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The Basics and Fundamentals of Wetsuits

History of Wetsuits

Wetsuits have a fascinating history that dates back to the early 1950s. An innovative Australian surfer named Jack O’Neill began experimenting with neoprene fabric to stay warm in the chilly waters of Northern California. He eventually developed the first modern wetsuit, made from neoprene foam with a zipper up the front. This groundbreaking invention revolutionized surfing and other water sports, allowing surfers to stay in the water for longer periods without getting cold. Over the years, wetsuits have been continuously improved, resulting in a wide variety of styles, materials, and thicknesses to meet diverse needs.

Types of Wetsuits

There are several types of wetsuits designed for different activities and water temperatures:

  1. Full-Length Wetsuits: Covering the entire body from neck to ankles, these are ideal for cold water activities such as surfing, scuba diving, and swimming.
  2. Shorty Wetsuits: Offering more flexibility, these suits cover only the torso and arms, making them perfect for warm water activities like snorkeling or wakeboarding.
  3. Specialty Wetsuits: Tailored for specific activities such as triathlon or free diving, these suits often feature unique designs and materials to enhance performance.
  4. Material-Enhanced Wetsuits: Some wetsuits are made with special materials to improve insulation or buoyancy in the water.

Wetsuit Fabrics

Wetsuits are made from a variety of fabrics, each with its unique properties and benefits:

  • Neoprene: The most common material, known for excellent insulation, durability, flexibility, and comfort.
  • Nylon: Lightweight and breathable but not as durable as neoprene.
  • Lycra: Offers excellent flexibility but may not provide as much warmth.
  • Polyester: More durable than neoprene but lacks the same level of insulation.
  • Spandex: Provides a snug fit but may not be as warm or breathable as other materials.

Wetsuit Features

Wetsuits come with various features that affect their performance:

  • Neoprene Thickness: Influences warmth, flexibility, and buoyancy. Thicker neoprene provides more warmth but may be more restrictive.
  • Closure Systems: Options include zippers, Velcro straps, and pull tabs, affecting ease of use and water resistance.
  • Seams: Can be glued, blind-stitched, or taped for varying levels of water resistance.
  • Additional Features: Some wetsuits include hoods, pockets, and other features for added functionality.

How Should a Wetsuit Fit?

A wetsuit should fit like a second skin, with no sagging in the back or excessive bunching in the arms or legs. The fit should be tight enough to keep only a thin layer of water between your body and the suit, preventing excessive water flushing through, which reduces warmth.

Fit Tips:

  • Neck Fit: The suit should fit snugly around your neck to prevent water ingress. Many people wear a rash guard underneath to prevent neck rash.
  • Women’s Fit: Most women wear a swimsuit underneath for extra protection and support.
  • Brand-Specific Sizing: Consulting brand-specific size charts is crucial for finding the correct fit.

Wetsuit Fit Checklist:

  1. No Excess Room: Ensure there is no excess room in the torso, crotch, shoulders, or knees.
  2. Difficult to Put On: A proper fitting wetsuit should be challenging to put on when dry (Pro Tip: Keep your socks on to make it easier to slide your feet in).
  3. Arm Movement: Once on, lift your arms over your head and stretch out your shoulders. This should feel only slightly restrictive.
  4. Mobility: You should be able to squat down and move your arms easily (thicker suits like 5/4mm are inherently more restrictive).
  5. Body Type: Each brand fits differently; ensure you shop for your body type.

By understanding the history, types, fabrics, features, and fit of wetsuits, you can make an informed decision to find the perfect wetsuit for your needs. Whether you’re surfing, diving, or engaging in any water sport, the right wetsuit will enhance your performance and comfort in the water.

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