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Heading into the depths of winter in the Northern Hemisphere, a proper fitting and insulated wetsuit is a must if you plan to maximize your time in crisp to frigid waters. Without the proper insulation or fitment, a perfect session can be cut short by your body's survival instinct to conserve heat to just the vital organs; in minutes your hands and feet are useless.
Here's where we'll lay out the best way to get the right size and the right thickness to keep you toasty and grinning "one last wave" well past the sunset. The following info should give you full insight into being fully prepared for your next chilly surf session.
I'm going to say this first, you get what you pay for. If you go all out and pick up the top of the line wetsuit, you'll earn the benefits of the utmost mobility, warmest insulation, most water-resistant neoprene and strongest seams. This suit will last you the longest and pretty much turn you into an alpha sea lion on a surfboard.
Go the extreme budget route and expect your suit to last you a season. You'll lose quite a bit of flexibility, heat, and seam strength as well.
My honest suggestion for the frugal fun seeker? Hit the middle of the road or find a smokin' deal on an above average suit and you'll get a pretty good bang for the buck. Budget your suit based on your intentions as a surfer.
Weekend warrior? Shoot for the $200-250 range.
Squeezing sessions in before every workday and doubling up on weekends? Be fair to yourself, look for something in the $300-350 and you'll be pleasantly stoked.
Single mom or dad with 3 kids? Lucky to get out once every other week? The $150-200 range should suit you just fine? Ha, get it?... it's a .. ok you got it.
Are you a straight up warrior? Surfing when your neighbor is waxing up their snow skis? You need the best wetsuit made by earthlings.
If you skimp on neoprene in extreme conditions, expect to pay with extremities... see how I did that? No really, it's not worth pneumonia or frostbite.
Let's talk sizing for a moment. With wetsuits, there's nothing worse than popeye forearms and NFL calves, billowing water when you need to scrap your hardest to break through a frosty freak set. If your suit is too big, you'll get too much water moving through your suit at the worst possible moment. Too small, and you're stuck in the parking lot watching everybody else get the best waves of the day while you struggle with your straight jacket.
The first step in proper fitment is finding your spot on each wetsuit company's sizing chart. There can be inconsistencies across the field, so know your size before you click the checkout button. If you're cutting weight, you'll need to lead yourself into a suit that's a touch snug at the moment. The ocean will break it in to a perfect fit. If you tend to keep weeks worth of Christmas leftovers around, be honest with yourself and pick the suit that fits dead-on with your height and weight.
Check your sizing on Xcel's size guide.
The second step is physically trying one on. Given decent resources, which is not often the case, go in to a shop and slip into your prospective suit to make sure it fits like a glove rather than a straight jacket or bathroom robe.
The last step is double checking the length on size charts. If your steamer is too short, your hands and feet will go numb, too long and you'll be smuggling water balloons in your wrists and ankles on your first wipeout.
First off, what the heck does 3/2mm, 4/3mm even mean? The industry standard for wetsuit thicknesses is noted first by the thickness in the body core regions, second, by the extremity thickness. A 3/2mm wetsuit is typically 3 millimeters thick in the chest, torso and thighs. It's 2 millimeters thick in the arms and lower legs. Some specialty suits are one thickness all the way through, or, an odd thickness like 3.5 or 4.5 millimeters, but, for the most part, you'll see a Core/Extremities fraction. All this said, what's the right thickness for you?
I hear it so many times... " I run hot" or " Yeah I only go to a 3/2mm even when it's 55F." The fact of the matter is, those guys are just too stubborn to keep a couple of solid suits in their rotation. It's that guy with ducttape holding the shoulders together. Having a wetsuit with the right thickness for the season will keep your body temp up and lengthen your surf session when winter swells stop for NOBODY. The nice thing is, these days, most wetsuit suppliers carry such a wide range of wetsuit thicknesses that you can really pinpoint the right suit for you and your body type so that you get to keep surfing while the stubborn old man catches one in to nurse his pneumonia.
So what wetsuit thickness right for you? If you have less than average body mass compared to your fellow surfers, bump up an extra 1mm. If you're surfing competitions or just want to have added flexibility, shed a millimeter.
Have a look at this temperature chart and decide for yourself.
Items like booties, gloves and hoods aren't always necessary, however, at times, they are fully necessary! Once the water starts to dip to the mid 50's F, there's no wetsuit on earth that can keep your feet and fingers from starting to tingle moments before losing feeling. This is where the term "surfing on stumps" comes from. When it's PUMPING, the last thing you want to happen is to trip over your own feet down the face of an 8ft wave. Proper fitting booties will keep your toes steamy and responsive to your input.
Once you start dropping below 55 F it doesn't hurt to have a pair of gloves on hand so your pop-ups stay crisp. Honestly, it's just nice to be cozy.
For those of you that are experiencing some "thinning," a hood is a great way to keep your head clear, literally. A thin hood keeps you free from the sun's harmful rays; they can also help to keep your ears warm and free from swimmer's ear, MY worst enemy. Ask most older surfers, swimmer's ear canal surgery is NOT their idea of a good time. It's an easily preventable condition brought on by constant exposure to cold windy weather and less than pristine salt water.
Lastly, a solid hood keeps your thoughts clear when you're weathering a blistering cold front while the waves are firing. It's not how you look sitting on your board, it's how you feel when you're shralping and your body and mind are cozy and working at full throttle.
Now that you've got the full lowdown, feel free to browse our selection and see what's out there.