The Complete Parents Guide to Surfing Wetsuits For Kids


Kids love wearing wetsuits. Wetsuits are like comfy pajamas, where the thin layer of water that is trapped inside your suit is warmed by your body heat.

Wetsuits provide insulation from the cold and help your child gain confidence around the water.

However, wetsuit sizing can sometimes be a bit tricky. You don’t want them to be too roomy because water will constantly flush through the wetsuit making your child cold.

When you are looking to buy a surfing wetsuit for your child, there are several different factors to consider

For parents, buying a surfing wetsuit that fits your child should be the number one priority. Making sure that your child is warm and comfortable will increase their time in the water, improve their development and ramp up the fun factor.

Let’s review the most important things you should consider for your kids surfing wetsuit. I have covered some tips and tricks and answered some of the most common questions.

Read on to find out what a parent should know!

Age Matters When Choosing Kids’ Wetsuits

First of all, when looking for a surfing wetsuit make sure to take into account your child’s age and comfort around the water.

If your child is young and new to the sport their needs will be different compared to a confident swimmer or athletic teenager.

Wetsuits for Under 7 Years old

For kids under 7 Years old, the primary function of a wetsuit is to provide sun protection, warmth and comfort. Very few children at this age are spending long periods of time surfing.

‘Surfing’ for this age group may include, playing in the shallow water, running around with friends, making sand castles, digging holes, eating snacks and possibly some time spent with parents or an instructor trying to catch waves.

For kids under 7, it’s best to lower the expectations around surfing. I would call this the “getting comfortable at the beach” stage so anything goes.

Any wetsuit will do at this age, don’t worry if it is specifically designed for surfing. As long as it fits and keeps them warm enough, it will work for all the beach related activities.

Wetsuits for 8-12 Years of Age

For kids between 8-12 years of age, wetsuits will need be more sport specific because there will be more time spent body boarding, catching waves with an adult (or an instructor) or learning to surf on their own.

At this stage, they will spend more time in the water and be farther away from shore so they should be wearing a wetsuit that is appropriate for the conditions and temperature.

Fit and function will be important at this age and you want to help support your child’s success by making sure they have the right gear.

Wetsuits for Teenagers

For teenagers, finding and fitting wetsuits will be more challenging.

Your teenager may be more picky about brand, style and colour which will make it more challenging as a parent. They may want a specific style that is popular among their friend group or a wetsuit worn by their favourite surfer.

At this age, it is important to set your teenager up for success. If they have a passion for surfing, the right wetsuit will help them stay warm and progress to the next level.

As your teenager starts to improve, they may need a higher end wetsuit with more features. Westuits in the mid-high end of the range are designed for surfers that are spending many hours in the water.

Don’t forget that as teenagers grow they will need to transition from kids to adult sizing to find the right fit. You might also notice a price jump when you start looking for adult wetsuits.

How Do I know if My Kid Needs a Wetsuit?

Kids get cold when they spend a lot of time in the ocean.

Children have poor thermoregulation, which means they don’t regulate temperature very well. Put simply, they can overheat easily and they also get cold easily, which occurs through exposure to ocean water when surfing.

According to a study published by the Gatorade Sports Science Institute and McMaster University, children are more prone to heat loss in cold environments compared to adults. To read more about the study click here.

The key points of the study where as follows:

  • Heat loss in children is particularly apparent in aquatic activities
  • The smaller the child, the faster the cooling rate in water

Put simply, children will get cold faster than adults. Expect your child to be more sensitive to the temperature of the water than you are and chose their wetsuit accordingly.

In summary, unless your child is doing most of their surfing near the equator, they will need a wetsuit for surfing.

How Should a Kids’ Wetsuit Fit?

Children are constantly growing. Sometimes your child may fit a wetsuit at the start of the summer surf season in April or May and be outgrowing it by August or September.

Don’t worry, this is a common challenge for all parents of young surfers.

But don’t ignore the fact that wetsuit fit is very important!

Wetsuits are designed to insulate your child from the cold by trapping a thin layer of water inside the wetsuit that is warmed up by body heat. If your child’s wetsuit is too big it will constantly flush with cold water and it won’t provide any warmth.

The strategy of buying a wetsuit that your child will “grow into” isn’t a good idea. That being said, it is ok if there is a little bit of room.

As you can see in this photo of my daughter, her wetsuit has a little extra room in her legs (rolls of material behind her knees) and arms. That being said, the wetsuits is the correct size and it is about as good a fit as you’ll get at her age (4 years old).

All wetsuit companies have sizing charts so you can check out the correct sizing in advance.

As an example, see Rip Curl’s sizing chart below for reference. Measurements are provided in Imperial and Metric. Rip Curl’s kids/youth sizing chart is the same for boys and girls, which is common for most companies.

What Westsuit Style is Best For Kids?

There are a number of different styles of kids wetsuits but I am going to focus on the three most common styles, which are the Shorty, Full Suit (or Steamer) and Hooded Full Suit and discuss the strengths and weaknesses of each.

To determine the best style of wetsuit for your child, you should consider the following factors; ocean temperature, sun exposure and abrasion resistance (from rashes, rocks and barnacles)

Shorty (or Springsuit)

Full Suit (or Steamer)

Hooded Full Suit

Shorty (or Springsuit)

The Shorty wetsuit, also called Springsuit, is the most popular wetsuit for kids. You will see this style used for a wide range of water sport activities, including swimming, water skiing, tubing and surfing, at rivers, lakes and the ocean.

The Shorty is most commonly used for surfing in climates, where the ocean temperature is above 67 °F (19°C). Shorty wetsuits are easy to get on and off and provides sun protection for your kid’s shoulders, back, chest and thighs.

The Shorty is great for digging in the sand, running in and out of the water, playing at the beach and catching waves.

Full Suit (or Steamer)

The Full Suit (also called a Steamer), has full arms and legs and provides maximum protection from the sun, rocks, barnacles and jelly fish stings. Think of it like a protective outer skin for your child.

The full wetsuit comes in a wide range of colours, styles and wetsuit thicknesses and will provide maximum warmth for your child.

You’ll will probably find that your child will want to keep their wetsuit on long after they finish catching waves.

Hooded Full Suit

The hooded full suit is designed for colder climates and chilly winter days. A wetsuit hood provides insulation and warmth to limit heat loss from the head and neck. As well, attached hoods limit the flushing of water that sometimes occurs around the neck area of wetsuits without a hood.

The attached hood takes a little getting used to so it is more appropriate for older children and teenagers. You may notice that some kids find the attached hood uncomfortable and restrictive.

Keep in mind that wetsuits with attached hoods are more expensive than wetsuits without hoods because they are designed with extra features.

If your child only spends time in the ocean during the summer, you will probably find that an attached hood isn’t necessary for most locations.

How Warm Are Kids’ Wetsuits?

Wetsuits provide warmth so that you can go surfing in the spring, summer, fall and winter season.

One of the best ways to determine the warmth of a wetsuit is by knowing the thickness of the neoprene material. Basically, the thicker the wetsuit, the warmer it will be for your child.

The measurement used to explain wetsuit thickness is expressed in millimetres (mm). In addition, you will notice that wetsuits are advertised with two different thicknesses (ex. 3mm/2mm) where the first number (3mm) is the thickness in the torso and the second number (2mm) is the thickness in the arms and legs.

Some common wetsuit thicknesses are as follows:

  • 5mm/4mm wetsuit (also called a 5/4)
  • 4mm/3mm wetsuit (also called a 4/3)
  • 3mm/2mm wetsuit (also called a 3/2)
  • 2mm wetsuit (also called a 2 mill)

I have created a quick reference table below to help you determine the wetsuit thickness that is appropriate for different ocean temperature ranges. I have also identified if wetsuit accessories, like booties and gloves, are recommend.

Wetsuit ThicknessOcean Temp (°F)Ocean Temp (°C)Accessories
Shorty (1.5mm or 2mm)67 ºF and up19 °C and upN/A
Full Suit (2mm or 3mm/2mm)59°F – 66 ºF15 °C – 19 °CN/A
Full Suit (5mm/4mm, 4mm/3mm )53°F – 60 ºF12 °C – 15 °CBooties, gloves optional
Hooded Full Suit (5mm/4mm)44°F – 55 ºF8 °C – 12 °CBooties, gloves
Hooded Full Suit (6mm/5mm/4mm)39°F – 46 ºF>8 °CBooties, gloves

Also, consider asking for recommendations at your local surf shop. They will let you know what most kids are wearing in the area, which can help you further narrow down your search.

Booties & Gloves for Kids

For colder climates, booties and gloves will keep your child’s hands and feet warm and provide an extra layer of protection.

Booties will provide the most protection because feet are more likely to come in contact with rocks, barnacles and urchins. Booties come in different neoprene thicknesses so you can chose the bootie that is most appropriate for the water temperature.

Booties can sometimes be difficult for small children to put on because their feet are small and booties are very form fitting. Some styles come with a zipper down the side, which makes them easier to take on and off.

Gloves are only recommended for cold climates because they can be challenging for children.

It is difficult to find the correct size glove for small children and they are not very easy to get on and off. Most kids will end up getting frustrated with gloves and you will find that they are more trouble than they are worth.

What Do Kids Wear Under A Wetsuit?

For most kids, the best thing to wear under a wetsuit is a swimsuit or boardshorts. It makes changing easy and your child can get in and out of their wetsuit as many times as they like and they are already dressed for the beach!

If boys find boardshorts uncomfortable because they bunch up inside their wetsuit, try lycra/rash guard under shorts. They are made out of lycra and provide abrasion protection.

It’s not a great idea to wear underwear under kids wetsuits because it’s not the best performing material when it gets wet. Wet underwear may lead to chafing, which is skin irritation caused by friction and moisture.

Going naked is an option as well. It depends on your kid’s age and comfort level. It can make changing more challenging because not every beach has bathrooms or changing facilities. It’s best to go with whatever makes your child most comfortable.

Tips to Help Kids with Wetsuit Entry and Exits

Getting kids in and out of wetsuits, which is also called wetsuit entries and exits, can be one of the funniest experiences. You will often see parents and kids working together, or against each other, to try and get all suited up for surfing.

Here are some of the top tips to help your kid slide in and out of their wetsuits quickly and efficiently.

  • Keep the socks on! – If kids keep their socks on, feet will slide through the leg openings faster without getting hung up. Plastic bags on the feet work as well!
  • Roll the Top Half Down and Start with the Legs – roll the arms and torso inside out and down to the waist. Start by putting on one leg at a time and pull the legs on using the extra rolled up material at the waist. Make sure the bottom half of the suit (knees, legs and crotch) are in place before you start with the top half.
  • Start with a Wet or Damp Wetsuit – it is easier to put on a wet or damp wetsuit compared to a dry one. When a wetsuit is dry, more friction is created especially if you kid is a bit sweaty (or coated in sunscreen).
  • Lycra or Rashguard undergarments – wearing undergarments, like a rash guard t-shirt or lycra rash guard shorts will help wetsuits to slide on faster and easier.

Do Wetsuits Help Kids’ Float?

Although wetsuits provide a small amount of flotation assistance, they will not take the place of a life jacket or Personal Flotation Device (PFD).

Shorty wetsuits and thinner full suits that are less than 3mm thick won’t provide much flotation at all. Thicker wetsuits like 4mm or 5mm, provide some flotation but you won’t really notice it until your child is in deeper water.

Simple rule of thumb: the thicker the wetsuit, the more it floats.

For smaller kids playing near the shore where the water isn’t very deep, the wetsuit benefits are warmth, sun protection and comfort rather than flotation.

Do not rely on the wetsuit flotation if your child can’t swim or isn’t comfortable around the water.

Consider having your kid wear a life jacket or PFD over their wetsuit. That way your kid will be warm in their wetsuit with the added safety of a life jacket or PFD.

If you want to read more about wearing PFD’s, click on the link to be redirected to an article I wrote titled, Wearing a Life Jacket or PFD When Surfing.

Any Coast Guard approved life jacket or PFD properly sized for your child will increase your child’s comfort and confidence.

There are some brands that have developed PFD’s that are designed for surfing and other related water sports with extra safety handles.

Check out the Video below about the StokeVest by SafeGrom.

Buying a New or Used Wetsuit for Your Child

Kids are constantly growing, which means that you will always be looking for the next wetsuit size because they will probably only fit a particular wetsuit size for one season.

It can get expensive for parents to be constantly buying new wetsuits for young surfers. That being said, there are lots of great deals on new wetsuits if you shop around and second hand kids wetsuits are usually half the price and in good condition because they are only lightly used.

To make it easier for you, I have summarized some of the most common places to find new and used wetsuits for your kid.

Buying New Kids’ Wetsuits

The cost of buying a new wetsuit every year for your child can add up over time, but the good news is that there are lots of inexpensive options.

The price ranges for different styles will vary based on brand, thickness and features.

  • The price range for a new Shorty wetsuit for your child is about $30-$90.
  • The price range for a new Full Suit for your child is about $80-$200.
  • The price range for a new Hooded Full Suit is about $150-$300.

I have summarized some of the different ways to save money when buying new kids wetsuits below.

  1. Wetsuit Trade-In Program through Your Local Surf Shop – if you live near a Surf Shop, ask if they have a wetsuit trade-in program for kids. Typical discounts range from 10-25% off a new wetsuit when you trade in your kids lightly used wetsuit when you purchase a new one.
  2. Buy Last Years Model – Another tip for saving money when buying kids wetsuits (or adult) at a local surf shop or water sports store is to buy the model from the year before. If you poke around the sale racks, you can usually find older stock at discounted prices.
  3. Shop online – Although I favor supporting local surf shops, kids’ wetsuits are available online through many different websites. You can order directly from surf companies (like Rip Curl or O’Neill), surf shops selling online (like Cleanline Surf or Real Watersports) or wetsuit retailers (like Wetsuit Wearhouse or Water Sports Outlet). If you shop around you can find great deals and competitive prices.

If you want to check out some of the top picks for kids wetsuits, click on the link to go to Recommended Gear page.

Buying Used Kids Wetsuits

Buying a used wetsuit for your kid is a great way to save money as they are usually 1/2 the price of a new wetsuit. Used kids wetsuits are usually lightly used because kids grow out of them so quickly.

Some of the different places to find used kids wetsuits are as follows:

  1. The Used Rack at Your Local Surf Shop – if you live near a Surf Shop, stop by and check out the used wetsuit rack. There are usually several kids wetsuits on the rack and if you are lucky they may have the right size for your child. Surf shops with wetsuit trade in programs will usually have more used wetsuits for sale.
  2. Surfing Wetsuit Rental Shop/Surf Schools – If you live near a surf wetsuit rental shop or surf school, enquire whether they have an annual “sell off” of rental wetsuits. I live near a rental shop that sells rental wetsuits every year and you can always find a good deal if you aren’t picky about colour or brand.
  3. Shop the local online Classifieds – You would be surprised how many used wetuits are for sale on online classifieds like Craigslist. Make sure to do a little research in advance and know your child’s size beforehand. Look for wetsuits in good shape without any rips or tears or broken zippers.

Repairing Kids Wetsuits

Surfing is an active sport so it is totally expected that wetsuits will get damaged. Fixing minor rips and tears is actually simpler than it seems. With a small amount of effort and the necessary supplies, which includes wetsuit cement and an iron on patch kit, you will be able to take on repairs of all sizes.

Wetsuit Cement

Iron on Wetsuit Patch Kit

If you are looking for instructions to help you take on small wetsuit repairs, click on the link to check out the article I wrote on Wetsuit Repair: A Helpful Step by Step Guide (with photos)

As well, if you are looking for my top picks for wetsuit cement and iron neoprene patch kit, click on the link to go to the Recommended Gear page.

Cleaning & Storing Kids’ Wetsuits

Cleaning and caring for wetsuits regularly will reduce wear and increase longevity.

Do not put them in the washer or dryer or dry them in direct sunlight or hang them close to a heating unit, stove or an open fire.

After every session, it is recommended to rinse wetsuits with fresh water and hang them to dry out of direct sunlight.

Once in a while you should rinse them in a bucket with wetsuit shampoo or a very mild soap.

After they are dry, you can store them in a cool, dry place. Some people will tell you not to leave them on a hanger for long periods of time because they will stretch out or create creases, however I hang mine and they are fine.

It is totally acceptable to store wetsuits on hangers, just fold them in half over a thick plastic hanger (not a thin wire hanger).

In Conclusion:

If you want to support your budding young shredder, keeping them warm with the right gear will help them focus on getting better and having fun.

It doesn’t matter if it is a new wetsuit or a used wetsuit, it just needs to fit.

If you put in a little bit of effort, you would be surprised how easy it is to find their next wetsuit at a reasonable price.

If you end up with a surf stoked kid, you’ll spend a lot of time at the beach and the rest of the time searching for the next great wetsuit deal!

Good luck wetsuit hunting, parents!

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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