Cowabunga, brochacho. If you’ve been thinking it might be time for a new wetsuit (or a first wetsuit) you’ve come to exactly the right spot. Who’s going to know the ins and outs of a great wetsuit better than someone who’s hitting the waves in one every dawn—aka a serious surfer? So we asked a bunch of surfers (from all over) about their favorite wetsuits for surfing mad barrels and getting soooo pitted, and crowd-sourced the absolute best wetsuits for surfing anywhere from Lahaina to Rockaway.
While there are probably a few iconic brands that jump to mind when thinking about surf gear (and there were a few names we heard over and over), finding the best wetsuit is dependent on things like where and when you spend most of your time in the water, how long your usual sesh is, and how sensitive to cold you are. It’s OK, some of us just don’t have it in our blood.*
*(Dad, if you’re reading this: I could probably be an Olympic surfer by now if you had just gotten me a wetsuit for surf camp. At 11, I weighed no more than 55 to 60 pounds, which also happened to be the water temperature in degrees—and as Surfer magazine will tell you, “below 60°F (15°C), a wetsuit thickness of 5-6mm or even a drysuit is necessary to provide adequate insulation.”) [drops mic]
Speaking of insulation, if this is your first wetsuit and you aren’t really sure where to start, “It's best to find a balance between insulation and mobility for optimal performance,” says Surfer magazine. For the most part, wetsuits are made of neoprene (with some exceptions; Patagonia just announced Yulex natural rubber wetsuits) and are measured in terms of thickness, ranging from a scale of 1 millimeter to 6 millimeters thickness. The thicker the wetsuit, the warmer it is, but also the harder it is to move in. For example: “A surf wetsuit will have less neoprene in the arms [and] legs, which is why 3 mm (or less) arm thickness may be preferable, [but] for activities that require less mobility, like diving, a slightly thicker wetsuit, like 5 mm, may be acceptable,” according to Surfer. So, if you plan on surfing year-round, in varying climates, or on different coasts, it’s not atypical to have more than one wetsuit—which was pretty much the consensus from everyone we polled.
Take it from us (or, at least the experts we polled): These are the best wetsuits, according to real surfers with lots of experience— including a couple of holy grail, “when I win the lottery” fancy wetsuits that they’ve been daydreaming about (because of course surfing fanatics dream about wetsuits).
Kristi Kovacs, surfer, and fellow VICE employee
Kristi Kovacs’ (@kristiclimbs) favorite wetsuit is a no-brainer: “Sisstrevolution! It’s top quality, with flexibility, and durability… a bit pricey but worth it, IMO,” she says. Before exclusively owning Sisstrevolution’s suits (which are designed specifically for women), Kovacs dabbled with Roxy and O'Neill suits, which she deemed “good,” and still owns the O’Neill, “but the Roxy [wetsuit] ended up having too many holes.” Kovacs says that “even though those were all 4/3 millimeters, I feel warmer in Sisstrevolution—I think it’s their stitching; it just feels like better quality.” (For a bit of context for newbies and non-surfers: a “4/3” wetsuit—pronounced “four-three,” means that the wetsuit is 4 millimeters thick in the body and 3 millimeters thick on the legs and arms). If nothing else, it’s clear that—in Kovacs’ experience—investing in a higher price point wetsuit can definitely pay off in the long run.
Vegas Tenold, surfer and fellow VICE employee
Fellow VICE employee Vegas Tennold (@vegastenold) has a penchant for Vissla wetsuits, and doesn’t mince words: “[My suit is] great quality, they're reasonably priced, they have good flex, the winter suit is really warm, and their zippers are solid.” I’d say that’s an all-around solid review, 10/10. Vissla even teamed up with Dior, if you’re in the market for a really bougie wetsuit (perfect for impressing the other Kens whose job is “beach”).
Jack Ostler, bi-coastal surfer
When we reached out to Jack Ostler, aka @cutbackjack, we knew he would have a lot to say, given that he is from the Bay Area, grew up surfing in San Diego, and now lives and surfs in NYC. Naturally, he has multiple favorites (including a few holy grail customs he can’t wait to get his hands on) for different times of the year. An easy favorite is his O'Neill wetsuit, “mainly because [he’s] from northern California and that’s where they were originally designed for and are super warm and flexible.” Ostler also wears Xcel wetsuits a lot, “mostly because you can find them everywhere at most surf shops, and they are really comfortable.” Speaking of keeping things comfortable, Ostler admits that he even swaps out suits for the warmer months or when the seasons change.“In summer you just need less wetsuit, so I’d wear a ‘spring suit’ usually with short arms and legs.”
Cameron Ravanbach, surfer and San Diego-local
Another one of those cool, independent brands that kept popping up was Matuse, “a local San Diego brand that is really flexible and lasts a long time.” According to Cameron Ravanbach, aka @camrack, it’s details like this that explain why he almost exclusively wears the brand. “I have a 4/3 Dante suit,” says Ravanbach, “[and] it’s probably the most comfortable suit I’ve ever owned. It’s super flexible and keeps me perfectly warm during the winter season. I also like [that] they use sustainable materials.”
Daniel Olson, actor and surfer
Daniel Olson (@daniel__olson) just got back from a surf trip in Alaska where the water temperature was around 39 degrees Fahrenheit, and he really needed something that would keep him warm throughout the day. “We surfed twice a day for about three hours each session and I never once got cold,” says Olson of his favorite cold water wetsuit, the Matuse Tumo Hooded 6/5 mm Chest Zip. “In fact, the first couple of days, I had to let some water in to cool off. That suit, coupled with the Xcel 7 millimeter booties and mittens, will keep you nice and toasty if you’re venturing into frigid waters,” claims Olson.
Alex Fromer, surfer and creative
If you’re looking for a fun shorty suit for spring and summer, Alex Fromer (@alex.fromer) swears by Cynthia Rowley for lightweight summer suits that she says are “thin, super comfy, offer sun protection, and come in the most fun colors and patterns that aren’t just ‘pink for women.’” She also says that Cynthia Rowley suits are “good quality” and has had hers for years. For year-round wear, she rocks an O’Neill Hyperfreak suit that she says is an “affordable, universal, well-made suit to get you through many seasons without breaking the bank.” In particular, she likes that it has flexible paddling, a front chest zipper (which keeps water out much better than a back zipper), and knee padding that’s not too bulky.
Mckenzie Dowler, art director and surfer
We know Mckenzie Dowler (@mckenziemegandowler) isn’t the only female surfer that feels this way, and she admits she “[doesn’t] know if [she’s] biased because [she] loves Kassia as a person, but would say [her] Kassia wetsuit is by far [her] favorite.” She goes on to say that “having a woman behind the brand who knows a woman’s body and the nuanced design it requires is so crucial,” and that her wetsuit “hugs [her] in all of the right places, keeping things where they should be kept, even if [she] gets thrown in a wave and [does] back flips in the whitewash.” In Dowler’s eyes, “the quality is so good that for the longest time, [she] treated [her] Kassia 3/2 like a 4/3 for months because it kept [her] so warm and toasty.” Sounds like heaven.
Hang 10, dude.
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