Surfing in a wetsuit is something that almost all of us will have to do many times.
Now, knowing the exact size of your wetsuit is a crucial factor when it comes to buying it and a key part of that is the tightness of your wetsuit and overall fit.
A wetsuit should be tight enough not to let in water, think about the ankles and cuffs and neck, but not so tight that it in any way feels painful or restrictive for your breathing, as we’ll explain below.
So, that’s the brief summary, now let’s get into the more detailed explanation of how tight a wetsuit should be for surfing and help you get the exact right gear.
Surf Wetsuits Should Be Tight, But Never so Tight that It’s Worrying!
So when you’re trying on a wetsuit, you should immediately start to get a feel for how it is. If it feels in any way too tight at any of the crucial points, particularly around the neck, then that’s a very bad sign and it is something to be avoided. Go up a size and see how the wetsuit feels.
Now, when I say go up a size, this comes back to my earlier point that I’ve made on YouTube and in other articles about always trying on a surf wetsuit in a local store wherever you can, as opposed to buying them online.
The reason being that you could try on different ones in the store, get the right fit for you and also the right brand because different wetsuit brands have different fitting wetsuits.
If you’re able to do this in store, it will be much quicker and less hassle than buying a wetsuit online, waiting, sending it back if it’s wrong and almost feeling obliged to use it because you’ve got it.
So wherever possible, try a wetsuit on in a physical store, support your local surf shop, and you’ll get the right fit.
Now, when it comes to trying on a wetsuit, the store clerk should be able to help you with this and give you advice.
Difficulty Moving, Breathing or Getting in and Out: All Signs That Your Wetsuit is Too Small
If moving your arms up and down is worrying or feels tight on any other parts of your body, then your surfing wetsuit is probably too small.
I remember buying a wetsuit from a surf store owner in fact, that was too small for me and I tried and tried to make it work, but it was just too tight.
It used to squeeze me and I was assured that it would stretch in the water, but it never stretched enough although it did stretch a little. It was just a little bit tight all around.
Now it didn’t choke me on the neck, so that was one thing, but it just squeezed my legs and arms and I couldn’t really enjoy wearing it because I was always feeling restricted.
You should get that feel for how tight your wetsuit is when you try it on. If you’re in any doubt, again, don’t buy it, just go up a size.
It’s better to have a wetsuit that is a little bit baggy than to have one that is too tight because a baggy one, at least you can layer up underneath and use thermal tops and rash vests and so on to make up for that.
But a wetsuit that’s too tight will not stretch enough for it to be comfortable in future. So don’t try to go down that route and if you do stretch it, you’ll probably stretch it out of shape, so it won’t be good for you.
Wetsuits Do Get Looser, But Not By Much!
If you do have a tight wetsuit, yes, you can find that they stretch a little bit to your body shape, but really it’s more about the curves of your body rather than expanding.
And I say that also wetsuits wear over time with use because they become heavier when they’re wet and this puts a strain on the stitches and seams, but this is more about the wetsuit breaking down rather than it’s stretching like a pair of shoes.
It doesn’t quite work that way with a wetsuit because you’re dealing with this dense neoprene material.
Admittedly after a few uses, it will loosen a bit, but not usually around the cuffs or the ankles or the neck where the biggest problems are.
This is because these are regularly reinforced and they have some kind of glue or taping on them to make them stay tight.
So even if it swells around the middle, the ankles, cuffs and neck will probably stay the same causing you problems throughout.
Wetsuits Are Always a Little Difficult to Put On, But they Shouldn’t be a Nightmare!
If putting on your wetsuit is if it’s really hard to get in and out of, and I mean, just doesn’t feel right, then you’ve probably got a wetsuit that is too small for you. However, if it is more of a chore, then that is normal and likely what most of us feel.
Equally, when taking off a wetsuit, that shouldn’t be too difficult either. You should be able to comfortably take off your wetsuit on your own or put it on on your own.
So the golden rule is that if you have difficulty putting on your wetsuit or taking it off on your own and you need help, then it’s too small.
Remember the wetsuit should allow you to go surfing on your own if you want to. If that’s going to be a major problem, there’s something wrong.
I remember trying on a wetsuit when I was a lot younger and in fact, the friend I was with thought I’d left the store because I took so long, but actually I was stuck in the changing room trying to get the darn thing off!
It was glued onto me because it was too small and I was in a sweat. I thought I was going to have to ask a store clerk to come in and help me. I was a teenage boy and I was in my underpants under my wetsuit.
That wouldn’t have been a good day for me, but it was a clear sign that the wetsuit was either poorly designed or just too small. So I stayed well away and I would urge you to do the same thing.
Fortunately though, wetsuits have gotten much better in recent years and they are much easier to take on and put off, but think of this as an important point when choosing a wetsuit and it will help you when choosing which one to buy.
Your Wetsuit is Too Big if the Cuffs, Ankles or Neck are Loose
Conversely to the small size wetsuits, a wetstut is definitely too big to keep you warm if you can easily slide your little finger in through the cuffs, ankles or neck at any point.
If you can put your little finger through the water’s going to get through very easily and flush through your wetsuit, leaving you cold.
These parts of a wetsuit should not be loose except perhaps for at the back of the neck on a back zip wetsuit where a little gap is common in cheaper suits. Around the back of the neck, there might be a small gap which is unavoidable. Don’t worry about it, especially in a back zip wetsuit.
This is one reason why I recommend chest zip wetsuits because they don’t have that same gap. So go for them if you can afford it, but a back zip wetsuit will be fine for most people when starting out.
Instead, the right fitting wetsuit should stick to your skin all round, but without feeling like there’s any pressure or squeezing.
You should get a feel for whether the wetsuit is loose or just right by wearing it in the store and moving around. Just put your arms up and down, walking around, stretching a little bit back and forth, and you will feel that by trying it on, again, as opposed to buying one online.
Check out my dedicated YouTube video on buying a wetsuit below!
Break in a Wetsuit By Using it (Properly!)
The only way to break in a wetsuit is actually by using it in the sea.
This is because wetsuits take on a lot of water and stretch a little bit, but feel very different when you use them. There is nothing you can really do to break in a wetsuit on land other than wearing it when wet and moving around in it!
If you’re totally crazy (!!), then yes, you could go in a shower to break in your wetsuit, but I’m not sure you really want to bother doing that when you could just try it out in the sea for the first time and have the fun of surfing rather than showering to try out your wetsuit.
Remember that once your wetsuit is wet, you have used it, so you lose those consumer rights in terms of returning an unused product and you cannot hide the fact that it’s been wet or used, so don’t think about trying to return it unless there is a defect with the suit.