From the November 1998 news letter
Totally Amazing And Little-Known ďFactsĒ About Wetsuits
by John Rutledge
Most of our sailing is done in rubber, so we ought to know more about
it. After an exhaustive exploration of the
topic on the Internet, I can pass along some totally amazing and little-known "facts" about wetsuits.
Some wetsuits are marketed internationally; some have a much more restricted distribution. Like boards and sails, some wetsuits that are known mainly within the country of origin. In the United States, we see a limited range of wetsuits. There are some wonderful European "marques" that donít make it across the Big Pond. Pro-Limit is a Dutch brand that is just beginning to be distributed in this country. Micah Buzianis promotes them. Look at some of their neat features such as gussets in the arms and ankles and a zipper in the collar for ease of entrance. I donít like their "Cult Series" though: black with too much white makes you look like a penguin. (If youíre reading this, Pro-Limit, I take a medium. You can send me one anytime.)
Take a look at Spartan wetsuits (www.spartan.uk). They advertise
in the U.K. windsurfing magazine Boards. Even the design concepts
can be different. Their menís suits come in eight different sizes!
Some of the
suits come with "pre-bent" arms and legs. Their drysuits have two layers of silver-colored titanium that looks
really cool. There is an "undersuit" that you wear under the outer suit.
Some experts say you should always store your wetsuit flat. If
you have to fold, do it lightly. Other experts say
you should hang it on a specially designed hanger for wetsuits. Regular hangers can cause creases in your
suit. You want to avoid creases because they can turn into splits.
Direct sunlight will cause your suit to fade and will shorten its life. Keep exposure to it at a minimum, just as you do on your monofilm sails.
It is not safe to assume that regular detergents can be used on a wetsuit.
One company even advises against
using Woolite, ordinarily fine for many delicate fabrics. Others say that itís OK to use mild liquid detergents
such as Ivory liquid and others. But these do not contain the anti-bacterial agents that are in most wetsuit
cleaners. Diehards who wash their wetsuits in liquid detergents add an anti-bacterial agent. The sooner you
get a stain out, the better. There is a product called "Sink the Stink" and according to it's manufacturer, it's a
blend of four special odor destroying bacteria that destroy stink causing organic waste matter in your suit.
A thorough cleansing is especially important if circumstances caused
you to urinate inside your suit. A good
cleaning will also prevent other odors and bacteria from growing in your suit. Most wetsuits get peed in at
some point in their lifespan. It happens. Itís a natural result of confinement, the urge to get in as much sailing in as you can, and the lack of comfort facilities at most launches. You could also try an attitudinal adjustment: just think of it as marking your territory.
Never dry-clean a wetsuit or drysuit. The chemical solvents used in dry-cleaning are not good for neoprene.
A wetsuit is designed to reduce the flow of water over your body and
allow the water trapped inside the suit
to be warmed by body heat. So, inquiring minds want to know: Does wearing a bathing suit under the
wetsuit change the way the wetsuit functions? According to Promotion (e-mail, 26 Jul 1998), bathing suits
donít have much effect on water flow.
So, what do people wear under their wetsuits? A female windsurfer, who
asked to remain anonymous, told me
frankly that wearing a bikini top under the wetsuit helps to give her figure more "contour." Wetsuits
unfortunately tend to flatten things out indiscriminately. This problem probably does not seem to bother men;
for them cold water is the real culprit.
Boxer style bathing suits bunch up under a wetsuit. Speedos donít
bunch up, but Speedos arenít flattering on
most people. Some people wear nothing under their wetsuits and enjoy the gentle flow of water over all parts
of their body. Having nothing between your birthday suit and your wetsuit or shorty really does feel freer.
(Obviously, some research and experimentation went into this writing assignment.)
For the worriers among you, your mother was right: "Suppose they
had to rush you to the emergency room,
cut off your wetsuit and found you had NOTHING on underneath?" Probably the main reason to wear
something under your wetsuit is so that you can take the wetsuit off in public and hop in the hot tub. And
you should take it off because the chemicals in hot tubs are bad for wetsuits and the trash in wetsuits is
bad for hot tubs. That brings us directly to taking the wetsuit off. After looping, this is undoubtedly the most difficult windsurfing maneuver to learn. Some athletes use a lubricant to get out of them easier. If you want to try lubrication, you might consider using a water-soluble natural lubricant. (I think weíre talking KY jelly here.) I found one recommendation for Body Shop's Avocado Body Butter. There are also expensive professional
lubricants such as Body Glide. Or you could use Pam. (Pam is a low-calorie spray-on cooking oil and
one of Americaís major contributions to world cuisine.) Wearing pantyhose also makes it easier to take the wetsuit off, but may result in laughter and derision from your buddies. It is easier to take off a wetsuit while it is
still dripping wet. I donít understand the physics of it, but it seems to be true. Take the wetsuit off as soon as
you know youíre done for the day.
Like most clothing, wetsuits can be repaired and altered--within reason.
You can have a suit taken in if youíve
lost weight. But it is nearly impossible to do a sex-change operation on a wetsuit. If youíre willing to pay around $600 for a wetsuit, you can have one custom-made. A custom job should fit you like a glove, if not a BodyGlove.
As all windsurfers have learned, you donít get something for nothing. There are trade-offs in wetsuit design. Smooth neoprene tends to stretch better and is warmer in windy conditions, but--and hereís the trade-off--it is more susceptible to damage than neoprene with fabric on the outside. Smooth neoprene also tends to develop creases.
The more panels you have in a wetsuit, the more flexible it is.
But with more panels you also have more places for water to get in.
Which lead us to seams. It would be waaaay too complicated to explain the
various seams in words. For a very good pictures of seam construction,
see the Gul Wetsuit web page at:
If youíre not a "detail person" just skip the next section.
Overlock. This type of stitch lasts forever, but is not watertight,
and can cause skin irritation or rash because the seam creates a little
ridge that can dig into your skin. This is found on the least expensive
suits and mainly summer suits. Flatlock. A flat stitch doesnít have a ridge
at the seam to push into your skin like the overlock method of joining
two pieces of neoprene. It is not as durable as the overlock stitch, but
does not cause as many rash problems. But it is also not a watertight stitch.
Water can go through the needle holes. Blindstitch. Blindstitching is flat,
no ridge. In the sewing process the needle does not penetrate through
the neoprene, so there are no stitch holes for cold water to follow. Double-blindstitched
suits have stitching on both sides, neither of which breaks through to
give water a path to follow. Blindstitching (or double-blindstitching)
is nearly always
combined with a gluing-together of the seams beforehand, and protective tape for additional seal and comfort
on the inside seams. Naturally, this type of seam is found on only the most expensive wetsuits. Taping reduces
If you use your suit in salt water you might consider getting a lycra rashguard. Salt residue can build up on the inside of the suit and rub against your skin.
The thicker the suit, the 'better' the suit is able to insulate.
If the suit is too tight, you won't be able to move or breathe. If the suit is too loose, too much water will get inside, adding extra weight.
Metal zippers are better than plastic. Whatever you have, you
need a "zip cup" on the bottom part of the zipper
to prevent a sudden influx of cold water down your back. Suit with zippers in the back are supposed to be stiffer and less flexible than shoulder-zip suits. Itís too early to tell how much of an improvement the new zipper-free suits are going to be, when one takes into account the shortened life-span. They may keep the water out better, but they are hard to get in and out of.
Iím out of space and I havenít even talked about shopping for suits, prices, fit, or comfort...