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How to find the right wetsuit

Our team at the Wavehunters and the lovely folks at Shop on the Beach, both located on the beach slipway, tell us everything you need to know about finding the right wetsuit – and these watermen and women should know.

A man rides a wave on a surfboard at Watergate Bay

The right fit

Love them or hate them, wetsuits are an essential piece of kit for getting in the sea in Cornwall. But with today’s technology, being cold in the water shouldn’t be a problem.

Unlike a drysuit, a wetsuit is designed to get wet; trapping the water between your skin and the neoprene fabric and using body heat to warm up. This is why it’s so important that your wetsuit is tight-fitting – a loose wetsuit will continually ‘flush’ through with cold sea-water and your surf session will become a battle against the elements instead of a fun hour or two in the water.

Two surfers in the sunset at Watergate Bay

1. What time of year are you in the water?

There is not one wetsuit that is suitable for all conditions. A summer wetsuit – typically 3/2mm in thickness and worn from May until October – will not keep you warm in winter, and a winter wetsuit – typically 4/5mm in thickness and worn from November until April – will cause you to sweat and overheat in summer. For someone who wants a longer summer season, then a 4/3mm may be useful.

People are often surprised that Easter is still winter in terms of sea temperature,” says Hannah at Shop on the Beach. “Whilst you may still be warm enough in early December in a good quality summer suit, by January (and realistically until mid-May), anything less than a winter suit will mean you won’t want to stay in the water for too long.

A surfer rides a wave

2. But I’m only playing in the sea with the kids, won’t a shorty do?

It really depends on your budget and your activity in the water. If you’re not moving around much, it’s worth considering something a little warmer than the basic flatloc-seamed suit – especially if you’ve stopped growing.

Moving on from this, Shop on the Beach recommends a suit that has been glued and blind-stitched (GBS) as they are stronger, less likely to flush through and more flexible, so more comfortable to paddle or swim in.
“Fundamentally the more you spend on a wetsuit, the warmer and more flexible it will be,” says Hannah. “There is no reason why a total novice shouldn’t wear the best suit in the shop if their budget allows, but that isn’t to say that a basic or mid-range suit isn’t the ideal one for your needs, and that’s why we’re here to help.”

Catching a small wave

3. What sort of suit does my child need?

If you’re hiring your suits from the Extreme Acadmey, the team will ensure your child gets the right fit each time they visit. Shop on the Beach are also very accustomed to fitting children for their own suits, and understand that they need room to grow.

“Generally, a suit that fits well in the body and across the shoulders and hips, but is a bit long in the crotch and arms and legs will allow for sufficient growth without compromising the warmth.
“A shorty that fits like a boiler-suit (so is baggy all over) will keep the sun off and block the wind and might be great for avid rock-pool explorers, but won’t keep the child warm if they’re bodyboarding or swimming.”

Again, budget and use are important factors. A local child who has joined the surf lifesaving club may well consider investing in a warmer GBS suit, whereas a summer visitor may just require a flatloc stitched shorty or full suit.

Mark Harris rides a wave

4. How long will my wetsuit last?

As with anything, it depends how much you use your wetsuit. But here are things you can do to prolong its life

Top tips on looking after your wetsuit

Always rinse out your wetsuit at the end of the day. Cold water will do – you should NEVER put it in a washing machine.

Avoid urinating in your wetsuit, especially if you have GBS seams. Apart from the fact it makes you smell terrible, urine kills the glue in the seams!

Dry your suit inside out and away from direct sunlight which will degrade the material, make it stiff and fade it over time. Finished surfing for the summer? Store your wetsuit hanging up over when not in use as creases made by folding the suit will never disappear.

Use a plastic bag over each foot first when putting your wetsuit on. It makes it easier to get your foot through and also stops your heel stretching and ultimately tearing the leg of the wetsuit. A plastic bag over hands and feet can really help small children to get into their wetsuit more easily and comfortably. Trust us!

NEVER pull your suit up by the rubber chest and back panels – fingernails can tear the rubber.

Two girls standing on the cliff overlooking the waves with surfboards in hand

The guys and gals at the Extreme Academy and Shop on the Beach are always happy to run through the options when hiring or buying a suit, and can advise on the best suit for your needs. Just ask!

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