For me, it’s always been all about the fit! When I started surfing in the mid 80’s along the North Coast of Oregon, there wasn’t a selection of women’s cold water wetsuits to choose from, in fact there was no cold water wetsuits for surfing being made for women. You could find thick dive suits that were built for us, but good luck trying to surf in them. Basically if you wanted a wetsuit that would keep you warm in 48 to 52 degree ocean temps, you were either relegated to wearing a men’s fitted and sized 4 or 5 mm suit which you were sure to have issues with like “gap-page” in areas where water would pool up or other parts of the suit that were just too tight. The other option was buying a women’s fitted warm water wetsuit, like a 3/2 mm designed for So Cal winter ocean temps and wearing it here, freezing your butt off, most of the time.
Well as the old adage says, we’ve come a long way baby! At the original NW surf shop, Cleanline Surf Shop in Seaside, established in 1980, they carry on an average day three to four price point, entry level women’s surfing wetsuits in 4 and 5 mm thicknesses, with hood or without, as well as a deep and diverse inventory of “state of the art” women’s surfing wetsuits with the best seam constructions, fabric technology and fabulous fits from the top five wetsuit companies, O’Neill, Ripcurl, Patagonia, Roxy and Billabong. There is really nowhere else to shop for a cold water women’s wetsuit than Cleanline, in my humble opinion. Their staff are experts when it comes to advice on wetsuits.
Now for some tips on how to proceed. Plan to spend a couple hours minimum in the shop slowly and methodically trying on their selection of women’s wetsuits, usually half dozen or more. They have fans for you in the dressing rooms, so after trying one on and taking it off, you’re starting to get a bit sweaty, so cool down with a time out and fan before trying on the next one. Do this for each suit you’re trying on, so that you don’t have a biased opinion based on how you were cool and comfortable for the first one, but now on number three, you are hot, sweaty and a bit tired. Just take your time so you can fairly decide the best fitting wetsuit for your unique body type. Like I said at the beginning, it’s all about the fit!
Evaluate with each suit you try on which one feels the best overall, as far as being comfortable and not grabbing in any of your joints like armpits, knees, elbows or neck. If the suit’s fit is grabbing you uncomfortably somewhere in the dressing room, then it will only irritate you more when you’re paddling out in it to catch some waves. A great fitting suit should feel like your arms can paddle freely, you can do pop-ups from the carpet easefully in the shop, the hood is not gagging you when you’re arched up on the floor pretend paddling, and you could literally hang out in it with comfort. When you try on The Suit and all of these criteria are met, then you’ve found your winner. Know that this suit will only get more comfortable when wet, it will expand slightly and feel a touch more flexible. So have a snug fit in the shop in order for it to be perfect in the waves.
Lastly, I recommend trying on your gloves and booties with the new suit before purchasing. Make sure there is room under the wrist openings and ankle openings for your 2 or 3 mm glove and 5 or 6 mm boot to fit under. A rashguard isn’t essential but I sure love wearing one under my wetsuit. The suit goes on and off easier, it does prevent chafing of your neck, armpits and elbow joints, and stays in place when you’re tugging off the suit, unlike a bikini top. Plus they aren’t all black any longer, so you can pick a floral or bright colored one, if you’d like.
So now it’s time to try on some wetsuits. Check out Cleanline Surf Shops in Seaside, Cannon Beach or online at www.cleanlinesurf.com if you’re out of town or state. Have fun, take your time and you will be so stoked you did to find, buy and own the perfect cold water wetsuit for you!