Suit up, Rubber Man!
If you live anywhere north of Santa Barbara, you always wear a wetsuit. When you get up to Oregon and Washington it does not matter what the season might be — you will be in a 7mm wetsuit with gloves, booties, and a hood. But if you are lucky and live in Hawaii or down in Mexico, you might never have to put on a wetsuit because the water is always over 70 degrees Fahrenheit. In San Diego, you have to have a range of wetsuits.
The year 2014 had extraordinarily high ocean temperatures. On September 10, the recorded water temperature at Scripps Pier in La Jolla was 78.6 degrees. Everyone surfing was “trunking” it (wearing boardshorts) with maybe a rash guard. The surfer girls were in bikinis and skin was showing everywhere in the water.
During the coldest winter, our water gets down to the very low 50s. That is not considered cold when surfing up in Oregon or Washington, but to a Southern California surfer it’s freezing.
The water temperature is only one factor in selecting a wetsuit for the surf session. Early mornings can be chilly even in the summer, especially when there is fog. It can be cold on the water in the afternoons when the onshore wind comes up. Over 15 years of surfing at Tourmaline Surfing Park, I have acquired wetsuits for 14 levels of warmth. The water has to be over 75 degrees to get me out of some sort of wetsuit. Here is what I have:
- Short-sleeve rash guard (O’Neill)
- Long-sleeve rash guard (O’Neill)
- Sleeveless Farmer John shorty (Quicksilver)
- Long-sleeve jacket that can be worn over Farmer John (Billabong)
- Spring suit (O’Neill)
- Long-sleeve spring suit (O’Neill)
- Sleeveless long pants spring suit (NeoSport)
- Short-sleeve long pants spring suit (Rip Curl)
- 3-2 full suit with lots of holes (Xcel)
- Short-sleeve liner that fits under a full suit (Mysterioso)
- 3-2 full suit (Xcel Fusion)
- R2 full suit (Patagonia — list price $529)
- 4-3 full suit (Hotline Super Fly — extra small for a super-tight fit)
Note: the first number is the thickness (millimeters) of the neoprene around the torso. the second number is the thickness on the limbs.
Many surfers have a couple of pairs of booties because it is no fun putting on a wet pair on a frosty cold morning. For extremely cold and windy days I do have a surf hood but you lose the cool look when you have one on. Under no circumstances should a surfer be seen wearing gloves in San Diego.
Do not wait for the years to go by to pick up that long-sleeve spring suit you always wanted. Other than full suits, which need to be well made and cost a lot, the other styles can be found for under $100, and some are much less.
I asked my surf buddy Jason how many wetsuits he has. He said, “I myself have four full wetsuits just for the winter so I can rotate them and always have a fresh, dry one for each surf session. I get a new winter wetsuit every other year.”