With fall comes cooler weather. With cooler weather comes cooler ocean water for us surfers. On the west coast, they’re used to cold water since they have cold water current (California Current). However, it’s typically a bit of a shock for us on the East Coast who enjoy the warm water current (Gulf Stream) when the water goes from a warm 80+ degree bath to a brisk 70 degrees and even below 50 during the dead of winter. More consistent and powerful surf always keeps surfers in the water during the frigid fall and winter months, so a wetsuit is a necessity if you don’t want to catch hypothermia.
Here are some of the most common styles to choose from:
Spring suit: This wetsuit is generally best suited for the beginning of fall and the middle of spring (where it gets its name). They typically have short sleeves on your arms and legs so you’re not burning up when the water is first starting to cool off or starting to warm up. I use a spring suit when it’s in the mid 60’s-mid 70’s. When it gets above the mid 70’s, it’s time for just plain ole’ board shorts. When it gets below the mid 60’s, it’s time to go full length.
Winter suit: This style is used for (you guessed it) winter temperatures. The sleeves for the arms and legs are full length and not only keep you warmer in the water, but also help keep you warm when you get out of the water and walk down the beach in the cold, biting wind. I always break out my winter suit when the water temp. is below 60 and/or when the water’s warmer than the air.
Wetsuit top: These look exactly like the top of a wetsuit. Their construction is thinner, can be long or short sleeved, and is typically worn during the summer during an upwelling.
Something to keep in mind is the thickness of the wetsuit. You’ll probably be fine with a 2mm spring suit. That means the entire wetsuit is 2 millimeters thick. Generally in Florida, a 3/2 winter suit will do you just fine. That means the area of the wetsuit keeping your core warm is 3 millimeters thick and the material keeping your extremities warm is 2 millimeters thick. Once you start surfing in colder temperatures like in New York, New Jersey, Canada, Iceland, and even the Great Lakes (yes, it’s a thing), you’ll want a thick wetsuit. Start at a 4/3; and the colder it gets, the more you’ll want a 5/4 or just a 5mm.
There are different constructions to consider as well. Beginning wetsuits are typically have a back zip with seams that are glued and blindstitched. Manufacturers glue the seams shut as a cheap way to keep water out. I’m not a fan of these because they’re so uncomfortable to me and somewhat choke me since it zips in the back.
My preference is when the wetsuit has a front zip, requiring you to pull a piece of the wetsuit over your head so you can zip it at your chest. The seams are going to be glued, blindstitched again, pressure bonded, and fusion sealed. This helps keep water out while giving you a more comfortable range of motion. This is going to be the most comfortable option, but with prices starting at $200 and only going up, this option can put a beating on your bank account.
Lastly, you can get a hood, gloves, and booties to keep everything on you warm. It’s not necessary all the time, but really depends on where you are and how cold it is.
If you have any questions, leave a comment below or stop in your local surf shop.
by Justin Fricke aka JustinTheWeekendWarrior