You all probably think that wearing board shorts are enough when heading out kayaking or surfing. While this is all what we see in televisions; in reality, this should (is) not always be the case most especially if you are a regular kayaker and do the sport all year round. A wetsuit primarily provides you insulation and thereby, prevent hypothermia caused by prolonged contact with water. This article will give you some of the basic ideas about wetsuit, tips when choosing a wetsuit and caring advice to help them last.
History of Wetsuit
The first ever wetsuit is believed to be created in the early 1950s in the person of Jack O’Neill of California. He stitched together pieces of neoprene-made suits until forming a vest. Over the years, the design and style of a wetsuit have improved paving the way to the production of different materials of wetsuits at present times.
A wetsuit is designed to allow more room for movement especially those body parts that are involved in maximum maneuverability such as the shoulders and knees. The wetsuits also come in varying thickness in reference to how the kayaker is able to tolerate cold.
Important Note: Wetsuit is for Insulation and Not for Keeping Warm
Difference Between Drysuit and Wetsuit?
One should not confuse a wetsuit with a dry suit which primarily works for buoyancy and provides dryness. A wetsuit works by sealing the trapped water and prevent it from getting out the suit. When the kayaker’s body temperature heats up, the suit readily works as insulation. The insulation process is further aided with the black color of the suit. Black is the best in absorbing and emitting body heat (this probably explains while wetsuit and other kinds are made in black color) wetsuit reduces the loss of body heat while the kayaker is in action with the waves.
Proper Fit is What Matters
One important element when selecting a wetsuit is a proper fit. It is important that wetsuits should be in the right fit at the same time not too loose. This is because a baggy wetsuit won’t create a sealing effect and forfeit its purpose to warm up the body. On the other hand, an extremely tight wetsuit will restrict the kayaker’s movement.
Nevertheless, shoppers should call to mind is that a wetsuit that fits uncomfortably in the shop, won’t likewise feel comfortable in the water.
Types of Wetsuit
Below are the basic types of the wetsuit.
1. Full wetsuit
A full wetsuit provides full body coverage including arms and legs. Comes in varying level of thickness, this type of wetsuit is most suitable in cold months or winter season.
2. Short wetsuit or shorties
Shorties provide more freedom of movement because of shorter sleeves and legs.
3. Spring suit
This type if wetsuit comes with long legs and short sleeves.
What is Rashguard?
Rash guards or rash vests are not a type of wetsuit. Some kayakers prefer the use of rash guards because they are more agile, easy to wear compared to wetsuit. Also referred to as Lyca shirts, rash guards have thin, stretchy textile that is usually in the form of a short-sleeved top. Since they do not provide full body coverage, rash guards are paired with board shorts. At times, rash guards are worn under wetsuits.
The function of the rash guard is not the same as that of the wetsuit. Basically, rash guards do not provide insulation or warmth but serve another purpose. Rash guards provide sun protection against sunburns, especially in tropical locations. They also protect skin from belly rashes which are a very common occurrence among kayakers.
How Wetsuit Keeps Your Warm?
Wetsuit prevents overcooling your body. By wearing a protective suit while kayaking, it will make you more comfortable in cold waters. A wetsuit is protective clothing. You see, when you feel cold, your teeth chatter, your fingers become numb, you start to curb your body because of cold, you have uncoordinated movements, and you became less efficient while paddling for long hours. When your body temperature drops, even more, the kayaker would likely suffer hypothermia which is recognized by slurred speech and blue lips. If not treated, hypothermia can lead to loss of consciousness and death.
Factors to Consider While Buying Kayaking Wetsuit?
Perhaps, this is the most crucial element when looking for a wetsuit. Every individual differs in the size of the wetsuit. This would imply borrowing a wetsuit from a friend is strictly not recommended. On the other hand, when you pick the wrong size of the wetsuit, you will not be able to move well or breathe effectively while doing the sport. Make sure your wetsuit is not too tight as it tends to become stiff as it ages. At the same time, a baggy wetsuit won’t create an insulating effect.
When choosing a wetsuit, make sure it doesn’t have more seams or more panels. Though this would offer more flexibility, more panels invite more water to draw in. Choose wetsuits with blind stitch seam as they are flat and prevent water from getting in.
Wetsuit with zippers can be of great help when fitting in the suit. However, the problem with zippers is that it is easy for water to get into the suit. An alternative of zippers is Velcro straps however, they are quite expensive.
When it comes to thickness, thicker forms of the wetsuit are heavier and less flexible. Also, they cost more.
Caring for Wetsuit
On average, a wetsuit lasts for a year or two. The following are proper caring tips to make your wetsuit lasts.
- Rinse wetsuit in cold fresh water right after use. Use suitable products such as “wetsuit shampoo”.
- Dry wetsuit thoroughly before storing them.
- Do not put Clorox and other harsh chemicals on the wetsuit. If it happens you don’t have washing soap for a wetsuit, make use of mild detergent.
- Avoid oil spills.
- Do not machine wash wetsuit.
- Do not put wetsuit into the dryer.
- Trim nails to avoid accidental cuts and holes.
- Never use hot water when cleaning a wetsuit. Otherwise, it will lose its flexibility.
- Remove your wetsuit if you are going for a cold shower after a hot shower.
- Do not keep wetsuits near radiators or any source of heat.
- Repair what it needs to be repaired before holes or cuts become too large.
- Avoid drying wetsuit directly under the sun. The intense heat of the sun would crack the suit and loses its flexibility.
What’s Inside the Neoprene?
A wetsuit is made from neoprene. Neoprene is a synthetic rubber material. A wetsuit made up of neoprene cells which consist of thousands of air bubbles. These air bubbles which have the insulating ability are enclosed within the material that helps lessen the amount of heat conducted to the water. Thus, preventing heat loss.
Hyperthermia and Wetsuit
Hyperthermia can also occur in those who are wearing a wetsuit. Something that is important to note here is that, a wetsuit is designed to be soaked into the water as soon as possible it is don on the body, so it won’t overheat. Hyperthermia or overheating in kayaking wetsuit occurs when the kayaker wears the wetsuit on a very hot day combined with physical activity. Prolonged hyperthermia can lead to heat stroke, and to death when not managed. Nevertheless, hypothermia is more a common case than hyperthermia.
So much have been improved in a wetsuit since its creation. They have become more flexible and warmer. Neoprene-made wetsuits can be single lined or double lined. Single-lined neoprene is finished in the torso area while double-lined neoprene is used in knees and elbows as these areas need protection against abrasion. Normally, a wetsuit has 2 to 6 mm thickness.
Wetsuit Putrefy Overtime
Over time, wetsuit festers over time. Neoprene cells begin to break down and start to leak. When this happens, wetsuit becomes less flexible, harder and is no longer functional as before.
Differences Between Wetsuit Types
Wetsuits have come a long way. Due to ads, promotions and public notices, watersports activists such as surfers, paddlers, swimmers, skim boarders, etc make use of wetsuits. Probably in the past, wetsuit used for swimming was also used for diving. But the question is, how this every wetsuit differs from each other such as a wetsuit from a scuba wetsuit?
Wetsuits can be made from the same material, neoprene, but the way they are constructed may be different according to the type of activity of the wearer. For example, a wetsuit has greater flexibility and has a back zipper, while a scuba wetsuit is less flexible, comes with a number of zippers, and has more thickness variations due to needed thermal protection especially during deep sea diving. The thicker neoprene cells in scuba wetsuit are also based on the principle that water conducts heat away from the body 10 times faster than air. However, scuba wetsuit is not as flexible as a wetsuit.
The Best Kayaking Attire
There is no such thing as best kayaker attire. The kind of clothing or apparel the kayaker wears is a sort of personal preference, and it depends on the level of comfort of the kayaker. Wetsuit and rash guards are common attires for kayaking. Wetsuits provide insulation, while rash guards prevent sunburns and painful rubs in nipples brought by surfboards. Further, wetsuits and rash guards are sewn differently in terms of style, fabric, and interior in such a way that they can withstand the harsh beach environment.
Buying a Wetsuit
When buying a wetsuit, shop around. Decide on a store that caters larger quantities of wetsuits. In this way, you are more likely to choose what suits best for you and this is an easier way for you. A no-no when choosing a wetsuit is to not use ones dress size as a guide when fitting a wetsuit. However, it is said that men are able to find wetsuits easier and faster because of more available sizes. I personally believe that well-known brands produce a very good fit and good quality wetsuit since these companies have a long history and have proven expertise and technology in making better suits.
Arthur G. Moore is a veteran paddler. He has over 10 years of whitewater kayaking experience in his kitty. When he was young, he used to love kayaking in rapid III and rapid IV but as time went on, he decided to concentrate mainly on covering long distances on a standard touring kayak. He is currently working as a senior editor for Kayak Manual.