I’m referring to style here not the manufacturer although some manufacturer’s wetsuits do seem to fit better than others. For years my favorite style of wetsuit was a jacket. I never really cared for vests which were cold and exposed the shoulders to the sun and the short-sleeved jacket was only slightly better. Spring-suits were a nice luxury if you had one but even they often seemed too hot or too cold for the conditions. Simply put, my favorite was just a plain long-sleeved jacket.
Not only because it was small, light and less cumbersome compared to a full-suit or even a spring-suit, but because of what it denoted, what it stood for, what it represented to me as a surfer – a cool not cold day (cold if you didn’t have a jacket), usually in the Spring or Fall, often with excellent waves. Once I got used to the cold I found I could go nearly to Christmas in some seasons with just a jacket.
Of course to surf year-round on the upper coast of Texas you needed a full-suit.
But the full-suit was a necessity whereas the jacket was actually a luxury. However I’d caught so many good days wearing just a jacket and trunks that just seeing the jacket hanging in the closet would give me a good feeling. The sight of the full-suit hanging there foreboded like a necessary evil by reminding me of truly cold water more so than good waves.
The jacket however has faded as my favorite in recent years for a couple of reasons. First and foremost is I’ve finally accepted they really don’t make it in my size (extra-large short or XLS). Before you suggest I lose weight I’m 5’9″ and 165 lbs which is not all that big but I have a 42″-44″ chest which apparently is big in the surfing world because to get that size in the chest you have to go into the XL range. Chest size is the all-important limiting factor for me. A wetsuit too tight across the chest is restrictive to breathing, a big no-no for surfing. All other wetsuit styles came in XLS except the jacket. The closest size I could get it in is XL. This meant that the jackets fit me in the chest but the sleeves were invariably too long. While surfing I’d tug up on the sagging, too-long wet sleeves, try rolling them up and eventually resort to cutting a couple of inches off with scissors.
The second reason the jacket is no longer my favorite is that another style eventually proved to be even more practical.
Owning several different styles of wetsuit is no longer a luxury. The quality has improved drastically while the price seems to have come down. I paid around 120 dollars in the early 80’s for my first one-piece full-suit. It was 3mm. and a good one for the time but nowhere near as good as just basic entry-level suits of today which cost around 100 bucks. Before this I bought a used one-piece full-suit from a pawn shop for 25 dollars that was too tight, 1/4″ thick and felt like it was made out of a yoga mat. It was suffocating to wear and possibly the worst wetsuit I’ve ever owned. I’ll even admit to being old enough to have bought a new beavertail wetsuit in the mid-seventies – another terrible wetsuit.
I remember using the beavertail feature once as designed and experiencing the “crushing” sensation. That night I cut it off flush with the back hem of the wetsuit and thought it looked better without it. The next time I went surfing some older surfers told me I was supposed to leave it on so it could flutter around in the breeze behind me like a tail – “That’s why they call it a “beavertail” they said. I hated that cold, binding and chafing wetsuit and the memory of it makes me appreciate more how good and cheap wetsuits are today.
Most surfers I know now who take their surfing seriously own at least one full-suit, a spring-suit and a jacket or vest. Spring-suits have always been hit or miss for me. For the most part they reminded me of cut down 3/2 full-suits and I would often find myself either too hot or too cold as I mentioned. I also found the short arm springs too tight through the sleeve openings (and I don’t have big arms so I’m not sure what’s up with that). I liked the long-armed spring-suit but in 3/2 it was too warm for a lot Fall and Spring days and too close to a full-suit to justify buying another one when it wore out.
A while back however they began making durable suits in 2mm and this has been a breakthrough for me. And while I haven’t yet been able to justify a 2mm. full-suit I have purchased spring-suits in 2mm. and they are the lightest most flexible suits imaginable and still pretty warm. I especially like the long-sleeve spring in 2mm. It covers more than the jacket but at 2mm. thick it’s not significantly more burdensome and has therefore become a comfortable replacement of the jacket and being so light and stretchy it of course feels nothing like a 3/2 full-suit. Plus it comes in XLS. It’s my new overall favorite wetsuit.