Courtesy of Sam Guest from Tantrum Kitesurf, Tarifa – of whom you have heard a great deal from me and who is a contributor on our site, I can now bring you some sane and clear information about what to look for when buying a wetsuit… and colour has nothing to do with it!
“Wetsuits are an essential bit of kit for any serious kitesurfer and will be something you would be well advised to know a bit about before you splash your cash. We’ll have a look at some of the differences between wetsuits and what you should be looking for in a wetsuit to go kitesurfing with…
The thickness of a wetsuit is an indicator of how warm it is. Most wetsuits designed for surface water-sports will go up to a maximum thickness of 5mm (any more than this and flexibility is impeded). Wetsuits designed for diving will be considerably thicker as warmth is more of a consideration and flexibility less when you’re under the ocean. So if you find an 8mm wetsuit, its probably not for kitesurfing, though it will be super warm!
Wetsuit thickness is often given by 2 numbers, though sometimes 3 are used. So for example a winter wetsuit will be described as a 5/3 while a summer shorty may be a 2/1. These figures relate to the thickness of the wetsuit (in mm) over various parts of the body. The first figure is the thickness of the suit over your core, i.e. your chest and stomach. As this is the part of your body that contains all your vital organs the suit is designed to keep this part of you warmest. The second figure relates to the thickness of the suit over your extremities, in this case your arms and legs. If a third figure is given then this will generally relate to the part of the suit that covers your lower arms and lower legs. So a 5/3/2 suit would have 5mm material over the core, 3mm over the upper arms and legs and 2mm over the lower legs and forearms.
So what thickness suit will you need?
In Europe the general rule in winter is … get a winter suit. That is a long wetsuit of 5/3 thickness, this will keep you warm whether you’re kitesurfing in Spain or Scotland. In Scotland you probably won’t be doing much kitesurfing in the winter but if you were you would wear one of these, along with gloves, boots, coif etc, etc..!
In the summer along the Mediterranean you can get away with a 2/1 short wetsuit (i.e. a suit without lower legs and forearms) or if your lucky no wetsuit at all, just board shorts! Summer in the North of Europe could see you going out in your 5/3 but most people tend to have a slightly thinner 3/2 spring suit (still full length) that they will wear while the weather is more clement. Only the brave wear a shorty in the North…or have I just been in Spain too long?!
There are two main types of wetsuit, double lined and single lined. Double lined wetsuits are more resistant to wear and tear and slightly warmer, you can spot them by the canvas look of the wetsuit. Single lined wetsuits are more flexible and have much better resistance to the wind, but are damaged more easily, these suits look more like batman suits and have a more plastic/rubber feel to them. A lot of suits have a combination of these materials, typically being single lined around the core and double lined towards the extremities.
When actually buying a suit you should look for one that is specifically designed for kitesurfing or windsurfing, The cut of the panels and the use of extra flex in certain parts makes a great deal of difference to how the wetsuit feels when worn. A surfing wetsuit for example will often have a great deal of flex around the shoulders to aid paddling out. By buying a kitesurfing specific wetsuit you can ensure it has been designed with kitesurfing in mind as has the appropriate flex built in.
The fit of the wetsuit is very important and a suit that doesn’t fit you will not keep you warm. When you try a suit on in the shop it should be tight over your whole body, (get out the vaseline!!) don’t worry they will naturally stretch a bit when wet to give you more flexibility. If you feel the suit pulling your body too much out of shape, ie rolling your shoulders forwards its probably too small, likewise any flapping bits of material and the suit is too large. It should feel tight but not impossibly so. Don’t be tempted to rush in a buy a suit that nearly fits because its in a bargain…it may be a bargain, but its a bargain for somebody else! A wetsuit is a very important bit of kit and you will be very grateful of it come the cold evenings when you get off the water late, better to spend a bit more and get the right one rather than try and skimp and end up freezing every time you go out!”
There are many different makes of wetsuits out there, O’Neill, the following video, being one of them, and always bear in mind what Sam says: “it’s better to spend a bit more and get the the right one than skimp…”
Sam, thanks for your comments.