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Your Top Wetsuit Questions Answered: Part VI

   November 21st, 2017   Posted In: FAQs  

What Is the Purpose of a Wetsuit?

Wetsuits are used for water sports and recreation which includes: surfing and wind surfing; river and sea kayaking, rafting and canoeing; sailing; canyoning and spelunking; water skiing, wake boarding and sea-doo-ing, etc.

So what is the purpose of a wetsuit? A wetsuit serves three purposes: thermal and U.V. protection; abrasion prevention; and as a buoyancy supplement. While wetsuits protect your skin from ultra-violet light and cuts and scrapes well and can add a noticeable amount of buoyancy as you swim, the primary purpose of a wetsuit is to keep you warm. With respect to keeping you warm in the water, a neoprene wetsuit is unparalleled.

purpose of a wetsuit

Wetsuit socks from NeoSport.

What Are Wetsuit Socks?

Wetsuit socks are the equivalent of neoprene gloves for your feet. Wetsuit socks (made out of neoprene) function like ordinary socks, but they are semi-waterproof and retain heat far better than woven fabrics. Wetsuit socks are thick which means more padding and more comfort. They can be worn with or without neoprene boots. While not as durable as booties, there are advantages to using neoprene socks.

Though it is not a good idea to walk around on shore in wetsuit socks (since the neoprene will eventually tear), the fact that wetsuit socks function as a second skin means you have a variety of options with respect to how you use them and what you use them for. You can put shoes or booties over neoprene socks. You can use neoprene socks inside sandals. You can even wear wetsuit socks when you need to fit your feet into tight spaces like the bow of a small, play-boat kayak. Basically, the sole purpose of wetsuit socks is to keep your feet warm and protected.

What Wetsuit Should I Use For a Triathlon?

When choosing a wetsuit for a triathlon, there are two factors you must consider: which wetsuit enhances your swimming and which ones fall within USAT Athletes Advisory Council (AAC) rules and regulations. AAC rules dictate, “the wetsuit maximum temperature for elite athletes at 68 degrees for swim distances less than 3000 meters and 71.6 degrees for distances of 3000 meters or greater. In addition, no part of the wetsuit can be greater than 5mm thick.”

With respect to performance — since there are buoyancy limitations — the most important variable you need to consider when choosing a wetsuit for a triathlon is drag. Wetsuit neoprene that functions well for surfing, kayaking, and other water-sport recreations generally create a great deal of drag. The woven outer layer that makes neoprene more durable creates friction between the wetsuit and the water as a triathlete swims. As such, a smooth surface neoprene wetsuit works far better in a competition.

In addition to friction, another factor you need to consider when pondering the purchase of a wetsuit for triathlons is flexibility. For swimming, you need a wetsuit that flexes easily, one that allows you to maximize ease-of-motion. The last thing you want to be doing in a triathlon is fighting against your wetsuit as you swim. As a result of AAC regulations, the importance of reducing drag and maximizing movement, many wetsuit manufacturers produce wetsuits specifically designed for triathlons such as blueseventy and even NeoSport.

Why Are Wetsuit Zippers in the Back?

Traditionally, wetsuit zippers were always in the back because — unlike a ski jacket wind breaker, etc., — wetsuits are skin tight by design. If a wetsuit zipper were to run from your neck down to your pelvis in the front, it will restrict movement because zippers do not flex. In addition to restricting movement, an inflexible zipper running center-line down your front would be uncomfortable and pinch were you to lean forward.

While the back zipper is still very popular, there are wetsuit manufacturers who offer front (or, chest) zippers. But unlike back zippers, today’s front zippers run diagonally from your shoulder toward your armpit. Deciding on a zipper in the back or the front is simply a personal preference!

Are Wetsuits Supposed to Be Tight?

Yes, wetsuits are supposed to be tight – like, skin tight. That isn’t to say a wetsuit should restrict movement and it doesn’t mean a wetsuit should fit small. A wetsuit should be touching nearly every part of your skin. If a wetsuit doesn’t fit well, then it won’t provide thermal protection/warmth.

In large part, the reason wetsuits insulate you from the cold is because the porous nature of neoprene allows a small amount of water to pass through and become trapped between your skin and the wetsuit. As water is a sound insulator, the water traps your body’s heat inside the wetsuit. If the micro-barrier of water between your skin and the wetsuit does not exist — because there are gaps and spaces between your skin and the wetsuit, — the wetsuit will be considerably less effective and you will lose body heat.

When Is a Wetsuit Too Small?

There is a fine but definitive line between a wetsuit that is appropriately tight and one that is too small. A wetsuit that is too small will cling a little too tightly to your body. A wetsuit should fit like second skin, but if it feels as if it restricts your movement/breathing then that’s when you know it is too small.

Are Wetsuit Gloves Waterproof?

The neoprene that makes up wetsuit gloves has micro-pores that allow small amounts of water through. Water, a natural insulator, traps the heat from your hands inside the gloves. The neoprene and micro-thin water layer work in conjunction to keep your hands warm, protected from the cold water and air temperatures on the outside of the gloves.

But to answer this question, no, wetsuit gloves are not waterproof in the strict sense of the word. By design, wetsuit gloves allow extremely small amounts of water to seep through.

Why Does My Wetsuit Stink?

Your wetsuit stinks for the same reason your feet and armpits stink, bacteria. While not generally harmful, ocean and river water have bacteria that releases a foul odor, just like the bacteria growing on your feet and under your arms. And like your body, if you don’t wash your wetsuit regularly, it will begin to smell, particularly if you don’t give it an opportunity to dry before using it again — typically, your wetsuit won’t smell if it is completely dry, at least not as bad.

But, if you want to avoid any kind of foul smell on your wetsuit, simply wash it with a neoprene-safe shampoo after you’re finished using it. That will kill the bacteria and you will not have to worry about how it’s going to smell the next time you use it.

Ryan grew up kayaking the rivers around Gunnison, CO — the Taylor, East, Arkansas, Gunnison and Colorado — and has lived in a small mountain town next to the Pejivalle River in Costa Rica since 2008 with his wife Nancy. When not writing, Ryan spends his time play boating, safety kayaking, and guiding rafts on the Pejivalle and Pacuare rivers. Ryan looks forward to the day he can paddle with his daughter Cassidy.

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