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Wetsuits

Sunday, 12 October 2008

A wetsuit makes water sports a year-round possibility. And there are a lot of options ñ from basic to high tech ñ all geared toward keeping you warm while you surf, ski, snorkel or sail.

   BUYING TIPS

The Basics

  • The type of wetsuit you choose depends when and where you take a dip:

    • A shortie, usually made from 2mm neoprene, only covers the torso, upper legs and upper arms (or is sleeveless), and is good in water 21°C/70°F or warmer.

    • A three-quarter length, usually made in a 3/2 mm neoprene, covers more of the legs and/or arms, and can be used in water temperatures between 18-24°C/65-75°F.

    • A full suit, made from 4/3 or 5/3 mm neoprene, has full-length legs and arms and is designed for water under 18°C/65°F. You can also add booties, mitts and a hood to give you even more warmth.

  • Wetsuits need to fit snug:

    • They shouldn't be so tight you can’t move freely, but there should be no baggy areas.

    • If the suit comes away from your body, especially by your kidneys where there’s high blood flow, you can have areas vulnerable to cold.

    • For very cold water, you need a tight fitting neck to avoid a cold blast of water rolling down your back.

  • Seams are also important to consider:

    • Most wetsuits are sewn together using a flat lock stitch, which means the needle went all the way through the material and allows water to seep through the holes – not a big deal in warmer climes.

    • For colder waters, look for glued and blind stitched seams, in which the needle only went half way through the fabric.

    • The latest technology, fluid-welded seams have a silicone material welded to the outside of the fabric to create a totally waterproof barrier.

Other Considerations

  • Some suits have activity-dependent features. For example:

    • Windsurfing suits have extra padding in the knees.

    • Surf suits have extra padding in the belly/chest and upper thigh area.

  • For more arm movement, look for a wetsuit with a super-stretch neoprene under the arms for extra flexibility. Super-stretch neoprene isn’t as strong so it won’t usually last as long.

   TEST CRITERIA

We recruited some pros to help us test these suits while waterskiing and windsurfing:

  • Pro Limit (full, 4/3 mm): $299
  • O’Neill (full, 4/3 mm with super-stretch neoprene): $450
  • Body Glove (shortie, 2/1mm sleeveless suit): $42
  • Rip Curl (shortie, 2 mm): $129

Our tests and results include:

Warmth Test

  • The O’Neill was the warmest of the long suits.

Comfort Test

  • The Pro Limit fit well and was comfortable.

  • For windsurfing, the sleeveless Body Glove provided maximum flexibility and felt like a second skin.

  • The Rip Curl was popular for its practicality: short sleeves provide versatility with and warmth, plus more coverage from the sun.

   OUR TOP PICK

Much depends on your water sport and climate, but for us fair-weather amateur water athletes, Rip Curl’s short-sleeved shortie helped cut the chill.

   Thanks to Our Experts

  • Marc Fuller, international surfing instructor
  • Rod Frew, windsurfer
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