Surfing Wetsuit vs. Triathlon Wetsuit: Differences & 12 Pros/Cons


As I was organizing a bunch of wetsuits in my garage, I started to think about the differences between a surfing wetsuit and a triathlon wetsuit.

Over the years, I have tried several different styles and brands of each type of wetsuit and I wanted to share some of the differences, pros and cons and how it can apply to your surfing and triathlon experiences.

The difference between a surfing wetsuit and a triathlon wetsuit is a surfing wetsuit is designed for warmth, flexibility and durability, while a triathlon wetsuit is designed for minimizing drag while swimming, for easy entries and exits and supporting a stable swimming position.

In order to learn more about the differences and pros/cons of each type of wetsuit and how this can affect the overall performance for surfers and triathletes, read on!

What are the key differences I should know about?

Design

As you already know, Surfing wetsuits are designed for the sport of surfing, which consists of riding waves in an upright or a prone position on a surfboard.

Triathlon wetsuits are designed for the swim portion of a Triathlon (a multi sport race with swimming, biking and running), which requires swimming through the water as efficiently as possible.

The design of each type of wetsuit varies significantly.

I always describe my surfing wetsuit as similar to a warm (sort of wet) pair of pyjamas. It is designed to keep me warm and comfortable while I bob up and down in the water, chat with friends, paddle around and ride waves.

In contrast, my Triathlon wetsuit is designed to fit like a tight outer skin, help me advance in the water with each swimming stroke and mimic fish like characteristics as I move efficiently through the water.

Construction

The construction difference is significant between surfing wetsuits and triathlon wetsuits; however they are both made from Neoprene, a form of synthetic rubber, which has been used as the primary material in wetsuit construction for the past several decades.

Surfing wetsuit construction is made with a broad range of positions and situations in mind. Construction features may include; zippers on the front (front zip), zippers on the back (back zip), extra padding in the knees, chest panels that help you stick to your surfboard and even car key storage compartments!

Triathlon wetsuits are made specifically to make you swim faster! Construction features may include; zippers in the back (back zip), extra long zipper tethers for easy removal, thinned out neck collars and a seamless, smooth outer shell.

Buoyancy

It may seem curious that I have included buoyancy in a section called “key differences” when both surfing wetsuits and triathlon wetsuits provide additional buoyancy, but not at the same same level as a life jacket! Check out my post on Wearing a Life Jacket or PFD when Surfing: 9 Pros and Cons

However, each wetsuit uses buoyancy in different ways.

Surfing wetsuits use a uniform neoprene thickness across the wetsuit which results in only a small difference between the neoprene thickness in the torso and the neoprene thickness in the arms in order to maintain warmth. (Example: My surfing wetsuit is 5.5mm thick in the torso and 4.5mm thick in the arms)

Triathlon wetsuits have a more significant neoprene thickness difference across the wetsuit to support a horizontal swimming position and flexibility in the arms and shoulders. Basically, triathlon wetsuits are thicker in the torso and thighs (to lift the body and maintain a flat, horizontal position) while being much thinner in the arms. (Example: My triathlon wetsuit is 5mm thick in the torso and 1mm thick in the arms)

Style

There are countless different styles of surfing wetsuits and almost too many to list. There is every option you can think of: vest, hooded vest, shirt, hooded shirt, shorty wetsuit (short arms/short legs), short john/jane wetsuit (no arms/short legs), long john/jane wetsuit (no arms/full legs), full suit (long arms/long legs) and hooded full suit (attached hood).

In comparison, there are very few styles of triathlon wetsuits. This is for a very specific reason. Covering most of your body with a slippery outer skin will reduce drag, which is why the fastest triathlon wetsuits are full suits. The only style decision is whether you want long arms (full suit) or no arms (long john/jane).

I have two triathlon wetsuits, a full suit and a long john. I have found the full suit to be warmer and faster in the water, while the long john is cooler, less restrictive and slightly slower in the water.

What are the Pros and Cons of each type of Wetsuit?

Pros Cons
Surfing Wetsuit1. Designed for warmth relative to water temperatures
2. Durable to combat wear
3. Flexible to support surfing movements
1. Some styles can be really hard to get on and off
2. Not designed for swimming
3. Rough outer skin increases drag
Triathlon Wetsuit1. Smooth outer skin reduces drag
2. Easy removal allows quick entries and exits
3. Supports a horizontal swimming position
1. Smooth outer skin is easily damaged
2. Not designed for an
upright position
3. Tight fit reduces overall flexibility

Can I use a surfing wetsuit for a Triathlon?

One of the questions I get all the time is, “Can I wear a surfing wetsuit in a Triathlon?”. The short answer is Sure!……but there is a downside. If you use a surfing wetsuit for the swim portion of a triathlon, it will probably feel restrictive, slow through the water and may cause overheating.

To be perfectly honest, I would rather swim without a wetsuit (in a pair of shorts) than wear a surfing wetsuit during the swim portion of a Triathlon, but that is just my opinion. If I absolutely had to wear a surfing wetsuit because the water was cold and I had no other options, I would chose a farmer john style, which is a wetsuit without arms.

Quick story: I was in this exact scenario several years ago at a triathlon in California. I had flown to the race and I had forgotten my Triathlon wetsuit, which was important because the swim portion of the race was being held in the ocean in April (Water temperature = 15 degrees).

At the time, I was reluctant to purchase a new Triathlon wetsuit because I had two at home. So, I went to a Surf Shop looking for an inexpensive, used Surfing Wetsuit. To my surprise, I found an older, used Triathlon Wetsuit hanging on the rack that I purchased for $50!

Can I use a triathlon wetsuit for surfing?

The answer is Yes! You can use a triathlon wetsuit for surfing. Remember the story from above? I should probably mention that two days after the triathlon, I went surfing in my used (but newly purchased) Triathlon wetsuit.

However, I was very careful to make sure I didn’t damage my triathlon wetsuit. Unfortunately, the longer you use a triathlon wetsuit for surfing, the more likely it will become damaged. I have done it! It took about 5 straight days of surfing before the triathlon wetsuit was significantly damaged.

If you plan on surfing in your triathlon wetsuit, I would offer the following quick tips:

  • Consider body surfing instead, which may cause less damage than surfing
  • Be careful when you come in contact with your surfboard or fins, because the outer layer of a Triathlon wetsuit is fragile
  • Be aware of other hazards in the water; rocks, coral, other surfers!

What are the costs of a surfing wetsuit vs a triathlon wetsuit?

Entry Level Price RangeHigh End Price Range
Surfing Wetsuit$125-$200$400+
Triathlon Wetsuit$200-$300$500+

Surfing Wetsuit – Cost

Surfing wetsuits can range in price from $125-$500+. Entry level wetsuits are relatively affordable and may be a good option if you are planning to commit to the sport of surfing for more than a few sessions.

If you are just getting into the surfing, or are unsure about what style or fit is right for you, renting is a great option. I probably rented 10-15 times before I purchased my first surfing wetsuit.

Triathlon Wetsuit – Cost

Triathlon wetsuits can range in price from $200-$600+. If you aren’t planning on participating in a number of triathlons over several seasons, I can understand if you are reluctant to purchase a triathlon wetsuit.

There are several low cost options that you may want to consider:

  • Swim without a wetsuit – since numerous Triathlons are held in the summer (and some in a pool), warmth may not be an issue (Just swim faster!)
  • Borrow from a friend or Rent a Triathlon wetsuit
  • Swim in your surfing wetsuit, have fun and adjust your expectations

Good luck participating in two of my favourite sports – Surfing and Triathlon!

Johny

I am the person behind Surfers Footprint. Thank you for taking the time to read through the post! If you want to know more about our story, scroll down and click on ABOUT SURFERS FOOTPRINT at the bottom of the HomePage.

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