Wet-Suit Up!

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It’s officially winter – that depressing, miserable season during which few of us ever dare to brave the cold and take the boat out for a spot of wakeboarding, tubing or fishing. But perhaps we should change our mindset and make full use of our treasured investments, even in lessthan- ideal weather.

Whether you’re a boater, wakeboarder, tuber, surfer or fond of any other activity involving water; purchasing a quality wetsuit might just be the solace to your winter blues. Capetonians will know what I’m talking about – dealing with arctic-temperature water year round; if you don’t own and use a wetsuit in the icy waters of False Bay and surrounds…well, you must be a bit batty. The reality is that even in warmish water you’ll eventually get cold. Water absorbs body heat 25 times faster than air and unless you’re wallowing in a Jacuzzi that’s set above 37° (body temp) you’re bound to get cold after a while. Your best bet therefore is to get a quality, well-fitted wetsuit to weather the winter.

How it works
According to, still water (without currents or convection) conducts heat away from the body by pure thermal diffusion, approximately 20 to 25 times more efficiently than still air. Wetsuits are made of closedcell, foam neoprene – a synthetic rubber that contains small bubbles of nitrogen gas when made for use as wetsuit material. Nitrogen gas has very low thermal conductivity with respect to water or to solids, and the small and enclosed nature of the gas bubbles minimise heat transport through the gas by gas convection currents. The fabric layer of trapped gas cavities forces heat to travel slowly by a mostly diffusive process in a direction that mostly passes through bubbles of entrapped gas, thereby greatly reducing heat transfer from the body to the colder water surrounding the wetsuit. What all of these fancy words are trying to say is that your body heats up the water trapped between it and the wetsuit and a wetsuit’s material is designed to keep the warm water in and the cold water out.

A wetsuit must have a snug fit to work efficiently; too loose a fit at water entry and exit points will allow water to escape from between the suit and the body, taking the body’s heat with it. Cold water from the outside may enter the same way. Flexible seals at the suit cuffs aid in preventing heat loss in this fashion.

Foamed neoprene is very buoyant, and divers need to calculate the need for extra weight based on the thickness of their suit to achieve neutral buoyancy underwater. However, the buoyancy factor is very beneficial to swimmers, wakeboarders, and skiers as it helps them stay afloat.

A suit for every occasion
Nowadays there is a multitude of suits to choose from and trying to decide what will cater best for your needs can be a rather daunting prospect. There is a huge variety, including ‘shorties’, full-length suits, two-piece suits, surfer and diver wetsuits – and they come in varying thicknesses, from as thin as 0.5 millimetres up to eight millimetres. You can even opt for a dry suit if you plan on venturing into truly freezing water! What it comes down to is buying a suit for the type of conditions you are likely to use it in most often, and also for what activity you’re planning on using it for the most.

Sleeveless Vest – The vest is intended to be worn in addition to a longer wetsuit as it only covers the torso and provides minimal coverage. Some vests come with a hood already attached. Jacket – Similarly, the jacket should be purchased along with a longer wetsuit as it often provides little to no coverage for the legs. Some jackets come with short leg sleeves or just leg holes. Another style is the ‘beavertail’ which comes with a flap that hangs down the back and resembles a beaver’s tail, but gets fastened at the front. It is normally worn over a full length suit or with just the legs of a two-piece.

Shorty – The ‘shorty’ or spring suit covers the torso and comes with short sleeves and long or short legs and is designed for warmer water. Wakeboarders and kneeboarders prefer shorties as they don’t restrict movement and are easy to get into and out of between runs. Farmer John – Known as a long john, Johnny, Johnny suit or Farmer John/Jane – depending on whether it’s designed for men or women. It covers the torso but not the arms and usually come with long leg sleeves. It resembles an ‘overall’ and therefore the nickname.

Full-length – As you can guess, the full-length suit covers the torso and full length of the arms and legs. They come in many thicknesses, from 0.5 mm to 8 mm. Some manufacturers have started to add a slip coat inside their suits, making it easier to get it on and off.

Surfer suits – Many tube riders prefer this style of suit. The zipper is on the back so that surfers don’t lie on it when they are paddling belly down on the board. A diver’s suit, on the other hand, will have the zipper in the front so that the diving cylinder doesn’t press the zipper into the diver’s spine.

When you find yourself standing in the wetsuit shop amidst a horde of different styles, sizes, and brand names, a good strategy would be to think in terms of layers – depending on where you boat most often. It’s perhaps best to buy a full length suit and then add a jacket and a shorty to your armoury. These can then be layered over the full-length in colder water or replace the full-length in warmer water or during summer. However, what’s absolutely imperative is that your new wetsuit fits you perfectly. If it is too tight you might have difficulty breathing and in the worst case, cardiac failure. Then again, if it’s too loose-fitting it defeats the point of the entire exercise as the body-heated water between skin and wetsuit will escape easily and be replaced by the colder water outside of the wetsuit.

Also, remember your head, hands and feet. In the thermal balance of the human body, the heat loss over the head is at least 20% of the whole balance. So, if you’re planning on spending extended periods below the surface of cold water it would be wise to consider a hood. Some suits come with a hood attached but more often than not you have to purchase them additionally. A quality pair of boots will keep your feet warm and protected while neoprene gloves will keep your hands warm and protected from abrasions. ..


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