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Wetsuits

Wetsuits are relatively inexpensive neoprene suits that are typically used where the water temperature is between 10 and 25°C (50 and 77°F). The foamed neoprene of the suit thermally insulates the wearer.

Wetsuits are often worn for many water sport activities such as surfing, windsurfing, triathlon, diving or just for splashing around. A "wetsuit" is a garment typically made of neoprene foam which insulates against the chill of cold water. They are often used by divers, surfers, snorkelers, and kayakers.

Some wetsuits of late have even begun to incorporate Merino wool and titanium fibers to add warmth, while keeping the thickness of the suit to a minimum.

Try out a brand-new wetsuit in the pool before using it in open water. Even with a wetsuit you already own, wear it for a few pool practices before you swim in open water. The pool provides a safe and comfortable environment to adjust for the way the wetsuit changes your feel for the water and body position. However, check with the manufacturer first to make sure the chemicals in the pool won't deteriorate the wetsuit material.

History

There is some controversy over who invented the wetsuit. Most say it was Jack O'Neill who started using neoprene, which he found lining the floor of an airliner, to make a simple vest. He went on to found the successful wetsuit manufacturer, O'Neill.

Bob and Bill Meistrell, two kids from Manhattan Beach, California, claim to have started experimenting with neoprene around 1953. Their company would later be named Body Glove.

Wikipedia says that Hugh Bradner, a University of California, Berkeley physicist invented the modern wetsuit in 1952.

Wetsuits became available in the mid-1950s and evolved as the relatively fragile foamed neoprene was first backed, and later sandwiched, with thin sheets of tougher material such as Nylon or later Lycra/Spandex.

Improvements in the way joints in the wetsuit were made by gluing, taping and blindstitching, helped the suit to remain waterproof and reduce flushing, the replacement of water trapped between suit and body by cold water from the outside. Further improvements in the seals at the neck, wrists, ankles and zippers produced a suit known as a "semi dry".

How a Wetsuit Keeps You Warm

Water conducts heat away from the body approximately 25 times more efficiently than air, so an unprotected swimmer could succumb to hypothermia even in warm water on a warm day.

Wetsuits work by trapping a layer of water in-between your skin and the neoprene of the suit. Your body then warms the water providing thermal protection.

Wetsuits are made out of closed-cell, foam neoprene, a synthetic rubber that contains small bubbles of nitrogen gas when made for use as wetsuit material. Nitrogen gas has very low thermal conductivity, so it reduces heat from the body (or the water trapped between the body and the wetsuit) from being lost to the water outside of the wetsuit.

Warm Water Layer

A wetsuit allows a small amount of water into the suit, but traps this thin layer of water between the skin and the neoprene, and the body heat then warms it. The neoprene insulates the warm water layer against the surrounding cold water. The wetsuit must fit close to make the suit work efficiently, as too loose a fit will simply allow the warmed water to flush away and be replaced by cold water. The suit loses buoyancy and thermal protection as the neoprene is compressed at depth.

Although water can enter the suit, a tight fitting suit prevents excessive heat loss because little of the water warmed inside the suit escapes from the suit.

Thickness Matters

Wetsuits come in different thicknesses (usually measured in millimeters), depending on the conditions for which it is intended, with the lighter weights to be worn in warmer water. The thicker the suit, the warmer it will keep the wearer. A wetsuit is normally described in terms of its thickness. For instance, a wetsuit with a torso thickness of 5 mm and a limb thickness of 3 mm will be described as a "5/3".

A thick suit is stiff, so mobility is restricted. The insulating Neoprene can only be made to a certain thickness before it becomes impractical to don and wear. The thickest commercially-available wetsuits are usually 10mm thick. Other common thicknesses are 7mm, 5mm, 3mm, and 1mm. A 1mm suit provides very little warmth and is usually considered a dive skin, rather than a wetsuit.

Snug and Warm

A modern wetsuit is mostly made from thin neoprene, which provides limited thermal protection, and lined with a nylon fabric to strengthen it and to make it easy to put on and take off. Some newer wetsuits, usually marketed as "superflex", contain spandex in addition to neoprene to allow the suit to stretch (the panels of a wetsuit of this type typically contain 15-20% Spandex). This counteracts neoprene's tendency to shrink with age and also allows the wearer to grow slightly without making the suit uncomfortable.

Proper Fit

When purchasing a wetsuit its essential that it has a good fit. Proper fit is critical for warmth.

A suit that is too loose won't keep you warm, as it allows too much water to circulate over your skin, robbing body heat. Flexible seals at the suit cuffs aid in the water retention.

A suit that is too tight is very uncomfortable, will seriously restrict your movement, and can impair circulation at the neck which is a very dangerous condition that can cause blackouts.

For these reasons, some divers and surfers choose to have their wetsuits custom-tailored instead of buying them "off-the-rack." Many companies offer this service and the cost is often comparable to an off-the-rack suit.

Buoyancy

Neoprene has the quality of being a somewhat buoyant fabric, helping swimmers to better stay afloat. The thicker the material, the greater the added buoyancy.

Divers calculate extra weight values based on the thickness of their suit to achieve neutral buoyancy underwater. The suit loses buoyancy and thermal protection as the bubbles in the neoprene are compressed at depth.

Rash Vests

Whatever suit style you decide on, we also suggest getting a "rash vest" to wear under your suit if you are going to be moving around a lot, otherwise you get wet suit "hickies" on your neck, armpits and other areas of high movement and tight fit.

These swim shirts are made of a soft material which you could wear all day long, not just for surfing and swimming, but also on land on their own or under your hoodie.