Why you Shouldn’t Surf in a Diving Wetsuit (Explained)

The wetsuit. The old pee sleeve. The seal skin tuxedo. Whatever you call it, it is an essential part of surfing for many locations around the world. Wetsuits keep you warm so you can surf all year round and comfortably enjoy those tasty winter swells.

You can technically surf in a diving wetsuit but it’s not optimal, whilst it will keep you warm it lacks many of the surf-specific benefits of a surfing wetsuit such as flexibility, range of motion, knee pads and chest zip.

Wetties aren’t the cheapest things in the world so hitting two birds with one stone in the price department could be a big plus. But diving wetsuits and surfing wetsuits aren’t as similar as one might think…

Can you Surf in a Diving Wetsuit?

You can surf in a tuxedo if you really want but it’s not what it’s designed for – something made to do one job super good will always be better then something made to two jobs half baked.

So that’s the thing, a diving wetsuit can work for surfing, but a suit made specifically for surfing will have a plethora of surf-specific features you’ll find useful.

You shouldn’t surf in a diving suit for a few reasons:

1. Flexibility

The big one being flexibility. You need to have a full range of movement while surfing and dive suits just aren’t as flexible, plain and simple.

Scuba divers use there legs and fins to propel themselves through the water and thus rarely use their arms to paddle, hence why diving wetsuits lack the flexibility around the shoulders.

You will be warm but feel constricted while paddling, popping up and riding waves.

Surfing wetsuits on the other hand are designed to be extremely flexible around the shoulders to make these movements that much easier.

3. Zipper Placement

Another important difference between diving and surfing wetsuits is the placement of the zipper.

Diving wetsuits, usually have the zipper on the front, this prevents the scuba tank from pressing on the zipper and pushing it into your back. If you’re surfing with the zipper on the front of your wetsuit, then it will be really uncomfortable lying on it, and this can also lead to scratching up your surfboard.

Surfing wetsuits on the other hand have the zipper on the back of the suit because you spend most of your time lying prone on your surfboard – this is way more comfortable and eliminates the risk of zipper scratches.

4. Lack of Padding

Dive suits also are not reinforced in the same areas as surfing wetsuits. Surfers use their knees to duck dive a lot so many surfing suits will have knee pads that diving suits won’t.

5. Ease of Putting On

Because dive suits aren’t as flexible they are also more difficult to put on. This can be quite annoying when the waves are pumping and all you want to do is get out there and shred, but instead you’re stuck for an extra 5 min in a neoprene prison.

So, in my opinion, it would be best to get a wetsuit for each hobby. Get a great wetsuit made for surfing that will do that job really well and do the same for diving.

How A Wetsuit Works

 A wetsuit is essentially a neoprene body glove that lets water in. You might be thinking “wait a second, how does it keep me warm if water gets in?”. Well my dear little friends that’s exactly how it keeps you warm.

The wettie traps water inside and your body heat warms it up. The wetsuit is like insulation not letting the heat escape keeping you nice and toasty warm.

  • A wet suit is measured in mm.
  • The thicker the suit the warmer it is.
  • If a suit says its 3/2 that means the chest core area is 3mm thick while the arms and legs are 2mm.
  • So a 4/3 is warmer then a 3/2 because it uses thicker layers of neoprene.
  • 3/2 is good for summer and fall while you want to use a 4/3 or 5/4 for the winter months.

The same principle applies for all wetsuits, whether they’re made for surfing, diving or underwater basket weaving.

Are Diving and Surfing Wetsuits the Same?

No diving and surfing wetsuits are not the same. Both are built to serve different purposes.

A surfing’s wetsuits purpose is to keep us warm while riding waves, this happens on the surface. And diving wetsuits are designed to keep us warm while diving, this happens below the surface of the water at depth.

This affects both types of suit construction in different ways:

Surfing is a physical activity that happens, for the most part above the surface of the water. Now, why is this important? One, it’s very physical.

This means that it is more desired to have a suit constructed out of flexible, stretchy neoprene, that can move and flow with all the movements of the body. So a surfing suit will aim to be stretchy and flexible in all the key joint areas.

So why does it matter that surfing occurs on the water’s surface?

This allows suits manufacturers to construct suits that at depth would compress. Because when diving the deeper you go the higher the water pressure becomes.

So a stretchy suit that’s the same thickness as a stiffer suit at the surface will compress down at depth becoming not as warm.

That’s why movement in dive suits is restricted. It’s more important to be warm at depth, and the sacrificed mobility isn’t that big of a deal because you aren’t moving much at all.

The difference that makes a surfing suit stretchy and a diving suit stiffer is in the construction of the neoprene and nylon that covers the inside and out of the suit.

The neoprene itself can be the same, but dive suits generally have a denser neoprene blend. This density adds some durability as it is less easy to tear, but, chiefly the more dense stuff retains its characteristics after repeated compressions.

The real difference is in the nylon or other fabric weave that is layered over the neoprene on the inside and outside.

The strength, thickness, and resistance to abrasion and tearing are what really set dive suits apart.

Surfers really only come into contact with equipment (a board) in a couple places (butt, chest) so most of a surf suit can be light on the nylon layer cause there aren’t a lot of rough edges to rip and tear at fragile neoprene.

This light stretchy layer gives surf suits more stretch. Stretch is good if you’re a surfer, but not so important for the relatively more sedate motions of divers in their element.

Dive suits on the other hand have burlier nylon because they have to contend with belts, buckles, boat gunwales, backplates, straps, etc etc.

Your typical surf suit will be beaten up from 50 dives. Supposedly dive suits also have more attention paid to the seals at the neck, wrist, and ankles.

How Tight Should a Wetsuit be for Surfing?

Wetsuit shopping may possibly be the only thing worse than normal shopping. Ok once you know your size it’s fun, but even then some suits have different length arms and legs depending on the brand so you might still have to try them on. And trying on 3 or 4 different suits, dry, is a hot ball ache to say the least.

So what are you looking for when trying on a suit? How tight should it be? And how tight is too tight?

According to WetsuitWearhouse.com “Surfing wetsuits should be close fitting but not so tight that you cannot breathe deeply.  Check the neck and cuff areas as these need to remain tight so that the insulating layer of water is retained. The wetsuit should be form-fitting without any loose or baggy areas.”

  • Too tight, and trust me you’ll feel it, and you won’t be able to move and just be generally uncomfortable.
  • Too loose and it won’t keep you warm as water will be flowing in and out. You might have to try on a few different brands and sizes but once you know your size you are good to go.

The key areas to check are your crotch, arms and legs and back.

A good suit shouldn’t leave too much room in the crotch area. Make sure the suit is pulled up in between your legs and snug.

Some wetsuits have the option for extra-long arms and legs if you’re taller, but the main thing to look for is that the suit clings to them nicely and isn’t loose. A wetsuit that doesn’t fit properly can leave folds and bubbles in the lower back area. This can cause discomfort and won’t be as warm.

What are the Best Wetsuits for Surfing?

Could write a book on this right here I done tell ya. There are a plethora of brands, types, technologies and gimmicks. What’s best for you depends on how much you’re willing to spend and how much you’ll use your suit.

There are 3 main types of zipper options: back zip, chest zip, and zipperless. Back zip is the classic and least expensive option. While chest zip and zipless will be a little pricey. Chest zip heave less seams and let less water in but can be harder to get on.

Speaking of seams. The higher the  technology and fancy words the company uses to describe them seems the more you pay. But in layman’s terms you can choose welded seams or not welded.

Welded seams are welded over with a liquid neoprene to keep water out.

Many wetsuits have different materials on the inside of the neoprene especially in the core area as added insulation.

This will keep you warmer and makes for great suits. Classically suits were lined with nylon for extra insulation but now brands use many different materials and each has their own formula.

The most popular wetsuit brands are:

  • Billabong
  • Bodyglove
  • Quicksilver
  • Xcel
  • Patagonia
  • Roxy.

There are many more but these are the top dogs.

More a more indepth explanation and deep dive into wet suit construction visit https://360guide.info/wetsuits/complete-wetsuit-guide.html?Itemid=58

When it comes down to it the best wetsuit is one that keeps you warm and comfortable.