July 4, 2022

Surfing Wetsuits

History, personal experience, and secrets of manufacturers

Story

Jack O’Neill is believed to be the inventor of the surfing suit

Digging into the truth, it turns out that in the early 1950s, three different people invented neoprene body insulation almost simultaneously.

Still, Jack managed to “sell” the idea by making a neoprene surfing suit.

Jack lived in San Francisco, worked, and went surfing and body surfing in his spare time.

He liked to run to the beach at lunchtime, catch a couple of flippers, and then happily return to the office. In one interview, he described how his sales career ended:

“I was selling building aluminum. I met with engineers and architects – those who build buildings. It was in a time long before the advent of computers, so drawings and plans were then made by hand, and copying them was difficult and time-consuming. So, one day after my lunchtime surfing, at a meeting with an original drawing, and a massive puddle at a meeting with an acliente of ocean water poured out of my nose. I was fired the next day. “

After this incident, Jack decided to open a surf shop, buy materials, and start making boards.

But besides the surfboards, he was worried about another question

In San Francisco, the water is icy, so local surfers went to great lengths to ride a little longer than 10-15 minutes.

For example, they put on several thick woolen sweaters soaked in oil. But such thermal insulation was still enough for a maximum of half an hour.

So Jack started experimenting with different materials: he made vests with plastic, Foam and eventually found neoprene.

By the way! The correct name for the chemical material is polychloroprene, and the word “neoprene” was coined by marketers from the American chemical company DuPont.

Jack O’Neill has developed several different neoprene wetsuits and has used his children as advertising: he dressed them in wetsuits at themed exhibitions and put them in an ice bath.

On the inside of his wetsuits was the inscription: “It’s always summer inside.”

What are the types of wetsuits?

All wetsuits fall into two broad categories: dry and wet

So it is indicated whether water gets under the wetsuit or not.

Dry wetsuits are needed for particularly extreme arctic conditions, they are made using a unique technology, and they come complete with gloves, boots, and a hood.

For moderately cold water, a “wet” wetsuit is enough – a small amount of water gets under it, which is evenly distributed over the body, heats up, and creates a layer of thermal insulation.

It, of course, does not mean that the water must necessarily be inside the “wet” wetsuit.

The thermal conductivity of air is 23 times lower than water, so any wetsuit is warmer if it is dry inside, but this isn’t easy and not justified in cases where hydric work well with water.

The next level of difference is the thickness of the neoprene; it can be from 0.5 to 6 mm, the thicker, the warmer.

The problem is that in addition to the increase in thermal insulation properties, as the neoprene thickens, its elasticity decreases.

For surfers, this is important because, in the water, they need to move constantly, and a fat wetsuit resists these movements

To achieve the optimal balance of warmth and comfort, wetsuits began to be sewn from patches of different thicknesses: on the torso, where heat is more important, the neoprene is thicker than on the arms and legs, where mobility is essential.

The thickness of the wetsuit is often written directly on the neoprene on the inside or the sleeve, but sometimes only on the label

If it is the same everywhere, in one number, if the wetsuit is made of different flaps, then the numbers are indicated in the order of the torso/legs/arms (for example, 4/3/2) if the sleeves and legs are the same in thickness, the description is limited to two numbers.

Also, wetsuits differ in length: the lightest ones look like swimsuits, they are usually the thinnest, needed for mild conditions, for example, when the water is not cold, the sun is shining, but a calm wind is blowing.

There are wetsuits with sleeves, but with short legs (in the women’s version, without any legs), or vice versa, with long pants, but without sleeves.

The warmest is full wetsuits covering the body to the ankles and wrists.

Technological features

Neoprene owes its thermal insulation properties to its structure: it is an elastic synthetic fine-pored material with many microscopic bubbles inside it

These bubbles can be filled with ordinary air or nitrogen gas; in the latter case, the material’s thermal conductivity is even lower, which means the thermal insulation is better.

Then I give the floor to Egor Stepanizhov, co-founder and creative director of ANKER Company.

Egor is responsible for the technical part of the production of wetsuits and kindly shared with me the secrets of the inner kitchen:

About cut

“Women’s models receive a lot of attention because, for men, the primary function of a wetsuit is, while for women, it should still be beautiful and sexy.

Moreover, it is universal in cut since everyone has different shapes, and the suit should fit equally well for everyone

When choosing a wetsuit, we always recommend fitting it as tightly as possible.

All wetsuits are sewn according to the anatomical cut, so even the densest areas will sit on the body during use. ”

About features

“In wetsuits, so-called features are essential, that is, at first glance, invisible, but essential details, such as sleeve length, finished or untreated edges, seams.

The main task of the wetsuit is to keep your body warm. Hence the primary mission of the manufacturer is to avoid the constant circulation of water inside the wetsuit.

It mainly enters through the neck

Therefore, we use smooth skin on the neck of our wetsuits, which is softer than glide skin and covers this area securely.

Also, water enters through the seams, so we glue them inside with Super stretch tape, ensuring maximum sealing of the seam when stretched.

We use triple gluing seams; Double-Blind Seam technology is now the best and most reliable.

The sleeves and legs of wetsuits are shorter than regular clothing, ending 3-4 cm above the wrists and ankles.

Such a cut is necessary so that the end of the fabric does not fall on the moving part. Otherwise, the neoprene will quickly stretch there, and water will start pouring in.

In addition, there is unique silicone tape on the inside of the cuffs; it prevents the sleeves from slipping. In general, all of these features mainly provide warmth and comfort.

The lack of a zipper on a wetsuit is, in my opinion, the best thing that ever happened to wetsuits

Firstly, lightning is a direct ingress of water inside, respectively, removing it, we remove this problem.

Secondly, the absence of a zipper on the chest, not to mention the back, gives the rider exceptional freedom of movement.

Those who have tried a zip-free wetsuit are unlikely to return to the zipper.

Of course, there are also disadvantages: many people have no idea how such a wetsuit can be put on, others do not like the fact that the climbing process takes some time.

For me, it’s better to spend three minutes in the parking lot and skate three hours in complete comfort and warmth, when nothing limits and does not bind you.

We plan to record a video of wearing such a wetsuit properly. ”

About neoprene

“Now we are using Super Light Foam, but in the following collection, we will switch to I Foam – the lightest, warmest and softest neoprene, super elastic, which provides even more freedom of movement.

Next season, we will also pay great attention to the sustainability of wetsuits

First, the neoprene will be 30% Limestone, a natural mineral in limestone rocks.

The super stretchy material that the neoprene will be laminated with is made from recycled plastic (approximately 45 recycled plastic bottles are needed to create one of our full suits).

Finally, the seams will be glued with a special water-based glue and details, which we will discuss later

For a long time, wetsuits will not be a completely eco-friendly product, but if it is possible to make it 40% eco-friendly, why not?

Wetsuits are made with two layers; the neoprene is covered on both sides with a different material. This process is called lamination.

The fact is that neoprene itself is rather rough, and at the same time, fragile material, so it must be laminated.

Previously, nylon was used for this; in principle, it can still be found on more budgetary wetsuits, but more often, they use super-stretch material, a little reminiscent of lycra and rashguards in their properties.

For lamination of the outer and inner layers, you can use different materials; for example, Glideskin is a rubberized material that repels water more strongly and works excellent as a kind of shield against the wind

This material is used in the creation of diving suits, it imitates the skin and provides perfect glide underwater, and it just looks lovely both in life and in photographs, which is also a massive plus in our time.

True, this beauty is not for nothing; the Glideskin material is less elastic than the fabric, which is why we faced the following cases: a wetsuit bought not in size (one size smaller and usually from girls) peels off the glide skin from the seams, gives an additional load on the zipper, which can lead to its failure.

Also, the Glideskin wetsuit requires special attention when putting on and taking off: if you pull firmly, “digging” into the fabric with your fingers, tears can occur in these places.

And, of course, any nails will leave cuts

The good news is that these cuts can be easily repaired with a unique neoprene adhesive.

Inside, we use the so-called BGX material, which has micro bristles; it is a more skin-friendly and quick-drying property.

As a secret, soon, we will release a warm 5/4/3 wetsuit, which will contain the latest materials, but so far, I can not say anything more. ”

About prices

“The cost of a wetsuit is primarily determined by technology. Seams, glues, the presence or absence of different features in conjunction with the manufacturability of the material will distinguish wetsuits of the same thickness from other manufacturers on a hanger in the store. ”

How to choose a wetsuit

As mentioned above, choosing a wetsuit is all about balancing warmth and mobility, so surfers usually choose the thinnest one they can ride in the given conditions.

Therefore, I will provide a table of recommendations for the thickness of the wetsuit depending on the water temperature:

However, the activity of the surfer must be taken into account

Those who constantly move, swim a lot and take waves one after another will be fine in a thinner wetsuit, while those who like to sit and wait for the “perfect” one are better to dress warmly. If you are skinny, it is also recommended to take a thicker wetsuit.

Cut should be chosen according to the weather. If the water is not very cold, but the wind is blowing, it makes sense to take a wetsuit with long sleeves but short legs.

If the opposite is true, the sun is shining, there is no wind, but the water is refreshing, you can ride in a sleeveless wetsuit with long legs. And do not neglect your frostiness; someone’s hands freeze first, and someone’s feet.

Now how to choose the size. The wetsuit should fit as tightly as possible to minimize water circulation underneath.

Pay attention to the armpits and groin; the fabric should not puff up and gather in folds

Forget about the ease of riding in a swimsuit or shorts; neoprene is a tight material, even the thinnest one hinders movement in one way or another.

However, the wetsuit should not be too tight either: the range of activities in it must be the same as, without it, just more effort will be required.

Keep in mind that the drysuit is slightly less elastic and will stretch slightly over time

I advise you to try on several sizes actively – wave your hands, do a deep squat – and choose the smallest one in which you can breathe and move.

Another important point: on the wrists and ankles, the fabric should fit snugly but not squeeze, as this will impair blood circulation, and in the end, you will not be warmer but colder.

How to care for and store a wetsuit

A wetsuit is a delicate thing, but with proper care and storage, it can last for several seasons; it is enough to follow simple operating rules:

– After each ride, rinse the wetsuit on both sides with fresh water at room temperature.

– Once a month or two, by hand, very gently, wash the wetsuit in warm water with natural soap or a special neoprene cleaner.

– Squeeze out exceptionally carefully, without twisting, only with light pressure

– Dry the wetsuit inside out, in the shade, ideally in the wind, across a wide bar. A wet wetsuit is quite heavy; it will stretch under its weight if hung on a thin rope or a hanger.

– The zipper, if any, can be periodically lubricated with beeswax, stearin, and synthetic silicone.

– Regularly inspect the wetsuit for damage to the neoprene. A small hole or crack can be easily repaired with special glue and a patch.

If you ride in a wetsuit periodically, pay attention to proper storage:

– Before sending the wetsuit to the “back box,” wash it and dry it properly

– It is best to store your wetsuit hanging on a wide bar.

– If there is not enough space, you can fold it and put it on the shelf, but do not put anything on top so that no creases form on the neoprene.

– If the wetsuit is going to travel in a suitcase, it should be laid with paper and rolled up.

Lifehacks

And now, not speculative advice “as it should ideally,” but practical techniques tested by experience:

– There are unique products for washing neoprene, but ordinary baby shampoo is also quite suitable; it does not contain strong chemicals.

– Before putting on your wetsuit, remove all rings, bracelets, and watches, as they can snag on the inner layer and tear the sleeve. Also, watch your nails and do not change clothes, standing on sharp stones, in extreme cases, place a rug, a board cover, or a towel under your feet.

– In order not to roll a wetsuit in the sand, changing clothes after surfing, there are particular basins made of soft rubber on sale: you stand in it and pull off the wetsuit. It is cheaper and no less convenient to use a large blue bag from IKEA for these purposes, in which you can take a wetsuit to your home, and there you should already rinse it thoroughly.

– Before entering the water, having already put on a wetsuit, you can pour yourself some warm water by the collar. Some also like to pee in a wetsuit while riding; it warms, but getting rid of the smell of urine is difficult then, so I’m not a fan of such “warming.”

In 2017, I lived in Ericeira, literally a 3-4 minutes walk from my home spot. There is a life hack for such a successful situation: before skiing, go to a hot shower, heat up to red, and put a wetsuit on your steamed body. It will provide +30 minutes of comfortable skiing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.