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 Wetsuit Knowledge Base

 

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What is a wetsuit?

A wetsuit is a garment worn for watersports like surfing, diving, windsufing which provides:

  • -Thermal insulation

  • -Abrasion resistance

  • -Buoyancy


Jack O'Neill (of the wetsuit brand O'Neill) claims he invented the first ever wetsuit - he started out by stuffing his trunks with flexible plastic foam! Luckily, wetsuits have come a long way since then and are now usually made of foamed neoprene.

How do wetsuits work?

By catching a thin layer of water between your skin and the neoprene, your body heats up this water and keeps you warm. It’s important to get a wetsuit that fits properly, otherwise cold water will constantly flush the warm water out. The neoprene in the wetsuit also acts as insulation against environment, so the thicker the neoprene (and wetsuit) the better the insulation will be. The neoprene contains loads of small air bubbles that provide the insulation.

What are the different types of wetsuit?

 

Shorty Wetsuits

 

Name: Shortie (Commonly spelt Shorty)

Best for: Summer months (June to August) in UK waters or water temperatures above 70oF. Perfect to wear if you get a bit too cold in your boardshorts in the summer.

Sports: Surfing & Watersports

Spec: Short length arms and legs to allow for extra movement and flexibility, whilst offering warmth where needed.

Brands: O'Neill and Rip Curl; both manufactures have been in the business for many years and provide extensive warranties with their suits. The major difference between the suits that you’ll find here and those in a large supermarket, is the quality of the suit. O'Neill and Rip Curl use extremely flexible neoprene which offers greater movement in the suit, coupled with the latest technology which they are always advancing, not to mention a greater life span. A good quality shorty wetsuit, that is properly looked after (see aftercare for advice) can last you many years.

Material used: The majority of wetsuits are made from foamed neoprene, designed to provide thermal insulation, abrasion resistance and buoyancy.
Through the arms and legs, the wetsuit is usually made of double lined neoprene, which is surrounded on both sides by a layer of nylon, which helps protect the neoprene from damage from sharp objects. The nylon layer also prevents the neoprene from sticking to your skin.

Thickness: Most shorty wetsuits will be around 1-1.5mm in thickness around the leg / arm / shoulder panels, for flexibility and around 2mm in thickness in the torso/chest panel area.
Usually the chest panel on the shorty wetsuit will look like shiny rubber.  This is known as ‘single lined neoprene’. Single lined neoprene creates a greater barrier against wind, so it is ideal around the torso area where you would need the extra warmth, protecting your vital organs.

Seams: The seams of the wetsuit vary depending on the manufacture of the wetsuit. Most shorties however, are constructed of flatlock stitched seams’. The flatlock stitch looks like a miniature railroad and can easily be distinguished from its zig-zag close stitched seams. This type of seam allows for water to move in and out of the seam and keeping the body at an average temperature. The flat-lock seam is perfect for those summer months in the UK or for going abroad to a warm water climate.

Size guide shorty wetsuits: In terms of size guidance for the shorty, we recommend first looking at your chest and waist measurements first to ensure the perfect fit around your torso area. As the shorty suit is not a full arm / leg fit, this does allow a little flexibility between sizes. That said however, a good fit all round is still very important - if there is a lot of room on the leg or arm too much water may enter the suit and lower the suits overall performance.

 You’ll find a size guide attached to all our shorty wetsuits on the product page – just click the ‘size guide’ tab. If you are in any doubt at all, please do give us a call on 01273 420142, or email office@boardriders.co.uk

 

 

 

Summer Wetsuit

Name: Summer Wetsuits (By the term 'summer wetsuit' we refer to full length wetsuits that are of a thickness suitable to be worn over the warmer months of the year.)

Best for: Those warmer months. A summer 3/2 wetsuit should last you around 6 months of the year – perhaps a little more / less depending on how much you feel the cold! As a guide we’d say a summer wetsuit is ideal for surfing in the UK May through to September.

Spec: The summer full-length wetsuit is commonly referred to as the 3/2mm wetsuit or three two. There are many variations of this term however the most common are 3/2 3/2mm 302 or three two.

Brands: O'Neill, Roxy, Rip Curl and Xcel

Material used: (3/2 explained) The ‘3’ refers to the millimetre thickness of neoprene found around the core or torso of the body. The ‘2’ refers to the millimetre thickness neoprene found on the arms and legs of the wetsuit.

If you’re wondering why there is a difference, this is mainly because thinner neoprene allows for greater movement and flexibility. It makes sense therefore that you would want greater flex in your arms and legs, while keeping your torso area (and therefore vital organs) warmer.

The majority of wetsuits are made from foamed neoprene, designed to provide thermal insulation, abrasion resistance and buoyancy.

Most summer wetsuits will be around 2mm in thickness around the leg / arm / shoulder panels, for flexibility and around 3mm in thickness in the torso/chest panel area.

Usually the chest panel on the wetsuit will look like shiny rubber.  This is known as ‘single lined neoprene’. Single lined neoprene creates a greater barrier against wind, so it is ideal around the torso area where you would need the extra warmth, protecting your vital organs.

Through the arms and legs, the wetsuit is usually made of double lined neoprene, which is surrounded on both sides by a layer of nylon, which helps protect the neoprene from damage from sharp objects. The nylon layer also prevents the neoprene from sticking to your skin.

Seams: The stitching found on can vary. Some manufacturers use ‘flatlock’ stitching and others use ‘glued and blindstitching ‘(GBS), however the majority of brands like, Billabong, Rip Curl and C- Skins will a mixture use both.

The flatlock stitch looks like a miniature railroad and can easily be distinguished from its zig-zag close stitched seams. This type of seam allows for water to move in and out of the seam and keeping the body at an average temperature. The flat-lock stitched wetsuit is usually cheaper and is ideal for warm water to cool water temperatures.

The ‘GBS’ seam glues the neoprene together and then applies a stitch over the top to lock in the neoprene. This offers greater warmth as it traps the water in the suit, which warms against the core body temperature. With this in mind the GBS style wetsuit is better suited for cool to cold-water temperatures. Glued and blindstitched wetsuits are often more expensive then the flat-lock summer suit.



Winter Wetsuits

Name: The winter wetsuit is a must for any keen surfer in UK waters.

Best for: The water temperature suited for the winter wetsuit ranges from around 8oC to about 12oC. The winter wetsuit is worn for roughly 5 month of the year - from October through to March in the southern areas of England, and worn for longer periods of time in colder Nordic countries and northern Britain. Throughout the years wetsuit technology has advanced so much that people can surf regardless of the seasons.

Spec: All winter wetsuits will be within the 5/3mm or 6/4mm range, which refers to the thickness of the neoprene in the wetsuit. Often there are combinations of thickness, like 6/5/4mm or 5/4/3mm etc.
Every wondered what numbers like 5/3 and 6/5/4/ mean? These numbers refer to the thickness of the neoprene featured on the wetsuit, in millimetres. The highest number such as the ‘5’ in 5/3 will be the millimetre thickness of the neoprene around the torso area (where you need the greatest warmth).A mid number such as the ‘4’ in a 5/4/3mm suit will usually refer to the thickness of neoprene in areas such as the thighs, while the lowest number will generally be the thickness of neoprene in the legs and arms, where you need the greatest flexibility of movement. A suit that is too thick in the arm and leg areas can be exhausting to paddle out and swim in!

Brands: O'Neill Rip Curl, Roxy and Xcel

Materials: The majority of wetsuits are made from foamed neoprene, designed to provide thermal insulation, abrasion resistance and buoyancy.

Thickness: Most winter wetsuits will be around 3 or 4mm in thickness around the leg / arm / shoulder panels, for flexibility and around 5mm in thickness in the torso/chest panel area.Usually the chest panel on the wetsuit will look like shiny rubber.  This is known as ‘single lined neoprene’. Single lined neoprene creates a greater barrier against wind, so it is ideal around the torso area where you would need the extra warmth, protecting your vital organs.Through the arms and legs, the wetsuit is usually made of double lined neoprene, which is surrounded on both sides by a layer of nylon, which helps protect the neoprene from damage from sharp objects. The nylon layer also prevents the neoprene from sticking to your skin.

Seams: All winter wetsuits will offer the ‘Glued and Blindstitched’ (GBS) seam or a ‘Fluid Seam Weld’ (FSW). The ‘GBS’ seam glues the neoprene together and then applies a stitch over the top to lock in the neoprene. This outer stitch can also add to the durability of the suit.

On an ‘FSW’ seam the neoprene is glued together and then a rubber strip (fluid seam weld) is applied over the top. The advantage of this is that the wetsuit will be more flexible as when the suit is stretched the seam will stretch with it. The second advantage to this is that it makes the suit airtight. You can test this by blowing into the arm of an FSW suit – you’ll find it blows up like a balloon and will not release the air, confirming the suit is airtight, which means water cannot pass between the seams at all!

A single (or 1x) FSW will have the rubber strip applied to one side of the seam, while a double (or 2x) fluid seam weld with have the rubber strip applied to both sides of the seam.

 

What should I consider when buying a wetsuit?


Flexibility, Quality & Stretch

The quality of the neoprene – each brand tends to have a couple of different grades of neoprene that they use to provide a range of wetsuits to suit all needs and budgets. O’Neill wetsuits have different grades of flexibility in their suits, from basic stretch to extreme flexibility. Billabong wetsuits offer Japanese neoprene, which favours an air light neoprene construction. Rip Curl have their own version which is Elastomax or E3.

The main thing to consider here is the percentage of stretch with each manufacturer’s unique neoprene, rather than the fancy name they choose to give it! The stretch if the neoprene is important - more flexible wetsuit = less strain on your muscles!

The Seams

The seams on your suit are a bit factor. There are various types of seam and each type has its advantages and disadvantages in different water and weather conditions. The different types of wetsuit seam are:

overlock

Overlock Stitch

These are uncomfortable and pretty much a thing of the past. They are sometimes still found on cheap ‘tourist’ or supermarket wetsuits.

flatloc

Flatlock Stitch

More comfortable and very flexible, but leaks!  The flatlock stitch looks like a miniature railroad and can easily be distinguished from its zig-zag close stitched seams. This type of seam allows for water to move in and out of the seam and keeping the body at an average temperature. The flat-lock seam is perfect for those summer months in the UK or for going abroad to a warm water climate.

gbs

Glued & Blindstitched (GBS)

Used in warm wetsuits. It's called ‘blind’ because needle never penetrates the neoprene completely, so there are no holes. The ‘GBS’ seam glues the neoprene together and then applies a stitch over the top to lock in the neoprene. This offers greater warmth as it traps the water in the suit, which warms against the core body temperature. With this in mind the GBS style wetsuit is better suited for cool to cold-water temperatures. Glued and blindstitched wetsuits are often more expensive than flatlock stitch suits.

liquid taping

Liquid Taped Seams / Fluid Seam Weld

A few names exist for this type of seam. On an ‘FSW’ seam the neoprene is glued together and then a rubber strip (fluid seam weld) is applied over the top. The advantage of this is that the wetsuit will be more flexible as when the suit is stretched the seam will stretch with it. The second advantage to this is that it makes the suit airtight. You can test this by blowing into the arm of an FSW suit – you’ll find it blows up like a balloon and will not release the air, confirming the suit is airtight, which means water cannot pass between the seams at all!

A single (or 1x) FSW will have the rubber strip applied to one side of the seam, while a double (or 2x) fluid seam weld with have the rubber strip applied to both sides of the seam.

 


Durability

The durability of the suit is often determined by whether or not a surfer looks after their suit. With proper wetsuit maintenance your suit will last you a very long time, however if mistreated your wetsuit may fall apart due to carelessness. If you would like some pointers on how to look after your wetsuit then please look at our wetsuit care guide


Fewer Panels / Less Stitching

You’ll find in higher end suits like the O’Neill Psychofreak or Rip Curl F-Bomb, they promote seamless areas and less panels. These 2 features go hand in hand, as if the wetsuit is made out of fewer neoprene panels, it will need less seams to hold it together. It makes sense that the less seams in the suit the better, as you are allowing greater stretch from just the neoprene (without restriction from the seam). It also means less irritation to the skin, as some surfers can find the seams on suits rub against their skin.

The Zip

The zipper is another area that can let cold water through, so a good zipper that blocks out water will keep you warmer. Zippers are not watertight! To solve that winter wetsuits have shorter zippers and special size and shape of the teeth. Or you can go for a neck entry / chest zip suit. A hard wearing zipper is another good feature as it will help keep your suit in use for longer.

Back Zip / Standard Entry Chest Zip / Chest Entry
back zip chest zip

What is the difference between a chest zip and back zip wetsuit?

In short, the difference is how you get into the wetsuit. A back zip suit is the more traditional entry system, with a long zipper down the back of the suit. This zipper has a cord attached so you are able to fasten / unfasten yourself when in the wetsuit. The advantage of this type of entry system is they are easier to get into. If you consider a wetsuit is intended to be skin tight, they are not always the easiest to get in and out of. If you find this a struggle, a back zip wetsuit would be your best choice. The down side to a back zip is that water can get through the seams, and once in the suit some surfers find the zip down your back can restrict their movement slightly, and prefer the comfort of a chest zip suit.

The chest zip wetsuit option has, as you’d expect, a zipper on the chest area allowing you to get in and out of the wetsuit. When unzipped you climb in through the neck area of the suit. This can be slightly trickier to get into than a back zip suit, but much easier these days due to advances in technology and greater flex in neoprene. Often it just takes a little getting used to and the advantages of a chest zip suit are major. There’s no flushing of water through the zip on your back (think freezing cold winter sea water flushing in your suit!) and without a plastic zip running down your back it can be much more comfortable to wear.

Fireskin / FireCore / Firewall Insulated Panels

fireskin lining

This means that your wetsuit is lined inside with some sort of fabric that additionally keeps you warm. This fabric is usually made out of hollow fibers which wick away moisture from the skin and keep you warmer. 

In high end wetsuits this is usually added to areas such as the chest and back panels to keep your vital organs protected.

Looking inside a wetsuit, you'll usually notice if it has a Fireskin / Firecore lining as they tend to be coloured red, orange or bright blue.

Batwing or Barrier System

batwing

 

This is a flap of neoprene that sits under the back zipper of the wetsuit. The ‘batwing’ or ‘barrier’ system on a wetsuit has been developed to combat the problem of cold water flushes when wearing back zip wetsuits. The different names for this system come from the different wetsuit brands. O’Neill call this a ‘Barrier 1’ or ‘Barrier 2’ system, while Rip Curlrefer to it as the ‘batwing’. Both essentially mean the same thing – an area of neoprene material underneath the back zip of the wetsuit, that provides an extra barrier between your body and any water that might get through the seams.

There are 2 types of ‘barrier’ or ‘batwing’ system. One is a simple patch of neoprene under the zipper that finishes at the top of your neck. The other type is a larger patch of neoprene with a hole in it – you pull this over your head and the barrier is held up like a collar around your neck.

 

Reinforced Knees

Pretty much all wetsuits come with reinforced knees of some type, which increase the longevity of your suit

 

Anything else I should know about wetsuits?

It's a good idea to care for your wetsuit properly. Click here to view our Wetsuit Care Guide for tips on how to keep your wetsuit in the best condition possible, how to put on / take off and store your wetsuit.

 

Sea Swimming

Sea Swimming has always been a tradition in Brighton and local beaches, more people are wanting to swim further into the year rather than just on high days and holidays, we are getting asked a lot for Sea Swimming Wetsuits or Open water swimming wetsuits.It would depend on what you want from your swimming experience as to the level of equipment you may want - for instance if you want the ultimate experience of swimming and the elements then perhaps all you will want is a swim suit, goggles and a swimming cap but with our local sea temperatures getting down to 5°C (41°F) at the coldest time of the year, most of us will want a little more protection - this will be in the form of a wetsuit and wetsuit accessories - This is where we come in. We have been selling wetsuits in Brighton and wetsuits online for over 25 years and pride ourselves in a huge selection and have friendly knowledgeable staff to insure you get the right suit for you. A wetsuit will keep your core warm and provide a little extra buoyancy too, the more neoprene you have on the warmer you should be but too much and you may start to lose the feeling of swimming through the water opposed to floating on it. If you are a member of a sea swimming club we suggest speaking to your instructor / organiser they will be able to give you the best advice on what you will need according to local conditions. We have found lightweight short arm and long leg or short leg wetsuits to be preferred as they keep the core nice and warm but don't restrict movement allowing you the feeling you are still swimming through the water and not being too floaty. You will also find your extremities need protecting too - fingers and toes are the first to complain in cold water. We sell wetsuit boots and gloves too - Lightweight gloves will keep your hands warmer without detracting too much from the feeling of swimming - Wetsuit boots or wetsuit shoes for sea swimming are recommended to keep your feet warm but also protected from sharp stones and those nasty weaver fish. For colder temperatures we also sell neoprene beanies and hoods to keep all the heat you generate from swimming from getting lost through your head - these make a big difference.We also have a good range of sea swimming googles and swimming hats too. If you require more information please give us a call we are here to help, check out recommended Sea Swimming products in our Open water Swimming section or better still call into our store in Brighton and say Hi..!

Still confused? Why not give us a call on 01273 420142 and have a chat with someone from our Wetsuit Team - we're here to help