!
Seams are where 2 panels of neoprene are joined, they affect flexibility but most importantly warmth as the quality of the 'join' affects how much cold water can get into the suit. Here are the types you'll generally see:
• Flat-lock - Very basic stitching and the cheapest option. The problem is they're not very flexible and because there are tons of little needle holes all along the seams they'll let a lot of water in.
• Blind-stitched - Uses a curved needle to only stitch half-way through the neoprene, meaning the integrity of the material isn't affected. Will still allow a bit of water through but infinitely better than flat-lock
• Glued & Taped - Often combined with blind-stitching. A glue is applied to the panels of neoprene before they're attached, then a liquid tape is put over any stitches. If you can afford it then go for this option - it works!
STRETCH & FLEXIBLITY
The more flexible a suit is, the less energy you're having to use in order to move your arms and legs to paddle. The flip side of that is that a super elastic, stretchy suit will "bag-out" quicker, essentially losing it's elasticity and potentially becoming loose. I'd certainly recommend going for a fairly flexible suit but how far down that line you want to go really depends on your budget and how long you want the suit to last.
Every year more and more new technologies are being developed by wetsuit companies, some will be amazing, others will be gimmicks. There's no way we could review each and every one, however always remember that none of these things matter if the suit doesn't fit!
Obviously this is a major factor for almost everyone when you're deciding which suit to go for. It can vary massively depending on quality, but you'll generally get what you pay for when it comes to wetsuits. Here's a VERY rough guide on what you can expect to spend for the various qualities of wetsuits, Top-End means you're getting a seriously good suit that any of us would be happy to wear, Mid-Range are quality suits without some of the bells and whistles, Budget suits we'd recommend avoiding unless you only want it for a quick splash, in our opinion a bit of a false economy, especially on environmental grounds, you're just adding to the waste problem by buying cheap suits.
Either way here's our breakdown:
• 5mm Wetsuits - Top-End = £250 - £400+ / Mid-Range = £150-£250 / Budget = £150 and less
• 4mm Wetsuits - Top-End = £200+ / Mid-Range = £150-200 / Budget = Unlikely to find
• 3mm Wetsuits - Top End = £200+ / Mid Range = £80 - £200 / Budget = £80 and less
Remember this is just a rough guide, doesn't take into account any sales, and doesn't mean that you can't find a Top-End 5mm for £180 or that by spending £150 on a summer suit doesn't mean you'll end up with a bit of a dudd! It's just a guide so you can see roughly what you'll be spending.
A lot of info to bear in mind, remember we're always here to offer advice and it won't cost you a penny, give us a shout and we'll let you know our opinion before you make a purchase.
CUSTOM MADE WETSUITS
Just to throw a spanner in the works you've also got the option of a custom-made wetsuit by a company like Snugg. We're going to do a whole blog post on those, but the main advantage is that, of course, they fit you like nothing else. Keep an eye on this blog to hear all about these suits in the near future.