Wetsuit Guide

Kiteboarders are outdoor athletes in a harsh environment; they have an overwhelming urge as they progress to ride longer in stronger winds. They deliberately expose their bodies to a combination of extreme conditions that can produce a deadly cocktail. Being totally saturated then standing in the full force of the wind while performing a strenuous activity is recipe for disaster. Kiteboarders beware, severe Wind-chill and Hypothermia kills! Fortunately for us the invention of the kiteboard was preceded by the invention of the wetsuit. Wetsuits provide an insulating layer to reduce the loss of body heat while wet. Wetsuits will not prevent heat loss totally, but they will significantly increase your riding time, comfort and enjoyment.
Penguin, www.actionsportsmaui.comHYPOTHERMIA (Over cooling)
Water is a very efficient conductor of heat so you lose heat faster when in the water; even warm water has this ability. Wind blowing across the skin conducts heat away much faster then still air and the faster the wind blows the greater its ability to suck the heat out. This is called wind-chill. This situation is exacerbated with wet skin.
A wetsuit will make you more comfortable and safer in cold water. It is difficult to concentrate on riding when your teeth are chattering and your body is aching. Beyond a certain point the body looses so much heat energy that the extremities become cold and numb, the muscles will function less efficiently and you will become less coordinated. If a rider persists beyond the pain barrier, the heat loss can lead to the body’s core temperature dropping mild Hypothermia can be recognized by slurred speech, blue lips, apathy, this is a dangerous condition to be in on the water because it can quickly lead to severe Hypothermia which results in unconsciousness followed by death. The average person would give up riding for the day before reaching severe hypothermia because of the pain and discomfort, but if they get stuck in the water or lose their equipment they don’t have the choice. Hypothermia will happen to anyone no matter how fit they are. In fact obese people with a thick layer of body fat have a slightly slower rate of heat loss, but it gets to everyone in the end. What if you become stranded a long distance from shore?. You may have to wait for a rescue. In cold water it may not be possible to swim as far as you think. Swimming may actually increase your rate of heat loss by 35-50%. You’ll wish you had adequate Flotation and insulation.
A wetsuit provides an insulating layer between the skin and the air or water. The neoprene material in a wetsuit has a thousands of tiny air bubbles that create closed-cells within the material. That is why they float so much. The suit traps a layer of water against the skin, which the body warms up. The air bubbles reduce the amount of heat conducted to the outside water, it is the trapped water and air layer that insulates the body from excessive heat loss.
Whitebird, www.actionsportsmaui.comThe wetsuit must fit closely to the body to work properly but not be so tight as to restrict movement. A common mistake that new kiteboarders make is to use any old wetsuit, usually a borrowed one that doesn’t fit. While sometimes it is true that something is better than nothing, there are occasions where an incorrectly fitting wetsuit can be dangerous. A kiteboarder’s wetsuit should allow for freedom of movement. Many newer suits have specially designed stretch panels along the back and under the arms to allow the rider the necessary mobility. A good fitting wetsuit should allow you to grasp your hands together over your head easily. Remember that you will be doing a lot of swimming in it. A wetsuit should also be easy to get on and off many first time wetsuit buyers ask “How tight should it be?” and this usually means they can’t breathe. An unscrupulous salesman might say “Skin tight” just to make a sale. The general rule when buying a wetsuit is if it doesn’t feel comfortable in the shop, it won’t feel comfortable in the water.
For example SCUBA Diving wetsuits are designed to insulate a relatively passive athlete at great depths. The wetsuits are made extra thick because the water pressure at depth compresses the air bubbles within the neoprene and reduces its insulating capabilities. A five or six millimeter thick suit will give the same thermal protection at 10 meters below the surface as a 2 to 3 mm suit at the surface. (because the neoprene is compressed to 2-3mm). When a Diving suit is used for kiteboarding (at sea level) it is too thick and will dramatically restrict their movement and can lead to overheating.
HYPERTHERMIA (Overheating)
Another cause for Hyperthermia is wearing a wetsuit on a hot day, combined with physical exertion. If you don’t fall in it will make you too hot, which can result in heat stroke. Heat stroke (Hyperthermia) can result in nausea, headaches, dizziness and vomiting and even fainting. This problem is not as common as Hypothermia, but it does happen. Remember that a wetsuit is designed to be wet so as soon as possible get it totally wet so you will not overheat.
There are many different types of wetsuits designed for the specific demands of individual sports and only very few of them are suitable for kiteboarding. The sport we can most readily identity’ with in terms of exposure would be surfing. This is why wetsuits designed for kiteboarding are almost identical to surfing wetsuits. A surfer however is not generally exposed to the extreme winds that a kiteboarder would normally go out in. So a kiteboarder needs a warmer suit for similar conditions.
Wetsuits come in a variety of shapes and thickness’, from a simple vest to a total cover up. It is wise to consider the conditions that you will be riding in before buying a wetsuit. The most common types are listed below;
 Vest  For tropical conditions only, they take the chill out of evening sessions.
 Shorts   For hot conditions, are generally used to prevent chafing from a seat harness
 Tube Suit   A vest top with short legs, a good midsummer suit. (also known as Short John).
Spring Suit, Shorty Short arms and short legs. As the name suggests it is designed for the spring season and is much warmer than a tube suit.
Steamer  Long arms and legs, the most popular type of wetsuit. Available with short sleeves.
Long John A sleeveless steamer.
Semi-dry suit Are wrist to ankle like steamers, but with tight wrist and ankle bands combined with “Smoothie” neoprene to minimize water exchange.
Dry Suits Have water-tight bands at the neck, wrists and ankles and a watertight zip to exclude all water. Dry suits are rarely seen in Australia but are common in northern Europe and the U.K.


The quality of neoprene foam has improved dramatically over the 70 years. The modem materials are warmer and more flexible. This means that the newer suits are more comfortable than their predecessors are. There are also a variety of types of neoprene available to suit different purposes. Thinner and more flexible materials are used in the high stretch zones like along the back etc, and reinforcing patches are common on knees and elbows. Thicker wetsuits may be essential to your climate, but most suits compromise by strategically combining various thickness’ of neoprene to achieve maximum warmth and flexibility.

Neoprene  www.actionsportsmaui.comTWO TYPES OF NEOPRENE
There are two basic types of neoprene material used in most wetsuits: Single Lined neoprene (SL) and Double Lined neoprene (DL). Single Lined and Double Lined neoprene serve different purposes in the function of a wetsuit. The single lined or “smoothie”, has a fabric laminated on the inside (usually nylon or polyester) and a smooth or textured finish on the outside which is impervious. This reduces evaporation. Single lined neoprene is often used in the torso area, for warmth. Double lined neoprene has fabric laminated to both sides. Double lined is usually used in knees, elbows, and other areas to resist abrasion. Sealed seams, glued seams with blind stitching, also make a suit warmer because it reduces the exchange of water.

The best place to buy a wetsuit is from a shop that carries a wide range and large quantities. If you don’t feel obliged to buy a suit before leaving the shop, you are more likely to walk out with a good one. This is especially true for women as the range of female wetsuits is far less than for men. Women should not use their dress size as a hard and fast guide to buying a wetsuit because the interpretations of a particular size vary between different manufacturers. Many women have had to be physically assisted to remove their wetsuits in the changing room because they insisted they were a particular size. Some women may be surprised to find that they actually fit better into a men’s wetsuit. Men have it a bit easier because their sizes range from small, medium, large, etcetera, and many manufacturers are now producing additional sizes like “medium short” or “medium tall”. The cut of a suit also varies from brand to brand. A muscle bound vee-shaped person may fit one brand, and a straight up and down person may fit another. Don’t be brand loyal at the expense of getting a good fit. Beyond a good fit, a wetsuit should come from a well known manufacturer. They have the experience and technology to make better suits. A wetsuit is an important and personalized investment, so be prepared to spend a few extra dollars and a little time and get the right one.

BootiesIn addition to a wetsuit, a pair of neoprene booties can increase your overall comfort. Again fit is important because a bootie that is slightly loose when dry, will be extremely loose when wet. You will have to adjust your footstraps to accommodate them. As well as providing extra warmth, booties can give you a better grip on the board, prevent sores on the feet from footstraps and are invaluable when climbing over rocks. For a better feel, opt for the thinner flexible sole. Some people prefer a split-toe style bootie to a round-toe.

GlovesNeoprene gloves are great if you ride in colder waters. They also save your hands from blisters. If they are too thick across the palm they widen your grip and make your hand and forearm muscles tire quickly. If thermal protection isn’t necessary and you just want to save you skin, a good range of leather and synthetic gloves are available. Sailing gloves usually have the finger tips removed to allow you to tie knots etc. Gloves should he as tight as you can get on your hands without making them cramp because they always get looser when you use them. Gloves that are too loose can bunch up at the knuckles and cause blisters.

Neoprene HoodHoods and caps made from neoprene can make you look like a bullet head but they are a better option than headaches and earaches while riding in winter. Some are available with visors. You may get a few laughs when you start wearing them, but you’ll have the last laugh when other kiteboarders are coming in because of the cold (then they’ll want one too).

HelmetPurpose designed helmets are quite common these days and for good reason. If there’s one thing that you can’t ride without, is your head. A watersports helmet is a cheap insurance policy for any time that you are pushing your personal limits. Many kiteboarders say that they feel more confident when they wear one and can get more radical. Helmets can prevent; burst eardrums, sunburn on bald heads, cuts, stings and most knocks. They keep your head warm too.

shampooRinse your ‘rubber’ goods in cold fresh water after each use. Allow them to dry thoroughly and place them flat for storage. Store them in a cool dry place. Do not hang your suit on a hanger. Keep the suit out of sunlight as much as possible. Every now and again you may want to soak your suit overnight. Use a neoprene wash solution to get the greasy sweat buildup out. The product is sometimes called ‘wetsuit shampoo’ and is available from marine suppliers. Do not machine wash your neoprene. Never put it in a clothes dryer. Beware of chemicals and oils spilling onto the fabric. (like the spare gas can in the trunk of your car).

Rashguards are Lycra shirts that are used for sun protection, and also used under wetsuits. They are very useful from warm water. They prevent belly rash, and protect the skin from the sun, and from bumps and scratches. rash-guards aka “rashies”, also create a layer of protection against jellyfish stings too. There are different types of rashies available, but mostly they are constructed using Lycra fabric which uses rubber to give it stretch capabilities. So you should care for a rash guard the same as a wetsuit. Rashguards are available in short sleeve, and long sleeve, as well as fleecy warmer varieties for colder water. Sometimes rash guards come with hoods, and can even include thin neoprene panels for a hybrid wetsuit/rashguard.

Over time the closed-cell bubbles within the suit begin to break down, the seams start to leak and the neoprene starts to get hard and less flexible. A suit in this condition takes on more water, insulates less, is less comfortable and is harder to get into. Then it is time to buy yourself a nice new wetsuit. When you try on a brand new wetsuit you will realize just how bad your old suit had become. Give your old suit away, or cut it up to make roof-rack pads, or knee guards etc.

Protection From The Elements – Wetsuit Guide

Water temp


Style of suit


80+F Hawaii/Caribbean None needed
72-80F Shortie or three-quarter


65-72F Gorge in May/June Full
60-65F Full wetsuit or drysuit


50-60F Gorge in March/April Full drysuit
Under 50 Full drysuit-gloves, hood and booties

“Rapt in Rubber” Written by David Dorn, First posted 1997. Copyright © D.Dorn, All rights reserved.