Surfing wetsuits are needed to keep warm in cooler waters but they can be a bit confusing if you have not worn one before.
Wetsuits for surfers are skin-tight and need to be a very good fit for them to work and keep surfers warm.
However, they can feel strange on the skin and make some wonder about exactly what they should have on underneath their wetsuit.
So, here is my guide to what to wear under your wetsuit for surfing:
- Men: nothing, trunks, rash guard
- Women: swimsuit or special type of bikini, rash guard
- For warmth: thermal top and bottom
To get this just right, let’s look at each of these in more detail below.
What to wear under a wetsuit for men?
Men have 4 clear options of what to wear under a wetsuit for surfing, each depending on personal comfort and the water temperature you are surfing in.
Nothing (AKA Commando)
Quite a lot of male surfers don’t actually wear anything under their wetsuit. This is because the tight fit of a surf wetsuit means that it is not so important to have anything on underneath.
Going ‘commando’ is not a problem and does not cause any problems.
Since the wetsuit covers everything up, going without anything under a wetsuit for men is not a problem and is quite comfortable.
The only issue is that it can be a little tricky when getting changed after getting out of the surf. Having nothing on underneath means you will need to be careful with your towel to avoid ‘exposing’ yourself to others in the parking lot after a surf!
Swim Trunks (AKA Speedos)
If the thought of wearing nothing is a little worrying, then you can easily go and add a pair of swim trunks or ‘Speedos’ (Amazon) under your wetsuit.
These are a good option since they are thin and protect the most sensitive areas without ever getting in the way or getting rolled up and twisted when putting your wetsuit on.
Having a pair of swim trunks on under your wetsuit also makes things a lot easier when changing since you don’t have to worry as much as if you had nothing on underneath.
A rash guard is a very good option for certain wetsuits, with the name giving a clue as to why. Rash guards (Amazon) are a thin top made of spandex and nylon or polyester, they can be long or short-sleeved and are designed to form a protective layer for your skin against a chafing wetsuit.
Surf wetsuits have come a long way since rash guards were invented; these guards came out of necessity since most wetsuits used to cause a serious rash around the neck and even sometimes the armpits.
Fortunately, these days rash guards are not a necessity for protecting against wetsuit rash but they can add a nice layer for comfort under your surf wetsuit if you have a suit that feels at all uncomfortable.
Although standard rash guards are not designed for warmth, they can make you feel hotter if you wear them in water temperatures that are at the top end of the temperature range for your surf wetsuit.
What to wear under wetsuit when surfing for women?
A swimsuit works perfectly under a women’s wetsuit for most women. It is obviously a modest option and does not provide much warmth but, similar to swim trunks for men, can provide a good protective layer if your wetsuit is at all uncomfortable on the skin.
Similar to a swimsuit, women can also easily wear a bikini (like these on Amazon) under their wetsuit when out in the surf.
The choice between the two really comes down to personal choice and comfort.
Make sure to get a bikini without a knot in it. This is because the knot can make for an uncomfortable surf when worn below a wetsuit as the tightness of the wetsuit will press it into your skin. This will be fine for a short period of time but can be uncomfortable after a while in the waves.
One nice extra about wearing bikinis under wetsuits for female surfers is that you can get specific surf bikinis from surf companies like Roxy that are extra soft and might prove more comfortable than standard bikinis for everyday beachwear.
What to wear under wetsuit for warmth?
This section covers options for both men and women, since colder waters need basically the same things for all riders.
Thermals for Warmth
You will definitely want to wear thermal layers under your wetsuit to keep warm in the cooler months of the year, or just in cold water surf areas.
These can vary in both thickness and design, so you will want to get the right one for your local conditions to make sure it does the job.
There is also a balance between warmth and flexibility to be found, so try to consider how cold you think you will be before buying one.
A standard thermal layer is a rash guard with added polypropelene for warmth. This adds a soft and fluffy feeling to the inside of a wetsuit so is extremely comfortable as well as warm.
To take this up another layer, you can simply add in a long-sleeved thermal rash guard (Amazon). Despite the small difference, this can offer noticeably more warmth.
However, thermal rash guards with sleeves add an extra, thicker layer under the suit. This can make paddling more difficult since it can make your suit extremely tight around the shoulders.
As an alternative, you can try for a thermal rash guard vest. These still offer a similar amount of warmth that you would get from from a long sleeve thermal rash guard but give you a lot more flexibility and do not affect your paddling at all.
I have found these to be a great option on all but the most bitter winter surf days and would recommend trying them out as a first option.
If getting into more extreme cold, you could get a thermal rash guard with a neoprene wetsuit hood in one. This is a great option since the connection between the rash guard and the hood stops the cold-water flushing down the back of your suit, a really horrible feeling that is best avoided!
To keep your midsection and thighs warm, you can wear thermal rash shorts. These do not interfere with your movement but add a very comforting bit of extra warmth around your mid-section!
As with the top, look for a good polypropylene set of thermal shorts but specifically from a surf brand, like these thermal shorts from O’Neill on Amazon. I say that because I’ve tried to use the cheaper options from swimwear companies but they did not fit as tightly under a wetsuit.
The surf brand thermal bottoms are tighter and therefore don’t roll up when you are putting on your wetsuit, like the swimwear ones I had did!
Bonus Cold Water Thermals Tip
As an extra tip, having a spare rash guard so that you always have a dry one can be a huge boost when getting into your wet wetsuit. Since a wetsuit clings to your skin, it can be really cold to put on and feels like wearing wet clothes.
By putting on dry thermals before putting on a wet wetsuit, you can save yourself a little of the uncomfortable feeling while getting changed!
For a closer look at how to surf in cold water, check out my in-depth article on the subject here!
What to wear over a wetsuit? For surfing, you shouldn’t wear anything over a wetsuit unless you are competing in a competition or in a surf lesson (where you will be given a brightly colored rash guard to wear over your suit).