Wet suits, or wetsuits, are inexpensive insulating suits used for surfing,
diving, or other watersport activities. Wet suits are designed
to protect their wearers from adverse water and weather conditions.
Specific wet suit designs are available for scuba diving, ocean surfing,
swimming, and other water sports. Even windsurfers, water-skiers,
and kayakers use specially designed wet suits! Wet suits can be a
bit cumbersome to don and to doff. However, water sports enthusiasts
who are willing to wear wet suits while enjoying their water activities
can often find lower cost resort accommodations during cooler shoulder
seasons than during peak vacation periods.
A wet suit will not keep you totally dry. Some water will seep in
through the seams, zipper, and bodily extremities; and this water will be
trapped in your suit and gradually warmed by your body temperature.
Each type of wet suit seam construction – overlock, flat stitch, and
blind stitch – is designed for comfortable use at a different water
temperature range. Blind stitch construction is usually favored by
modern wet suit makers. Blind stitch seams lay flat and are sewn
with curved needles so that the stitching does not completely penetrate
the neoprene layer.
Wet suit materials have improved in quality over the years, becoming
warmer, more flexible, and more durable. Wet suit thickness is
measured in millimeters; the optimal thickness depends on the water
temperature, and the thickness in the torso area is often greater than
around the arms and shoulders. Typically, water temperatures
around 50 degrees Fahrenheit require a 7 mm diving wet suit or a 5 mm
surfing wet suit. Temperatures around 60 degrees Fahrenheit require
a 5 mm diving wet suit or a 3 mm surfing wet suit. Thicker wet suits
generally keep their wearers warmer in cold water, but they tend to be
less flexible and restrict their wearers' freedom of movement.
Real cold water? Add booties. Arctic air? Get gloves
and a hood.
Surfers, Wearing Wet Suits for Thermal Protection, Paddle their Surfboards
The three primary types of wet suits are spring suits, full suits, and
long johns. A spring suit, or shortie, covers its wearer's torso
and thighs. It may have either short or long sleeves for its
wearer's arms. A full suit, or steamer, covers its wearer's torso,
legs, and arms, while a long john wet suit covers only its wearer's
torso and legs. In California, when the water is cold and the air
is warm, a long john wet suit is often the most comfortable choice.
Wet suit booties, gloves, and hoods are sometimes worn to provide extra
warmth and protection from the elements.
Another popular wet suit shape is the vest, which can be layered over a
full suit for additional thermal protection. In Florida or Hawaii,
a simple wet suit vest may suffice to keep you warm in the water.