Six Reasons Wetsuits Don't Suck

As much as I might complain about wearing one, wetsuits are really quite incredible. Within my lifetime they've gone from bulky, expensive ocean activity outfits, to thin, flexible, affordable and extremely warm outerwear. Jack O'Neil really does deserve an award or something. Because without his innovation, all of us cold water surf seekers would go without waves - surfing only in the summer months, when the sun shines high in the sky. This realization really resonated with me these last few months, as the weather turned from fall to freezing. And albeit a bit colder, my ability to surf was all but unimpeded. Yes, gloves and booties are no longer optional accessories, but at least I'm able to spend three or four hours in the ocean, seemingly unaffected by the rain and the wind and forty-five degree water. So that got me thinking; what are some of the other advantages that come with wearing a wetsuit?

1. Warmth

You can't surf in the winter without a warm wetsuit. Five or six millimeters minimum. With wool on the inside sometimes. Lobster claws and seven millimeter booties with that thick, puncture proof sole. Having a hood is also essential, as ice cream headaches are all to common this time of year. And while they might be burdensome, I'd rather surf than sit on the sand!

2. Floatability

Wetsuits, while restrictive and uncomfortable at times, provide an amount of buoyancy otherwise unavailable to your average individual. How's that help? Think about all those afternoons when you got stuffed by an outside set and came quickly to the surface, scratching about for your board. Superior swimming skills? I think not. Howsabout a layer of neoprene that not only protects you from the elements, but will keep you afloat far better than you'd be able to otherwise.

3. Year-Round

Prior to Mr.O'neil's invention, surfing was something you did in the summer. Yes, South Pacific and Southern California surfers were able to enjoy the ocean all year round, but the rest of us -really anyone north of LA County - were stuck wishing for waves all winter. The introduction of the wetsuit has since allowed just about anyone to enjoy the salty sea from summer to spring.

4. Keeps Out Kooks

Now when I say anyone, I don't mean everyone. You see, the wetsuit has also become a deterrent for certain surfers. I won't name names, but lets just say there's some sunny, warm water surfers that would rather stay home than slip into a suit. They also keep the kooks outta the ocean. Although considerably more affordable than before, a warm wetsuit will still set you back quite a few coins. And so those that aren't serious about their surfing will skip the rubber skin in favor of other winter time activities. Knitting perhaps? ;)

5. Strength Training

I traveled to Mexico a few winters ago. A fifteen-day surf trip to a slow rolling, eighty-degree point break. Prior to our departure I started wondering whether I could still swim. You see, after all these years wearing a wetsuit, what amounts to a flotation devices at times, I wasn't so sure I could swim, er, float without one. But when we arrived and I paddled out for the first time, what I noticed was not how quickly I descended to the deep, but rather the added strength wearing a wetsuit had awarded me. I could out paddled everyone! Having spent the better part of that winter in six millimeters of neoprene, my arms and shoulders were accustom to the additional exertion needed to catch waves in the winter.

6. Protection

Coming home from Mexico, a place where sharp rock reefs, sea urchins and stingrays are all too common, wearing my wetsuit was like donning a suit of armor! No longer was I worried about hitting the bottom or stepping on something that would sting. I was protected from the elements and everything that lived beneath the surface of the sea.

This post was originally written for Surf Right.

Photos come courtesy of Karissa_Would and Captain Coffey.

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