Crowds start to ease up a bit as the tourists return home and the classrooms fill back up. Along with these benefits, however, comes the realization that sooner rather than later, the water temperature is going to drop. After a relatively warm summer with ocean temperatures averaging in the mid- to upper 60s, a cooling trend will send all scurrying for the dreaded full wetsuits.
For that reason, I’m going to give my readers my own personal opinions on wetsuits in general, excluding brand names so as to remain neutral to all the companies building them. I will concentrate on zipper placements, types of seams and general materials used.
Let’s start with the seams of wetsuits, for which there are two basic types. The flat-lock stitch is just what it says. The neoprene rubber of the wetsuit is glued and then held together by hundreds of stitches that pierce the materials all the way through and are pulled tight and flat.
While this is a strong and giving stitch, it also allows water to enter every single pinhole created where the thread binds the seams together. For warmer waters, it is the standard type of seam. It is also much less expensive to make. Unfortunately, it is not warm enough for the colder water temperatures that we experience going into this time of the year.
The necessary stitch needed for a cold-water wetsuit is one that is glued and blind-stitched (GBS for short). A GBS seam is accomplished by having the neoprene seams glued together then stitched through only the top third of the material, thus eliminating water entry through the massive amount of holes that are found on a flat-lock stitched suit.
GBS seams are found on the better-quality, entry-level suits all the way up to the high-end models. This stitch is much more complicated and time consuming, but the end result of a suit being somewhere in the 60 percent warmer range usually makes it worthwhile for cold-water surfers. In addition to the GBS stitching, a liquid seam or additional neoprene tape can be laid on top of it, further making water entry near impossible.
With the exception of a very small amount of specialty suits, zippers are needed to allow a person to squeeze in and out of a wetsuit with as little effort as possible. A back-zip suit is still very popular, as it is the easiest suit to put on and take off. Most of the better brands will place an extra piece of thin neoprene across the inside back of the suit to keep the cold ocean water that penetrates through the zipper from constantly flushing the body-warmed water out. Chest-zip suits will have zippers that will run either straight across or at a gradual slant from high to low and from shoulder to shoulder. This type of zipper eliminates the restraints of having a bulky zipper running up your spine. It also leads to a better-sealed suit resulting in less water flushing in and out.
Not all neoprene is created equal, but how much stretch do you really need? All top-brand wetsuit manufacturers use super-stretch materials in at least 75 percent of their suits. In the higher-range models, 100 percent super-stretch is used. This may make the suit more comfortable, but it will often shorten the life expectancy as it will stretch out and break down more quickly.
Thickness of full wetsuits run in millimeters, ranging between 3/2 and 4/3 in general, though they can thicken up more in truly cold-water areas. With the flexibility available in the thicker 4/3 suits now, many people are going this route to further increase their water time for those dawn patrol sessions on the coldest of winter days.
Decent entry-level GBS suits start at about $130, with high-end models edging up close to $600. All will get the job done, so let fit and budget decide which is best for you.
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