Wetsuits: the secrets behind warmth and flexibility

Surfing
Wetsuits: neoprene still is the most common material used | Photo: Shutterstock

Warmth and flexibility are the most important characteristics in a neoprene wetsuit.

But what has changed? And what will the future of neoprene in surfing look like?

Neoprene was invented in the 1930s, but it only entered the history of surfing in the 1950s by the hand of Hugh Bradner and Jack O'Neill.

Nevertheless, in the past decades, things have changed a lot.

What is neoprene? Technically speaking, neoprene is polychloroprene, a type of polymer. It's the result of a chemical of chloroprene.

After a series of reactions, the product is baked and expands into neoprene sheets.

In 1951, Hugh Bradner, a physicist at the University of California, proved small bubbles of air meant water could quickly reach skin temperature and continue to act as thermal insulation.

One year later, Jack O'Neill started his own wetsuit company in a California garage.

In the following decades, scientists and researchers improved the neoprene wetsuit with new chemical formulas, lighter and thinner models, more comfortable tissues, super stretching features, and special stitches.

Marketing did the rest.

Structure, Elongation and Memory

As time went by, new approaches to wetsuit manufacturing were developed.

For example, with its high micro-cell structure, limestone neoprene offers 30 percent more air bubbles inside the rubber than other conventional wetsuits.

The nitrogen closed-cells are a better insulator than air, which allows for exceptional heat retention and efficiency.

Limestone neoprene has an elongation of between 480-580 percent, meaning that it is super stretchy.

Memory is also critical. Is your wetsuit holding the shape of your body? If it's not, it should.

The next step is getting neoprene into the eco-friendly fields.

Unfortunately, wetsuits are not green enough because of all the chemical interactions needed to produce neoprene.

Surfer's height and weight dimensions are the most important features to have in mind before buying a neoprene wetsuit.

Women should also check their waist and chest measurements.

Here's a general wetsuit size chart. For a more precise fit, check each wetsuit brand's sizing chart

Men's Wetsuits

Size Height (cm) Height (feet) Weight (kg) Weight (lb)
XS 168-175 5'6''-5'9'' 55-65 121-143
S 170-178 5'7''-5'10'' 60-70 132-154
MS 172-180 5'7½''-5'11'' 65-78 143-172
M 175-182 5'9''-5'11½'' 70-80 154-176
MT 180-185 5'11''-6'1'' 74-84 163-185
LS 175-180 5'9''-5'11'' 75-84 165-185
L 180-185 5'11''-6'1'' 78-88 172-194
XL 182-192 5'11½''-6'3½'' 85-100 187-220

Women's Wetsuits

Size Height (cm) Height (feet) Chest (cm) Chest (in) Waist (cm) Waist (in) Weight (kg) Weight (lb)
2 155-160 5'1''-5'3'' 75-80 29½''-31½'' 58-63 23''-25'' 40-48 90-105
4 160-165 5'3''-5'5'' 77-83 30½''-32½'' 60-66 24''-26'' 45-52 100-115
6 163-168 5'4''-5'6'' 80-85 31½''-33½'' 63-68 25''-27'' 50-57 110-125
8 163-170 5'5''-5'7'' 83-88 32½''-34½'' 66-71 26''-28'' 55-61 120-135
10 168-173 5'6''-5'8'' 86-91 34''-36'' 68-73 27''-29'' 59-68 130-150
12 170-175 5'7''-5'9'' 90-95 35½''-37½'' 73-78 29''-31'' 64-73 140-160
14 172-180 5'9''-5'11'' 94-99 37''-39½'' 76-81 30''-32'' 68-77 150-170
16 175-183 5'9''-6' 98-102 38½''-40½'' 81-86 32''-34'' 75-84 165-185

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