There are quite a few wetsuit articles on this site from a huge detailed guide to all the wetsuit features to water temperature and neoprene thickness selection how to. This info can be applied to any type of wetsuit but it is all written from the surfing wetsuit point of view. For one because I am a surfer and secondly because I think surfing suits are the most technologically advanced neoprene suits out there. Why? I’ll try to explain.
All wetsuits are basically made out of the same material – neoprene. Even more, most of the neoprene comes from one Japanese factory. So the main difference in todays wetsuits is not the basic material. It’s the construction, added materials and features.
Different companies make wetsuits for different sports. For instance wetsuit for swimming is optimized for swimming, one for diving is optimized for diving. Then you have wind surfing, triathlon, rafting, canyoning, paddling, kitesurfing, wakeboarding etc… and finally you have surfing which is by the way also the sport from which wetsuits originally came from (Jack O’Neil was a surfer, check out the history).
Two Main Features Of A Wetsuit
Wetsuit acts as insulation against the cold water that surrounds us. This is its main function – to keep you warm. Obviously the thicker the material the warmer the wetsuit will be. But with increasing thickness you loose the other important feature of a wetsuit – to be flexible. What good it is to be extra warm if you can’t move?
The thicker the wetsuit the more strain it puts on our muscles, the more material we have to pull when we move and the faster we get tired.
Now depending on the sport for which the wet is made you need either more warmth, more flexibility or more of both.
A typical sport where you need lots of warmth and flexibility is not that important is diving.
A typical sport where you need lots of flexibility and warmth comes second is swimming and triathlon.
On the other hand surfing demands both. And lots of it. A surfing wetsuit must have both flexibility and the ability to keep the surfer warm. Surfing requires plenty of body moments and lots of surfers are willing to put up with insanely low temperatures of water as long as they provide nice waves. Another problem is that in between sets surfers sit on their boards and wait. While siting the body stops generating heat and you cool down. And finally you have image, to most surfers it’s quite important how they look.