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Is A Wetsuit Waterproof? Do You Stay Dry?

   June 23rd, 2020   Posted In: Articles  

Is A Wetsuit Waterproof? Do You Stay Dry?

What is the Most Common Wetsuit Question?

is a wetsuit waterproofIf you guessed “is a wetsuit waterproof?” Then you’ve probably been asked this question countless times as I have.

What’s Funny Is…

I think the most common question actually is “does that thing keep you warm?” But I don’t really consider that a valid question since it often comes from a doofus on the beach. My response often is a condescending “uh ya… of course it does man… why else would I wear it?”

But when it comes to a question that requires an actual answer, then “is a wetsuit waterproof?” is a very valid question. Actually, the validity was proven to me one day when I was asked by my 5-year-old nephew. Then, minutes later my 37-year old brother-in-law who is a very smart accountant saw me putting my wetsuit on and he asked “Hey man, is a wetsuit waterproof?” To top it off, my 68-year-old dad also asked it about an hour later.

Why Am I Telling You This?

I am using that story to prove that a vast majority of people have no clue how wetsuits actually work. I have also often heard the question come out as “do you stay dry in a wetsuit?” But as far as the questions go, I think we all are thinking the same thing here and that is: Does water get inside your wetsuit? Or does it block all the water from coming in?

Either way. The short answer to “is a wetsuit waterproof?” or “do you stay dry in a wetsuit?” is No. Not one bit.

It’s actually the opposite. A wetsuit depends on the water getting inside the suit and next to your skin to keep you warm. It is CRITICAL for a wetsuit to fit tightly in order for it to work like it is supposed to.

Here’s what happens when you submerge yourself in cold water in a wetsuit:

  • You get a quick rush of cold. That’s the water seeping into the suit mainly through the neck, leg, and arm openings. It can also get in through the seams.
  • Within moments the water turns into a thin sheet of liquid that is trapped between the wetsuit neoprene and your skin.
  • That water is quickly heated to your body temperature and becomes a thin layer of warm liquid insulation that feels nice on your skin.
  • The water continues to stay warm because of the natural insulating properties of neoprene which is a rubbery substance that is filled with tiny air bubbles that do a great job of trapping heat inside.
  • The neoprene continues to keep new water out because of its tightness. That is why you aren’t experiencing new rushes of cold. New water will seep in however if you are hit by large waves or take a hard dive. The whole process then repeats itself.
  • The carbon black coloring added to the neoprene also helps absorb heat from the sun and the outside air temperature which also contributes to the overall heating efficiency.

The thickness of the neoprene of a wetsuit also plays a huge role in how warm you will get. Check out which variations work for certain water temperatures by checking out this water temp chart:

Well, There’s Gotta Be Some Kind of Waterproof Suit, Right?

Yes! They are called drysuits and they are much different than a wetsuit. Drysuits are bulky, heavy, and can be very hard to move around in. They are not ideal for swimming or surfing because they offer very limited flexibility. Drysuits are often used in survival situations or in diving situations in icy water. Check out our blog post to learn more about how a drysuit works!

Let’s Stick to the Question “Is a Wetsuit Waterproof?”

Wetsuits are not waterproof because the simple concept they use to provide warmth has been proven to work even in water conditions that most people would never dare to enter. Science has also proven that water is one of the best natural insulators. All a wetsuit does is simply use its own insulating neoprene power and the insulating power of water to keep us warm. People also underestimate the heating power of the human body. We pump out a lot of heat and it has nowhere to escape in that wetsuit which means we stay nice and toasty.

We Owe a Lot to Jack O’Neill

He pioneered the wetsuit and created the global O’Neill brand. O’Neill surfed at Ocean Beach in San Francisco in the 1950s and there was no way he could last out on in the 52 to 58-degree water. He started making wetsuits out of different materials until he finally found neoprene and was able to start mass-producing his designs. Ocean Beach is my home beach and I bodyboard there all the time. I can last about 2-minutes in that water without my suit. But with it on, I can be out there all day without getting cold.

Chances are if you are reading this you want to get into some cold water

If you are intimated by the thought of cold water entering your wetsuit and you being cold the whole time you are not alone. No one likes to be cold. But if the answer to the question “is a wetsuit waterproof?” is holding you back from getting in the water simply don’t let it. I remember the first time I tried using a wetsuit. It was the first question I asked. And when I heard that it DID let water in I had no faith that it would keep me warm. But it did. I was blown away. I bought my own within the next week and have purchased several since then.

So, good luck out there, and don’t be intimidated!

Wes Severson is a fitness enthusiast and bodyboarder from San Francisco, CA who is always at Ocean Beach hitting the waves. He is also an Emmy Award-winning broadcast news writer and producer and a recording artist who goes by the name Wes Magic.

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One Comment

  • How do you loosen the glue holding the zipper in place on the wet suit. Have removed the stitching and have the new zipper but don’t want to tear the suit by pulling on the glue. Is there a way to loosen the glue? Heat? Solvent?

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