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Why Do People Wear Wetsuits?

   February 23rd, 2022   Posted In: Articles  

Why Do People Wear Wetsuits?

When someone asks, “Why do people wear wetsuits?” there is one obvious answer: To stay warm while they are performing activities in cold water. In reality, though, to fully answer the question, it requires a much deeper response. Mainly because of the popularity of watersports that pretty much require you to wear a wetsuit.

The Obvious Answer – Warmth

Wetsuits are made of a special type of air-tight rubber-based material called neoprene which is filled with tiny nitrogen bubbles. The suit fits tightly which allows the suit to trap a thin layer of water between the wetsuit and your skin. While the tightness of the wetsuit provides some level of warmth, it is your body that does the work. Your body heat quickly heats up that thin layer of water, which in turn, keeps you nice and warm.

The Big Five

When it comes to wearing wetsuits for watersports, there are generally four avenues that make it easy to explain ‘why do people wear wetsuits’. And even though warmth is really the name of the game for wetsuits, there is another benefit that is easily overlooked. Watersports are generally done out in the open with the sun beating down on you. Sunlight cannot penetrate a wetsuit which makes for great protection against sunburn.


The most popular reason that people wear wetsuits is for surfing. Unless you are lucky enough to live in an area where the water temperature of the ocean is above 70-degrees, which I am not, you will find almost every surfer wearing a wetsuit. 

In an area like Northern California where I live, surfing without a wetsuit would make for a very frigid, unpleasant experience. When I mention surfing, it is important to note that I mean all forms and similarities. Including paddle boarding, bodyboarding, kite-boarding, and a few others.


People who swim in the ocean also need warmth but there is another major benefit to wearing a wetsuit for open water swimming; Buoyancy. Open water swimmers wear a different type of wetsuit that allows them to float better. This can make open water swimming a bit easier.

Scuba Diving 

Scuba diving is another great example of why people wear wetsuits. Even though most scuba diving destinations are in warm water areas, a wetsuit is pretty much required for a couple of reasons. One, scuba diving requires you to dive deep and the further down you go, the colder the water gets. Scuba sessions are generally longer which makes comfort an absolute necessity. 

The other reason is for protection. Scuba diving often involves a person swimming around coral, rocks, and sea creatures. Ao a wetsuit offers a layer of rubber armor that can prevent cuts and scratches. It also offers protection against stings or bites if some of the sea life you encounter get spooked or scared and instinctively attack you. 

I also lump snorkeling into the scuba category even though you stay closer to the surface where the water is generally warmer. In this case, protection from the sun and protection against rocks and other elements are the main reasons why people wear wetsuits for snorkeling. 

Swiftwater Paddling

Swiftwater paddling or kayaking is another easy answer as to why people wear wetsuits. It is generally done in swift-moving streams and mountain rivers that involve water that comes directly from snowmelt. That means water temperatures can get ice cold. Kayaking requires warmth-driven comfort because most excursions involve someone traveling several miles down a river. You generally don’t have the option to just pull to the side of the river and get out because you’re cold. 

Similar to kayaking, whitewater rafting trips are also an activity that may require you to squeeze yourself into a wetsuit. Once you are heading down the river, there is generally no stopping until you reach your destination. And the last you want is to get soaked by a huge splash that leaves you shivering. A wetsuit would keep you much warmer along the way. 

A wetsuit is probably overkill for leisurely kayak rides on lakes or oceans where you avoid getting wet altogether. However, dressing in warm clothing or layers is a good option because a sudden temperature dip or gusty afternoon winds can ruin your leisurely ride into a shiver session.

Occupational Reasons

Ask an underwater welder the question, why do people wear wetsuits? They will tell you that they are a must-have item for the tools of the trade. They are often tasked with diving into deep waters and staying down there until they get the job done. A welder who needs to take breaks all the time because they are cold won’t stand a chance in the industry. 

It is important to note that many underwater welders, marine repair technicians, marine rescuers, and underwater miners like the ones you see in Alaska on Discovery Channel shows like Gold Rush: White Water or Bering Sea gold, are usually wearing ‘drysuits’ which prevent you from getting wet at all. 

However, there are certain types of specialized wetsuits that allow you to circulate hot water through the suit which can keep you warm even if you are diving in a body of water that is frozen over at the surface.

There are, of course, a few other niche reasons why people wear wetsuits but they all come down to warmth and comfort. When you are deciding on whether or not you need a wetsuit, it is best to consider what activities you will be doing in it. Certain wetsuits are made for certain sports or activities. So once you narrow that down, deciding on what is best for you becomes a whole lot easier.

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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