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If you could only have one wetsuit, what would it be?
November 24, 2012 1:22 AM   Subscribe

Surfers, snorkelers, scuba divers: trying to buy a gift. If you could only have one wetsuit, what would it be?

I see full wetsuits, I see sleeveless, I see short sleeve. I see numbers like 3/2. But if you were a guy who could only have one wetsuit, what would you want? I'm sure it's context-dependent so I'll say that it'd probably be used in California mostly, and after that it would be used in various vacation spots around the world. And the owner is fairly rugged. That's the most I can say - if I had more precise info, I'd know which wetsuit to buy. Little help, please? Thanks.
posted by malhouse to Shopping (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
I think wetsuits are pretty hard to purchase as a gift. First of all, there's no one-thickness-fits-all-conditions. Second, fit is super important, especially as you get into colder water. Third, there is a ton of variance in cold tolerance -- for example, in 70F water, I'm fine with no wetsuit, but some people would be reaching for their 5mm suits and hoods.

For cold water (e.g. California), the wetsuit needs to fit nearly perfectly, and it's basically a matter of trying several brands until one is just right. For that you'll want a 7mm (at least), but then you have to decide on one piece vs two piece, semidry or not, etc. Also many people just aren't comfortable in wetsuits at these temperatures (think 45-60F), and they dive drysuits instead.

A 3mm (or 3/2), good for warmer diving, is much more forgiving as a gift purchase, as they are naturally stretchier, with thinner neoprene. This could be taken to many vacation spots.
posted by ktkt at 5:14 AM on November 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


As ktkt says, wetsuits are incredibly specific and personal. Also, I'd wear a very different wetsuit for surfing than scuba diving, for reasons to do with temperature, mobility, comfort and buoyancy/thickness/construction. However, I think you'd make someone super happy with a gift certificate to a big surf shop that carries a wide range of wetsuit brands.
posted by iamkimiam at 6:21 AM on November 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


The problem inherent in your question is that without more precise info it's going to be very hard to get a wetsuit that has a reasonable chance of working for your friend's needs, unless you just take him out wetsuit shopping on your dollar or give him a gift certificate. As ktkt says [on preview: ha!], a lot depends on location, a lot depends on personal preference, and proper fit is very important -- too loose is bulky and won't keep you warm enough, too tight can screw up your circulation. Even for my tropical-weight 3mm I had to try on quite a few suits to get one that fit me right (granted, I'm a petite woman rather than a "rugged" guy, but I'm not that extreme an outlier).

If you're absolutely bound and determined to buy a wetsuit I'd go for a lightweight "shortie" that covers just the torso and upper limbs. But I think you'd be better off going to your local surf/dive shop and asking the employees there for gift suggestions based on what you know of his preferences. (If you want to be really sneaky, go to the one your friend frequents and see if you can find someone who knows him!)
posted by bettafish at 6:30 AM on November 24, 2012


For cold water (e.g. California), the wetsuit needs to fit nearly perfectly, and it's basically a matter of trying several brands until one is just right. For that you'll want a 7mm (at least), but then you have to decide on one piece vs two piece, semidry or not, etc. Also many people just aren't comfortable in wetsuits at these temperatures (think 45-60F), and they dive drysuits instead.

When I see ktkt talking about a 7mm suit, I know he's talking about a dive suit. Here in Northern California (Santa Cruz), surfers mostly wear 4mm suits. Surf and dive suits are completely different beasts.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 7:07 AM on November 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have had excellent experiences with Wetsuit Wearhouse online. Good prices, crazy helpful staff, huge selection, easy exchanges and returns.
posted by apparently at 7:42 AM on November 24, 2012


I think shorties are useless here in Northern California. If it's warm enough to wear a shortie, most people don't wear one at all, seems like.

This is not a gift you should buy for someone else. Get a gift certificate. He really needs to try them one.

I wouldn't even use an online company unless he already knows what kind of wetsuit (brand, line, the whole 9 yards) he wants. For instance, if he has a RipCurl Ebomb from 2011 that he loves, he might risk buying the RipCurl Ebomb 2012. Or I suppose he could buy a bunch of suits and return the ones that didn't fit right.

(As a side rant, that thing people do where they try suits/shoes/whatevers on in a store and then buy them online is bullshit. They're forcing a small local business, which already operates at a disadvantage, to serve as a show room for a non-local business that doesn't have to pay overhead and often doesn't have to even pay the same taxes. Don't do that. It's bad juju and in the long run puts local brick and mortar stores out of business. Even though they're more tailored to local conditions and tastes, they just can't compete.)
posted by small_ruminant at 8:13 AM on November 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I would want the wetsuit that I bought myself.

Would you buy this person a pair of underwear? If not, then don't buy them a wetsuit. Underwear has to fit only a limited region of the body. A wetsuit has to fit the entire body to work properly. It needs to be the right thickness to be effective. A wetsuit that is too thick will tire out the user. A suite that is too thin won't be warm enough. A diving wetsuit doesn't have the padding that a surfer needs.

When I bought my wetsuit for sailing, I spent around six months shopping for the right suit, and had the help of several other people in my sailing club. It may be easier to buy a suit for surfing or diving, uses that wetsuit makers actually target, but it still isn't the sort of thing that you casually buy for a friend. Unless you and your friend are insensitive enough to the price of a wetsuit that it is totally cool for it to be a white elephant gift. In which case, buy whatever you like.
posted by b1tr0t at 10:56 AM on November 24, 2012


Down here in OC you rarely see anybody surfing in anything but a fullsuit, and I'm pretty sure they are nearly all 3/2s (these suits are thinner in areas where you need more flexibility). When it starts getting a bit warm for a fullsuit (around 70 degrees), you can pretty much just switch to board shorts and skip the springsuits and farmer johns. When it gets a bit cold for a 3/2 (around 60 degrees), you can accessorize with booties and wear a rash guard under the suit for extra warmth. I have a Quicksilver Synchro (on the cheap end, but one of my prized possessions):
http://www.wetsuitwearhouse.com/page/WW/SA343MG

Fit is really important, so definitely come to grips with the reality that you might not be able to surprise your friend with the perfect suit. Even trying on suits, I needed a helpful employee to point out that I needed a medium-tall, not a large. If you want to avoid the gift certificate route, find a highly rated surf shop in the area with a sensible exchange policy and good selection in stock. If you were anywhere near me, that place would be The Frog House.
posted by eddydamascene at 6:44 PM on November 24, 2012


Gift card. We can recommend good shops if you tell us where he lives, and whether it's for surfing or for diving (those two are way different suits, but either one can be used for snorkeling). A good bet for a store that carries both styles of suits and has stores all over the place in Socal is Sport Chalet (bonus: online gift card buying). But if he's a surfer, get one for a surf shop, and a diver, a dive shop.
posted by bluesky78987 at 11:53 PM on November 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


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