A Wetsuit for All Seasons

I’ve been getting really sick of this El Nino crap. It feels like Summer one day, then I’m back in a wetsuit. Come on Summer. Enough of this chilly nonsense.

I upgraded wetsuits (well, I got a deal online on a 4/3) this year, so I still had my old 3/2. In all honesty, it was REALLY on its’ last legs, but I can’t get rid of neoprene. I need to be on “TLC’s Neoprene and Surfboard Hoarders.”
A friend of mine asked if I could cut the legs off of her brand new Billabong 3/2. She didn’t like the way the legs below the knee constricted her pop-up, and since her legs are in the water anyway- shielded from the wind. She would be comfortable without neoprene on her legs.. I was hesitant, but she liked how the suit came out, so I had to make a chopped wetsuit for myself. And I had the perfect candidate for a suit!
One tidbit my good friend told me is that she attempted to cut her own suit once. It came out horribly ragged and jagged on the edges- but at least neoprene doesn’t fray, so it was still usable. Albeit hillbilly. (Sorry, D.)

Neoprene Cutting Tips Right Here!

  1. Use a rotary cutter, preferably a 45 mm or larger since surf neoprene is thick. Use NEW rotary blades!
  2. If you must cut with shears, use the type made for thicker fabrics (Fiskars makes an ok one, and you can get in at most craft stores). These type almost resemble the Pinking Shears Grandma used to use, without the spiky edge.
  3. When you cut, don’t cut all way down the shears (scissors), only about 3/4 way. Carefully reset the shears (reopen them) to the last cut, and start cutting again. Try this on a piece of paper- you’ll see a difference.
  4. Don’t use pins with neoprene. Either use quilter’s clips, staples (yes, they work!), or, if you’re really good, just hold it in place.

*****

Now to the good part!
Here’s the old, mercilessly pilled-on-the-inside, salt embedded neoprene. I’ve washed it, but it’s been more comfortable, stretchy and LOOSER in the past….

I hate wetsuits. Truly.

First, I wanted to chop off the legs. I’m pretty modest, so I don’t like the shorts being too short.
Using fabric weights, a straight edge, and a rotary cutter, I just cut the legs off (at a slight angle to the torso, but perpendicular to the leg length- hey, our legs don’t go STRAIGHT down) with two cuts- one for each leg:

No need to sew or hem. If your seams are glued and sealed, no worries. If you have flatlocked seams (you’ll see the thread begin to fray), put clear nail polish over the fraying end.

***UPDATE***

I wore this suit from January into March- I loved it. Warm, but not constricting. I think this will be done on future suits if I can get a better deal on a 3/2 than a specialty long sleeve 2/2 that has a limited season.

***

On to the next…..
Now, with the air getting warmer, I wanted a short Farmer John (Jane). Back to the old suit!
This is a little trickier- you need to try your suit on and mark with chalk where you want it trimmed up BEFORE you cut. My suit has a funky Velcro neck too in back that’s annoying too I’d like to lose:
This suit doesn’t have shoulder seams (more common as suits get better), so I laid the suit flat on my cutting board, measured out about 2″ from the collar seam:
Measuring from the bottom of the collar seam, 2″ out to the shoulder is where I’m cutting it (Notice the pattern/fabric weights. They’re made from canvas and BB’s!)
Other shoulder

Also note how I’ve lined it up on the grid- I’m going to curve OUT slightly, toward the armpit. If you don’t, the fit will be Kooksville.

Both shoulders, weighted, lined up, and ready to be curve cut with the rotary cutter.

  Personally, I like a 60 mm or larger, kind of like a Pizza Cutter. I don’t have all day.

You can see the faint curved chalk line out to the armpit.
Arm is surgically removed!

Here’s the result- again, NO SEWING (taped and glued seams):

Me likey.
NO FRAY! NO SEW!

I still was bothered by the high, rubbery neck. Didn’t need the super cold protection, just a thick wind block. I looked inside to the neck area to check it out:

Inside the suit, looking at the collar, suit front facing camera

The rubbery, friction-y part looked like it was flatlocked to the neoprene. Time for the seam ripper!!!

Ripping out the inside seam to open the rubber flap and expose the base neoprene
When that inside seam was removed, you can see the regular neoprene. I’m going to use the glue/sew line to cut away the excess. I did use my thick fabric scissors, and used the method described above. Came out well!:
Cutting away the excess rubber and neoprene with thick fabric scissors
I can breathe!!!!
So here it is finished:
Paddle perfection
*** APRIL UPDATE ***
I’ve been using it for a few months, and it works great, except for the scratchy pilling.
For real, don’t be scared to chop up your suit. Compared to the $15 you can get for selling your nasty used it on Craigslist, you could be saving $100 on a spring suit. It’s a no brainer. Like this dude:

DIY Wetsuit Storage Hanger

So it’s the end of February, and I’m ready to lose the wetsuit. Wrestling into it, wrestling out of it, rinsing it, etc. Not to mention the 3 different wetsuits I’ve had in rotation lately depending on the fronts that come through. Although I can’t complain- beats the yellow snow up north any day. I can complain, though, that EVERYONE in New England and most of Quebec holds a perma-pass to DisneyWorld and apparently crashes here in Brevard County for the duration of the Winter that they complain so loudly about. Don’t you have bitchy NYC “Housewives” to be tended to??? A Curling session you’re missing???
Ah, I feel better now.
Since the wetsuit will be going into storage soon, I was thinking of a way to make a good storage hanger without going out and buying one, since my agoraphobia increases with the number of tourists on the road.
I gathered up some items I had on hand: 4 cheap plastic hangers, some electrical tape (I happened to have blue), some packing bubble wrap, a few desiccant packs from medications and inside packaging, and a pair of utility scissors:

The four hangers will provide the thickness necessary to hold up a heavy wetsuit (thoroughly dried of course). I’m going to align them next to each other like this:

Next, I cut a few strips of electrical tape so I could wrap the hangers together at a few places:

After that, I cut a strip of tape for each desiccant pack, and placed it in the middle, off to the side of the tape so they’ll be exposed. I’m taping these to the long bar across the bottom so they won’t get in the way of the suit and they’ll be inside doing their job.

 

Then I cut 2 rectangles of bubble wrap about 6″ wide and about 10″ long. I took each of these and jelly rolled them up to place on each of the shoulders of the hangers, secured with more tape on each end:

 
 

Here’s what it looked like complete:

Now, if you want to go nuts, wrap the hook completely with the tape (color coded if you want), and add labels. Here, I added the thickness of the suit and the month and year it was purchased, so I know how many seasons it’s been around, since neoprene does have an effective wear life, especially if you use wetsuits for diving as well as surfing.

Now that I’ve started to store my wetsuits away and go back to showing some skin, it’s time to think about getting some ink to raise my surf coreness in the lineup. Since I’m still trying to get sponsored by KFC, I’m thinking something like this:

RAD!

Wetsuit Buying….Online

Honestly, as much as I want to support my local surf shop, I have a lot of trouble finding a wetsuit that suits my needs and fits well. Even though I’m a woman, I know men have this same problem just as much.
Options are limited a lot of times to one or two brands, and here in Florida, you are given the choice of a spring suit, and possibly a 3/2 mm full suit. This year, I wanted a 4/3 mm full suit since I get cold easier, and the neoprene’s much stretchier anyway than in the past. When I called around to several shops up and down the East coast, I was not helped, but actually insulted by the staff, asking why I would even consider such a suit here in Florida, and did I know ANYTHING about wetsuits?!? Why, yes, I do. And I know I surf for more than 15 minutes at a stretch, so I get chilled easy. So kiss my frosty ass.
I’m so touchy.
Anywho, that’s when I turned to the internets for my future suit. I had an O’Neill suit last year, but I need to consider some things this year:
1. If I upgrade to a substantial design overhaul especially from a completely different brand, the fit may be different. Rip Curl obviously has done this with the E-Bomb, so the fit of the new design may feel different.
2. If the neoprene quality listed has been upgraded to “super-duper ultra stretch”, this may also affect the fit, and even the warmth and durability considerations. Neoprene tech has gone wild, but this can REALLY alter a fit, necessitating a size change from previous seasons.
3. Even if you plan to order online, take a gander at the selection offered at your local surf shops just to get your hand on the neoprene. Kick the tires, so to speak. Give it a stretch, see where the seams are, how they are finished and taped (or not), and look at features up close- even if the suits offered aren’t in your size, or even in your model. Companies tend to keep wetsuit construction pretty consistent over the line- it’s the neoprene quality that improves as well as the taping and lining.

*   *   *

Some helpful hints to ordering a suit online:

  1. Only order from an online shop that has a clear return policy, preferably with free returns, of course.
  2. CHECK THE DAMN SIZE GUIDE. Nobody freakin’ does that, especially men. For your convenience, I’ve procured a list of direct links to Size Guides of the most popular brands of wetsuits. Here’s your happy links to all the Size Guides:
  3. Once you’ve found the size guide for your brand, measure yourself with a tape measure at the points indicated on the guide to find your approximate size. If you’re an average dude, your measuring tape is probably in your nightstand. The weight part of the guide is tricky. In my opinion, if you find yourself in a lower weight class, but your measurements are LONGER than indicated (lean/willowy build), it may be best to go with a tighter fit and shorter limb length for better core warmth. Conversely, if you are on the heavier side, and find that your weight class ends up with longer limb measurements (strong/curvy build), keep in mind that you can trim neoprene without worrying about fraying. In fact, most ends of sleeves and legs, you will notice, are just raw edged neoprene. This is my opinion- your fit will be unique, of course.
  4. When you get your order, check the zippers first BEFORE trying it on. That means zip them up AND down at least twice. If the zipper is blocked by tags, remove them- they’re attached by a plastic tab, not a gold lock. The company can reattach it, trust me. If they’ve got an issue with it, that’s ridiculous. You need to at least need to be able to see if the zipper works more than once.
  5. Be courteous to the next guy and have a piece of Velcro handy to cover up the neck tab Velcro (if it’s a back zip) while you put the suit on so you don’t pill and rip up the inside of the suit. Bonus points if you’ve taken a shower, but didn’t put on deodorant yet. Nobody wants your Axe leavins’ in the suit lest you decide to return it. Underpants are a given, I hope.
  6. The suit should feel slightly restrictive, but not uncomfortable at the neck, groin, or shoulder points. Have a seat, stand up, bend over and touch your toes (well, work on that one). If it’s a full suit, the neoprene should reach your wrist bone, and right above your anklebone ideally.
  7. Hopefully it works out, but if not, pack it up- right side out- with all the tags, and fill out the return slip. Send it back and try again, but make sure you’ve carefully measured, and considered what didn’t work about the fit on this one before you order again.

All in all, we live in a lucky time. The early surfers had he pleasure of surfing in wool bathing suits, and when it got cold, switched into army issued stiff SCUBA suits that chafed your tattoos clean off. But don’t let that old complaint keep replaying. I keep hearing kids parroting the elders on this, and this is not sage wisdom being passed down, only unchecked bravado of times past. There is little difference in movement these days for the average surfer in a neoprene suit versus not wearing one. Temperature difference, however, I will concede, will make a performance difference.
Men always complain that women don’t understand shrinkage, so this gentleman has diverted all attention from that area:

HEY! My face is up here you pervert!!!