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Windsurfing Wetsuits

Nov 28, 2008

Buying a new wetsuit can be an intimidating experience. Windsurfers should look past the basic surf suit and find one that fits their comfort, warmth and performance needs to a tee. Windsport contacted Josh Noe, brand manager of Neil Pryde Waterwear, and Edwin Honsbeek, ProLimit’s wetsuit expert, to find out why it’s worth replacing that old, ratty, pee-stained suit with a brand-new 2008 model.

How have wetsuits improved over the years?
Josh Noe:
Flexibility is the biggest improvement. The jersey material laminated on the inside of the neoprene largely governs the amount of stretch, and these jerseys are now lighter, stretchier and silkier than ever. Today, a five-millimetre wetsuit feels lighter and more comfy than most three-millimetre suits from three or four years ago. Plus, we’ve dramatically reduced the amount of neon orange used in suits today—a huge fashion milestone.
Edwin Honsbeek:
The quality of the neoprene and materials and how they are applied in today’s wetsuit is vastly improved from the past. There is a lot of product development in the weight and stretch of the neoprene itself, giving us more options to build better-fitting products. This provides improved performance, warmth and comfort.

How has stitching evolved?
JN:
Ten years ago, wetsuits were mostly flat-lock stitched, meaning that they weren’t watertight. Next, blind stitching was developed to make a seam that was waterproof. To add durability and even more waterproofing, companies started to glue their seams in addition to blind-stitching them. Further improvement was the advent of liquid tape that is heat-welded to the inside of these seams. Although adding durability and water sealing, the liquid tape is rough and can delaminate from the seam. The newest, most advanced suits are glued and blind stitched and use super-thin polyurethane tape (TPU) for a smooth, stretchy and watertight seal.

What is the advantage to spending more money on a better wetsuit?
EH:
More high-end light and stretchy materials are used in building the more expensive products for a super-comfy fit and ultimate performance. The best of these materials can stretch up to five to six times their original length, whereas more low-end materials stretch only three to four times. Also, on the more expensive wetsuit, you find a better water barrier. The ultimate top-of-the-line suits use more panels in their layout for distinct shaping and a better fit. Of course, this is more work for the factory and adds to the cost.
JN:
At the budget level, the basic difference is that flatlock stitching (not watertight) is used versus the glued- and blind-stitched seams (watertight) on better suits. At the next level, extra money goes to pay for higher-grade neoprene or higher-grade jersey material, which is lighter and stretchier. This is the major difference between a cheap suit and an average-priced suit. Between a medium-priced suit and highest-priced suit, you usually pay for thermal insulation (on the chest, back or thighs) and liquid tape or, even better, polyurethane-tape-sealed seams. And, of course, there’s even more top-end neoprene and jersey used on the most expensive suits. Basically, the more you pay, the warmer, drier and more comfortable you’ll be.

Any tips for finding a perfect fit?
JN:
A size chart can give you a good estimate of what size you are, but you can’t beat trying the wetsuit on before you buy it. And remember that neoprene will relax in the water, so the fit in the shop will be slightly different.

Why should a windsurfer buy a windsurf-specific wetsuit?
EH:
These suits have a windsurf-specific arm cut to prevent cramping during sailing as you grip the boom. This is so much different from surf or even a kite-specific suit.
JN:
Besides the arm cut differences, windsurf-specific suits are also made to keep you warm where there is windchill. A lot more smoothskin is used on a windsurf suit. A surf suit, in comparison, has more double-lined jersey [because] the surfer is in the water most of the time, as opposed to being on top of it. Also, the neoprene Neil Pryde uses in our windsurfing suits is more durable than the average surf-wetsuit neoprene. Velcro ankle closures help drain water to prevent sausage legs and allow a tight fit to prevent ride up.

Is it OK to pee in my suit?
EH:
It’s no joke—peeing in your wetsuit can harm it. The inner layer is glued on the neoprene and urine can work like a solvent on both the seams and the inner lining.

Any tips for wetsuit care?
JN:
Try not to hang your suit in direct sunlight when drying it, as the ultraviolet rays will shorten its life.
EH:
Always rinse your suit with fresh water or turn it inside-out and wash it in a laundry machine with cold water with special suit detergent. Do not tumble dry, but hang it inside-out in a place not exposed to direct sunlight. Also, do not leave it wet in your car in hot conditions.


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