Another Simple Surf Wetsuit Mod

Is it Summer yet? Well, at least the holidays are almost done. Yet another year I didn’t get to spend at Mr. Kelly Slater’s Bodacious Wave Ranch. Boo.

So, back at this local wave ranch, I’ve been trying to get at least one more season out of my 4/3 Neoprene backzip fullsuit. I had modded it last year by cutting the legs off at the knee. In Florida, the north wind can feel a lot colder than the water temp, so a shorter leg can be more comfortable to surf in.

The latest mod I wanted to do is one I’ve heard many other surfers ask about: what to do with a bothersome high collar on a wetsuit. Mine seems a little tight, so I wanted to trim it down.

Like most basic Neoprene wetsuit mods, you don’t need a sewing machine, but the “big secret” is in the tools:

  • Seam Ripper
  • Rotary Cutter (preferably 45 mm diameter or less)
  • Heavy duty hand sewing needle
  • Polyester thread or fishing line

First, I removed that pesky key pocket behind the back zipper. I have other ways of hiding my keys, and dunking them in saltwater isn’t on the top of the list. It’s so scratchy anyway, and adds bulk I don’t need.

Next, I removed the Velcro tab on the collar with a seam ripper so it wouldn’t damage my rotary blade. I’m cutting away the Neoprene collar only, keeping the seal of the glued seam intact. I tried to make one continuous cut by opening up the suit as flat as it would go on the table.

If you choose to use regular scissors, be forewarned: your edges will come out VERY jagged due to the thickness of the Neoprene. This is why I stress the rotary blade over regular scissors.

I don’t like to use any type of edge guide when making these kind of highly curved cuts with the rotary tool. You can use a disappearing ink pen to make a cut line if your lining is light colored. For me, I winged it by eyeballing the 1/4″ distance from the yellow tape on the inside of the suit.

I used just a scant amount of Velcro from the tab I removed, and hand-sewed it back onto the flap so the collar would still close, just at a much lower profile. I may add a bit more Velcro later, depending on how it handles in the surf over time.

Much better!

Easier to wrestle with and the neck’s a lot more comfortable, but it’s still sealed up well.

This is a good reminder that I need to put the sugary goodness away for the season and get back in the water. Yikes.

DIY Upcycled Neoprene Pouch Keychain

This week has been cray cray. The stress of the holidays is approaching, and you can see it around Cocoa Beach with the influx of angry out of towners. And here I thought the ocean was supposed to be soothing.

Instead of getting out in the crazy shopping melee tomorrow, MAKE something useful out of your old wetsuit, since you’re probably getting a new one anyways. Even if you’ve been naughty and stealing my waves, you wanker.

I used a scrap of Neoprene from a machine washed wetsuit sleeve for the main part of this pouch. Machine washing is OK and DESIRED if it is to be used for crafting! The Velcro and nylon webbing piece came from another old surfing vest zip back. I cut the piece of Velcro in half so it would span the top flap and keep it closed.

I also used a keychain ring with a clip from the hardware store, and some heavy duty nylon thread in purple and black to sew everything. You can use Neoprene repair glue if you want to glue the pieces instead, but I hand sewed everything on.

I cut the sleeve just a few inches above the wrist, then cut away a little on the inside, leaving a top flap to put the Velcro on:

I sewed the clip and strap onto the back of the pouch also:

Done- and useful for putting all sorts of surfy stuff in, like surf wax, fin screws, leash loops, etc. Schweet.

Now, wasn’t that more fun than dealing with the holiday chaos?

My Neoprene Hopes, Dreams… and Screams

Sounds like a scene from Fifty Shades Darker, but how else can I describe this roller coaster journey I’ve undertaken with this strange and wonderful fabric? Here’s some thoughts on the subject as we get into talking about neoprene…..

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A lot of people revere neoprene as sacred (hey, it is pretty cool). But, that can be a shame when you become SO worried about altering your $350 fancy wetsuit, swimsuit, or questionable lingerie (we don’t judge here) to work for your needs, you don’t even wear it. Or you sell it and lose $200 on it since you tried to give it a few chances. Or, the worst case, you have to donate it or even ditch it in the trash. Then you have to buy yet ANOTHER one to replace it. More future waste.
For most healthy minded adults, the days of resale and purchase of used wetsuits have ended. I mean, yeah, the kids out there trying to save a few bucks might buy a used suit from you, but you just can’t expect to get even 25% of what you originally paid for it, especially if you used it for a season. Gross. If you expect more, well, that’s just being a mean grinch to the poor kid.

Still funny the millionth time I see it

That being said, a surfer should get to know a little about their neoprene, since wetsuits are usually part of a surfer’s life at some point. I’ve had to teach myself quite a bit since I’ve started surfing, and now I find my friends asking me questions about fixing and altering their own gear to what they need. Figured I’d share what I’ve discovered, tried, and certainly FAILED at, so all of us can keep some extra neoprene out of landfills!
We’ll start off the series with this intro, and go through a wetsuit modification, then make some new projects from scrap neoprene as we go along, since I’ve got a LOT of scrappage around!

About Neoprene

Neoprene is a synthetic (non-natural) material created chemically by DuPont in 1930. The original process to make the stuff was SO smelly and made the material smelly too. No one wanted to buy it for anything back then because of it. Do you blame them?

It still smells like chemicals

As the process for making neoprene was improved by DuPont, it became less stinky, and much more usable. The type of neoprene we use as surfers today is made from what’s called neoprene “foam”.

If you look closely at your wetsuit, it’s probably made from neoprene foam about 2 millimeters or 3 millimeters thick, maybe even up to 7 mm! This is neoprene rubber that has been injected with tiny nitrogen (inert gas) bubbles, helping to provide that nice insulation. Yours may even have some nylon or spandex rubber mixed into the neoprene to make it “ultra stretch.” This mix also tears ultra easy, but you may already know that. Unfortunately I do.

If you would like to follow along with this mini series drama (hey, I post on the days I can, yo) I would recommend picking up a few tools for working with neoprene on the regular:

Tools For Working With Wetsuits

60 mm Rotary Cutter

Two brands of cutters, the one on the left is a lot pricier

The handles for these aren’t expensive, but the blades ARE. And they are SHARP. But if you want a good, even, professional looking cut, this tool is a must with neoprene. The smaller diameter rotary cutters can be useful sometimes, but the 60 mm rotary seems to get the most action here in Cocoa Beach among the surfing squad.


Shears for thick material

Surprised at how well these work

I have a pair of heavy duty Fiskars I picked up that seem to work well for curves and tight places that the rotary cutter can’t do. These are mostly good in projects, or specialty modifications to wetsuits.


GOOD Cutting surface

My table, and my self healing cutting mat

It can be a self healing mat on the concrete floor of your garage, just make sure it’s clean, level, and accessible from all sides. The cutting mat will help keep you from dulling those costly rotary blades you just bought. 

If you can, wait until around until September/October when they start having sales on quilting stuff and pick up an entire cutting set from a craft store like Michael’s or Joann’s. It’ll be around the start of wetsuit season (at least in the USA), so you’ll be set! Split the cost with your surfing buddies- even better. 
Dulled Seam Ripper

Just a bit of sanding is necessary


You’ll need a seam ripper on occasion for doing any type of modification, but some of these seam rippers they make today have a stitch pick that could double for an ice pick! Since stitches on neoprene are usually not ultra fine, I’d rather use some sandpaper to dull a dedicated seam ripper to lessen the probably of poking a nice hole in the neoprene foam. I’m sure lots of others do this too!
Neoprene Foam Adhesive 

Since I have learned THE HARD WAY that my home sewing machine cannot sew more than 2 mm of neoprene thickness comfortably (even with a walking foot), I use neoprene adhesive for seams. Good for repairs AND projects, so it’s a must for all surfers.
Fire-line (fishing line) in Clear OR 

Polyester thread of a matching color, and heavy gauge repair needle

Use lightweight fishing line

This is also a must for making minor repairs to seams, or sewing recycled neoprene projects. Always important to have on hand and know how to use it case a seam rip happens. Use a sharp point needle since you do need to “poke holes” in the fabric, or follow previous stitching holes- I’ll explain later why neoprene is tricky to stitch (hint: tear factor!).

Clips, Clips, Clips (sometimes a staple or two….)

Gotta get creative!


Since using straight pins to hold neoprene together can really distort it, the best bet is to clip it. The green clips in the pic are quilters’ clips, which are ideal, since they are designed to hold thick material together while it’s being sewn.

The cheaper options are hair clips and barrettes- you probably have these, or know someone who does.

Stapling neoprene together is an option that I Save for crafting with neoprene, since it can poke holes, obviously. It works great, though.

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Ok, so in the next post, we’ll do a little wetsuit alteration that I’ve wanted to get around to for a while. Hopefully, I’ll be able to use it in the Fall too. 

Every Fall it’s the same thing. You macho surf guys in the lineup, EVERY time you say something about me wearing a wetsuit “too early”, all I can picture is this:

    New Life for Old Wetsuits- A Series

    The past few days have been pretty chilly with lows in the 40’s on the coast. At least that’s chilly by my standards. 

    However, the weather forecasts have been Polly Positive and saying that this will be as cold as it gets for the season. Good, we’ll be out of wetsuits soon. Bad, because more heat, more storms later. We saw that this past year unfortunately with Hurricane Matthew.

    I rarely continue using the same wetsuit anymore after 2 seasons (years) of regular use, so if I get back to surfing this next 1/2 of the season, that will equate to 1 season of total wear on my current wetsuit. Yes, I keep track. They’re expensive. I also carefully check it at the end of the season to see how much wear and tear it REALLY got. If I’ve determined it’s time for a new one, what a great time to shop for a wetsuit. It’s the End-of-Season Clearance, and I can get a jump on next year. Woo Hoo! And don’t pig out over the Summer….

    I know a lot of older surfers scoff at this, but the super stretchy neoprene that is used in suits now wears out QUICKLY. These modern wetsuits become VERY hard to resell as well, since this newer, stretchier neoprene tends to produce holes WITHIN the fabric easily, not just tearing along the seams. Trust me, my friends and I know this from personal experience, sadly.

    Because of this, I’ve just hoarded my old suits as scrap neoprene, waiting for projects, repairs, or mods. You’ll find that if people discover that you use neoprene, you’ll get loads of scraps for free, hopefully washed. 

    Not many companies do neoprene recycling. It’s really a shame, and there’s a LOT of wetsuits out there. 

    Places that do Wetsuit Recycling:

    Surfers, divers, kiteboarders, etc. all use wetsuits. Shame to not find something more to do with it. Maybe even kinda….surfy.

    So I thought doing a few new recycled wetsuit projects in a little “series” to celebrate the coming of Summer would be in order!

    Not judging whoever digs this, but this is not gonna happen on my watch, just letting you know:

    It’s like your own neoprene diving bell