30 September 2009

Quick Wetsuit Changes

The ocean here in NorCal is always cold. While the water temperature at Santa Cruz breaks may warm to around 60º F in summer, winter temps can fall below 50 degrees at my usual spots in San Mateo County south of San Francisco. Although a hardy few drop the rubber for boardshorts on hot sunny days, a 4/3 or 5/4 wetsuit is obligatory year-round for the rest of us, especially shortboarders who spend more time partially submerged.

Wetsuits keep a surfer warm by minimizing flushing, the flow of new cold water into the suit. When you first enter the ocean, the initial inrush of chilly seawater is soon warmed by your body, and a good-fitting wetsuit will prevent more from entering during your session. That means the neoprene must be form-fitting and fairly tight. And that makes changing into and out of a wetsuit a time-consuming chore.

When I'm squeezing in dawn patrol before work, less prep and cleanup time means more surf time. Not to mention that when the air temperature is in the 40s on those cold days in January, I don't want to linger outside post-surf, shivering and dripping. So I've learned a few tricks to speed up the process of changing. It would be great if surfing wetsuit manufacturers lined their products with a slick fabric, but since they somehow haven't thought of that, I provide my own. Under my wetsuit, I wear a workout bikini, long-sleeved rashguard and black tights. Neoprene slides off of these fabrics instead of sticking stubbornly to uncovered damp skin. (Most guys may not consider the last item an option, but my brother is a diver who has taken to buying queen-size pantyhose "for his wife" after I gave him this tip.)

It's always nice to have a jug of fresh water, especially hot, available for rinsing off after a session. And water can also help you to get out of a wetsuit faster. Something akin to a vacuum appears to form in booties while surfing, but a little water poured into the top breaks the seal so the booties pull off more easily. Water dumped into the neck opening of the wetsuit loosens it up as well.

A key point to remember is to keep the wetsuit from bunching up as you remove it. Although it may seem obvious to the more experienced, don't try to take both arms out of the sleeves at the same time; free one first, then help the other. And remember that booties, hood and gloves are last on, first off.

If you use a changing robe instead of tasking one hand with holding up a towel, that speeds the process as well, so you can get quickly out of that cold wetsuit and on with the rest of your day.

This post first appeared on The Surfing Blog.

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