The Complete Beginners Guide to Buying a New Surf Wetsuit

It is a really exciting time when you have decided to buy a new surfing wetsuit!

Surfing wetsuits have come a long way since they were first invented about 60-70 years ago when only a couple of companies where selling wetsuits to surfers.

Nowadays there are so many different companies, brands and styles that it can be time consuming and confusing to sort through all the available information to find the wetsuit that is right for you.

I live in Canada where wetsuits are necessary all year round to keep you warm and I am constantly researching, discussing and testing different wetsuits.

If you are wondering, “What should I look for when buying a surfing wetsuit?”, you have come to the right place.

When you are buying a surfing wetsuit, the most important thing to focus on is fit. If a wetsuit doesn’t fit well, you shouldn’t buy it! Other factors that you should consider include, price, comfort, warmth and flexibility.

Don’t be fooled by the marketing hype, stay focused on the most important things that will help you make the right decision.

Read on to review the The Complete Beginners Guide to Buying a New Surf Wetsuit (with 15 Tips you should know)

1. Fit is the Most Important

The most important question when you are buying a surfing wetsuit is, “How does it Fit?” Wetsuits let in a small amount of water that heats up as you move and keeps you warm.

If you try on a wetsuit and it doesn’t fit well, DO NOT BUY IT! It doesn’t matter why it doesn’t fit. Take it off, toss it to the side and move on to another option.

The main reason why you want to make sure that your wetsuit fits well is because surfing requires a lot of dynamic movements. Wetsuits are made to fit snugly but they shouldn’t be restricting your movements or feel like they will rub or chafe parts of your body.

Check out the video below for tips on finding the right fit.

We all come in different shapes and sizes and certain styles or brands may be comfortable for some and super uncomfortable for others. Don’t be concerned if finding the right fit is challenging at first, it can be difficult for both women and men (and boys and girls).

All companies will have sizing charts that help you determine the range of heights and weights that might work for each person. I am generally at the high end of the size range and take a Size Large for most brands.

I have created a current comparison table for different wetsuit brands for a Men’s Large so you can see that size ranges have similarities between them but also some slight differences.

Men’s Wetsuits

BrandSizeHeight Weight ChestWaist
O’NeillLarge5’10”- 6’0170-190 lbs41″-43.5″33″-35″
XCELLarge5’10”-6’0″175-190 lbs41″34.5
Rip CurlLarge5’11”-6’1″170-190 lbs40″-42″32″-34″
BillabongLarge5’11”-6’1″175-190 lbs41″-43″33″-35″
HurleyLarge5’10”-6’0″170-185 lbs40″-42″32″-34″
QuicksilverLarge5’11”-6’1″170-190 lbs40″-42″33″-35″
Need EssentialsLarge5’11”-6’2″175-190 lbs34″41″
PatagoniaLarge5’10”-6’0″170-190 lbs40.5″-42.5″32.5″-34″

I have also created a current comparison table for different wetsuit brands for a Women’s Size 10 so you can see that size ranges have similarities between them but also some slight differences.

Women’s Wetsuits

BrandSize HeightWeightChestWaist
Roxy 105’7″-5’9″130-150 lbs35.5″-37.5″28″-30″
Rip Curl105’6″-5’8″120-140 lbs34″-36″26″-28″
O’Neill105’6″-5’8″130-150 lbs34″-36″29″-30.5″
Billabong105’6″-5’8″130-150 lbs34″-36″27″-29″
EXCEL105’5″-5’8″130-145 lbs37.5″29.5″
KassiaSurf105’7″-5’9″130-145 lbs35″-37″28.5″-30″

One final reminder: Make sure to check out the size guide for wetsuits that you are considering buying. Most companies will say that their sizing charts are only to be used as a guide and recommend to go to the next largest size if you are in between sizes.

2. Try It On

OK, this might seem like an obvious tip but it is super important that you try on wetsuits before you buy one. Every brand fits a bit differently and you can’t tell how a wetsuit will fit until you try it on.

But let me warn you, trying on a wetsuit in a surf shop is not very much fun.

Putting on a brand new wetsuit in a small surf shop change room will be a hot, sweaty, uncomfortable and awkward experience.

I have experienced many times where I am flailing around in the change room, trying to get a new wetsuit on or off, while my concerned wife is saying, “How is everything going on in there?”

Each time I try on a new suit, I come out of the change room with a beet red face with sweat dripping off my brow. But don’t let my experience stop you from going through it yourself, trying on wetsuits is something every surfer should go through.

Remember that wetsuits will feel tight when you try them on for the first time and they will stretch out when they get wet. Wetsuits let in a small amount of water that heats up as you move and keeps you warm.

There are some exceptions to my recommendation to try on a new wetsuit before purchasing.

  • If you have owned, rented or borrowed a surfing wetsuit and you know the size and brand that works for you
  • If you live in an area of the country without access to stores or surf shops that carry surfing wetsuits
  • If you are ordering online from a company with a good return policy

3. Make Sure It’s Comfortable

Now that you have tried on some wetsuits and narrowed your choices down to the brands and styles that fit you well, it is time to be honest with yourself and pick the wetsuit that is the most comfortable.

Certain wetsuits will be super comfortable and make you feel like you can just hang around in it all day. Other wetsuits may fit you well but you just don’t get the same comfortable and cozy feeling.

This exact scenario happened to a friend of mine a couple of months ago. He went into a surf shop, tried on wetsuits and narrowed it down to two options. Both wetsuits fit well and were manufactured by reputable brands.

He was texting me questions from the change room because I have tested both of the wetsuits that he was considering buying. I gave him some tips about each of the suits performance, durability and flexibility.

He listened to my feedback, but in the end he chose the wetsuit that felt most comfortable to him, which is always the correct choice.

4. Pick the Right Style

Wetsuits come in a bunch of different styles that vary in the amount of coverage that they provide for your body. The wide range of styles will be more effective for different times of the year, locations, water and air temperatures.

Some of the wetsuit styles include, shorty (or springsuit), long john or long jane, full suit (or steamer) and hooded full suit. See photos below.

“Shorty” or “Springsuit” is a wetsuit with short arms and short legs. There are other variations of this style, which includes, long arms and short legs and no arms and short legs. This style only provides a minimal amount of warmth but it works great for sun protection, especially with long arms.
“Long Jane” or “Long John” is a wetsuit with no arms and long legs. This is a very versatile option that provides warmth without restricting your arms when paddling.
“Full Suit” or “Steamer” – is a wetsuit with full coverage (long arms & long legs) and is the most common type of wetsuit for surfing. Provides full sun protection and comes in different thicknesses of neoprene for greater warmth.
“Hooded Full Suit” – is a full suit with an attached hood. Generally used in colder temperatures because it provides maximum warmth by providing coverage for the head and neck.

5. Fashion

The majority of wetsuits produced today come in one colour for both males and females: black. Since their invention, black has been the most common colour and companies don’t usually offer very many other colours or patterns.

It is important to highlight that black is the most popular colour so there isn’t a lot of incentive for companies to focus on less profitable options. As well, black is highly functional because it is durable, cost effective and it absorbs heat.

As well, many surfers (including me) are reluctant to purchase or wear wetsuits that aren’t all black. When I was learning to surf, you would face some unwanted attention if you paddled out in a bright, colourful wetsuit. Even though the surfing population is very individualistic by nature, people don’t want to stand out from the crowd.

Nowadays, tastes are starting to change and companies are offering more variation.

I especially see it in women’s wetsuits, with new patterns and colours that are designed for female surfers. That being said, there are many new, bright options for the male audience as well. Check out some photos below.

6. Ocean Water Temperature

It’s important to know how cold the water will be in order to chose the most appropriate wetsuit for the area that you will be surfing.

Ocean water can vary significantly between summer and winter so you will want to decide what season you will most likely be surfing and chose your wetsuit accordingly.

In my area on Vancouver Island (Western Canada), you definitely need a thick wetsuit with an attached hood in the winter but you can use a thinner wetsuit without a hood in the summer. My wife followed this logic and purchased a wetsuit without a hood because she only goes surfing in the summer.

I created the table below to show the differences between summer and winter ocean temperatures in different locations in North America.

LocationSummer Ocean Temp.Winter Ocean Temp.
Tofino, BC, Canada55ºF to 63°F 45°F to 48°F
Westport, WA, USA57ºF to 63°F45°F to 52°F
Otter Rock, Oregon, USA55°F to 64°F 46°F to 54°F
Santa Cruz, CA, USA57°F to 64°F50°F to 57°F
Huntington, CA, USA64°F to 72°F55°F to 61°F
South Padre, Texas, USA82°F to 86°F63°F to 70°F
New Smyrna, FL, USA82°F to 86°F66°F to 72°F
Virgina Beach, VA, USA75°F to 82°F45°F to 55°F
Ocean City, NJ, USA72°F to 77°F34°F to 41°F
Montauk Point, NY, USA70°F to 75°F37°F to 43°F
Cow Bay, NS, Canada59°F to 64°F32°F to 36°F

In addition, check out the global map of sea temperatures below for reference.

That being said, you should search out more specific ocean temperature information for your chosen area. Just ask at local surf shop or go to Google and type in “sea temperature in (your area)” or “water temperature in (your area)”.

As well, I found very detailed information about different surf spots around the world (including average sea temperatures) at Surf Click here if you want to check it out.

7. Warmth & Wetsuit Thickness

It’s pretty simple, if you are warm, you will be able to stay in the ocean longer. If you are cold, you won’t have fun and you will want to get out of the ocean and stop surfing.

Now that you know the ocean temperature in your area, you will be able to chose the most appropriate wetsuit for the conditions.

To help provide guidance, most wetsuit manufacturers will specify the recommended ocean temperature range for different wetsuit thicknesses.

Wetsuit thickness is displayed in millimetres (mm).

A 6/5/4 is a wetsuit that uses three different thicknesses.

  • The first number (6) refers to a 6 mm thickness in the torso
  • The second number (5) refers to a 5 mm thickness in the legs
  • The last number (4) refers to a 4 mm thickness in arms

A 4/3 or 3/2 is a wetsuit that uses two different thicknesses

  • The first number refers to the thickness in the torso
  • The second number refers to the thickness in the arms & legs

See the table below created by Xcel Wetsuits (click here to view on the Xcel website) that provides a guide for the recommended wetsuit thickness (and accessories) for different water temperatures.

8. Price

For most people, price is the driving force when purchasing a new wetsuit. It is common to hear people say, “My budget is $X, what is the best wetsuit for that price?” or “I want to get a new wetsuit but I don’t want to spend more than $X?

Although the top of the line wetsuits have all the bells and whistles, you can find great wetsuits at all price ranges.

The price ranges for new wetsuits vary significantly with the low end typically starting around $75 and the high end maxing out around $600. Factors that affect price are style, thickness, materials and construction.

I have created a quick table for reference below with the current average price range for each style of wetsuit.

Low End Price RangeHigh End Price Range
Long Jane/Long John$75-$110$200-$250
Full Suit$75-$150$300-$450
Hooded Full Suit$175-$250$400-$600

9. Materials

The majority of wetsuits are made from Neoprene, a synthetic rubber invented in 1930.

Neoprene is known for its versatility because it’s light, flexible and resistant to weathering. Neoprene is made in two different ways: (1) a manufacturing process using oil and (2) a manufacturing process using limestone.

Some companies, like Patagonia, have created wetsuits out of alternative rubbers to reduce the environmental impact of the manufacturing process. Patagonia uses Yulex natural rubber, which comes from hevea trees.

However, most of the new wetsuits you try on will feel relatively similar regardless of the type of material it was constructed from.

10. Durability

When I purchase a new wetsuit, I want it to last.

The unwritten rule about wetsuits is that the mid-level price point provides great durability because it benefits from the technology that went into creating the high end wetsuits but without the extra bells and whistles (and cost).

If you really want to get specific about durability, ask the following questions next time your are in a surf shop (or email them if you are doing research online):

  • Which wetsuit brand and model has the fewest warranty returns?
  • Which wetsuit brand and model has the most warranty returns?

Because they are really specific questions, you will get answers to help you determine which wetsuits you may want consider and which ones you may want to avoid.

11. Flexibility

Because surfing is a sport that requires dynamic movements like paddling and popping to your feet, wetsuits are designed to be flexible. Wetsuits are thicker in the torso and thinner in the extremities to provide warmth where it’s needed and maintain range of motion in the arms and legs.

Generally, flexibility is determined by wetsuit thickness. So a 3/2 (3mm thick) wetsuit will be more flexible than a 5/4 (5mm thick) wetsuit. But it might not be wise to chose a thinner wetsuit just for greater flexibility if it doesn’t keep you warm.

If you are comparing wetsuits with the same thickness. you will find that flexibility will increase as you move from the lower end models to the higher end models.

But don’t forget that all surf wetsuits are designed to support sport specific movements so you don’t need to break the bank!

12. Construction

Construction relates to how a wetsuit is manufactured and how the panels of material are cut and joined together.

Wetsuits usually have an internal liner that provides comfort, durability and allows you to slide in and out of the suit more efficiently.

Seams are an important feature on a wetsuit. Seam construction is as follows:

  • Flatlock – often found on entry level wetsuits. The stitches are right through the neoprene causing many tiny holes that will increase the likelihood of water penetration.
  • Glued and Blind Stitched (GBS) – often found on low-mid level priced wetsuits. Seams are glued and only stitched partially through the material so water penetration is reduced
  • Fluid Sealed/Welded – often found on higher end wetsuits. Seams are glued and welded on the outside with additional adhesive. Water penetration is non-existent.
  • Taped – often found on a wide range of wetsuits. Tape is used on the internal seams of a wetsuit to provide additional strength and durability.

Seam types may be used in combination to provide additional flexibility, strength and durability.

13. Entry System

Entry system refers to how your wetsuit will open and close and will impact how you get into and out of your wetsuit. You are probably thinking “Isn’t it with a zipper?” and you are partially right.

There are three main entry systems that are common on both women’s and men’s wetsuits:

  • Chest zip – this is the most popular entry system among surfers because of its versatility. The zipper enclosure is typically located across the chest. Most variations include a cinch cord so it won’t come open during use. Chest zips can be a bit challenging to get off with cold hands but they are preferred because there is minimal water flushing.
  • Back Zip – is another common entry system. The zipper is on the back of the wetsuit and stretches from the low back to the top of the neck. The back zip is easy to get in and out of and has a velcro strap at the top of the neck so the zipper doesn’t slide down during use.
  • No Zip – are the least common type of wetsuit closure system and are typically found on the highest end wetsuits. These types of wetsuits are made from the stretchiest material. This type of wetsuits can be the most challenging to get on and off.

14. Hood or No Hood

OK, full disclosure. I am probably the wrong person to listen to when considering whether you want a wetsuit with or without an attached hood because I love having an attached hood on my wetsuit! It keeps my head & neck warm and toasty.

Keep in mind that I live in Canada and wear a wetsuit with an attached hood all year round. I know many people (my wife included) find hoods restrictive, uncomfortable and unnecessary.

If you mostly surf in the summer and the water temperature is above 55-60℉ you will probably be fine without a hood, but it really comes down to warmth.

Don’t worry, if you purchase a wetsuit without a hood and later find yourself a little chilly on the windy winter days, you can always purchase a rash guard with an attached hood to wear under your wetsuit for extra warmth.

15. Wetsuit Companies

There are a lot of different companies that make great wetsuits for surfing. I have worn and owned wetsuits from Hotline, O’Neill, Rip Curl, Excel, Patagonia and several other brands and they all have their pros and cons.

Today, there are a number of alternative brands that sell surf wetsuits online direct to consumer. By cutting out the middleman it reduces marketing costs and passes on the savings to the consumer.

Wetsuits from companies like Need Essentials (for more information, check out the website by clicking here) are typically cheaper than comparable wetsuits from the big surfing brands.

Read reviews, ask questions and try on a bunch of different brands. It’s the only way you will find your favorite. If you want to “try before you buy”, keep a lookout for wetsuit demo days at your local surf shop or just rent a wetsuit for a day.

In Conclusion:

Buying a new wetsuit can be a fun experience. It can take some time to sort through all the information (including this blog post!) but all the research and effort will be worth it when you are chasing waves in your brand new wetsuit!


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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