Winter Wetsuits

Gear reviewed, commented upon

Winter Wetsuits

Postby PowerManJ316 » Mon Nov 11, 2019 12:47 pm

Friends,

I usually don't do gear reviews but I with winter upon us, I've fielded several questions about wetsuits/drysuits and temperatures. I recently upgraded my wetsuit and I wanted to share my experience and hopefully answer a lot of questions that come in on this topic.

First, regardless of brand, thickness, etc, always check the manufacturers website for recommended water temps/air temps for the suit. A 4/3 that is designed for winter may provide better protection than a cheap 5/4 that is a generic suit for all conditions. Take-away: thickness alone does not determine overall warmth provided. Check the manufactures website for recommended conditions.

Second, my wetsuit is THE most important piece of gear I own. As a dad, husband, friend, I want to make sure that regardless of any unexpected condition, I am coming home after a session. Think about how much time you spend talking about kites, boards, bars etc. Make sure you are also spending significant time researching wetsuits and drysuits. Don't solely rely on 3rd party comments (like this one :))

OK, with that being said, the first thing to consider is when it gets real cold, should you invest in a wetsuit or dry suit. I am not going to answer this question, but provide some pointers from my experiences.

If the conditions fall within the range specified by the wetsuit you have, I believe the wetsuit is the safest option. Think about worst case scenario. You are kiting and get dragged over a buoy, submerged log, or other debris in the water. If you have a wetsuit, you my cut the wetsuit. Your suit will take on water local to the area that is cut and you will start getting cold quick. However, depending on the size/location of the cut, you may still manage to stay warm for a period of time because wetsuits can keep you warm even they take on water. Now consider the same scenario with a dry suit. If you break a seal or cut the suit, you are in trouble. First, you probably have some thick layers under your dry suit that are going to get wet, cold and heavy. Second, if you take on a lot of water, and your seals are still in tact, you are going to have a lot of water weight in your suit you cannot dump easily. You probably have 6mm mitts on and unzipping your suit isn't going to happen. Note: I've witnessed both scenarios listed above in my 4 years of kiting and they are scary. Both people walked away unscathed, but these things do happen.

Other important factors considering a wetsuit. How warm is your body? Are you always warm? I am. My body naturally produces tons of heat. I've been in 33 degree air with 38 degree water and my body can generate enough heat in a wetsuit to stay warm. Know your body type. If this isn't you, you need to consider a different option, or understand that you should not be out in those conditions.

Flexibility: a myth here that wetsuits are more flexible. I would actually favor dry suits in the flexibility category. A thicker wetsuit will be equivalent of a dry suit for flexibility. Also note, that you need to change into and out of the wetsuit. In a drysuit, you take it off like a snow suit and you still have warm and dry clothes underneath. Consider the reality that in 35 degree weather with 20mph wind you will be taking off a wet wetsuit and putting on other clothes.

Finally, regardless of what option you choose, you must ride differently in really cold conditions.
You should never be more than a 15 minute swim from any shore line. Ever.
No your limits. The less confident of a rider you are the closer you need to be to shore.
If you are unsure of how well your cold gear works, go to a safe place and try it out. put your full gear on and swim around for 30 minutes before your session if you are unsure. I've done this numerous times.
Study how hypothermia works and don't panic if you find yourself in a scary situation.
Make sure you can do a full self rescue in under 5 minutes. Get to your kite, float on it. Save your energy and prevent your wetsuit from flushing with gentle movements.
ALWAYS wear a flotation vest in cold conditions.
Winter time is not the time to throw down your latest tricks. Enjoy a "lawn-mower" session or don't go out. Save the mega loops for spring break
Don't go out solo. Go out with a friend and let someone know where you are and when you will be back in.

Be safe everyone and enjoy!
PowerManJ316
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Re: Winter Wetsuits

Postby PowerManJ316 » Mon Nov 11, 2019 12:58 pm

I wanted to keep this separate, a review of my new wetsuit.

It is a Mystic Volt. See link https://www.mysticboarding.com/products ... 643#000000

I did my research and this seemed to be the best bet. I've got two sessions with it and am impressed. I did a recent hyrofoil session at SSYC and this thing was amazing. Water temp was 43 degrees F, air temp was 39 degrees F. Note you can check NOAA for surface water temps.

Hydrofoiling in my experience is the worst scenario for wetsuits because you have very little body movement. You are standing still waaaay more than with a twin tip or a surfboard. Plus, you are elevated 2 feet above the water, so you are subject to a lot of wind and have very little water on your body. Plus, when you crash, you tend to crash hard as you are diving from 2-3 feet above the water. If you've ever hydrofoiled, you know what I'm talking about.

With that said, after 1 hour on the water (and several crashes), I was not cold whatsoever. What really amazed me is that my wetsuit was not even wet on the inside from my knees, through my core, to my elbows. The suit was wet from the shins down and from the elbows out. That is amazing. The stitching and gluing is really water tight, because I had a few big crashes where I was totally submerged.

If you are in the market, check this out or something similar. I wish I had upgraded a bit sooner, as I feel my old suit was a little too worn having used this new one now. Special thanks to Stafford for getting me this!!!
PowerManJ316
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Re: Winter Wetsuits

Postby jv. » Wed Nov 27, 2019 11:00 pm

Great post Jeff, I will add a few thoughts. Contrary to some rumors, no, I do not use boardshorts all year. Eventually I break down and don a drysuit. I usually skip wetsuits because I am so old and inflexible, I hate getting into and out of them even when they are not cold and wet. Instead, I like wetsuit tops and have some I can use in layers, included hooded wetsuit jackets which I love - keeps the core warm. I even have some cheater shorts, these are wetsuit shorts that I can wear under boardshorts to keep important parts relatively warm. Fact is, your legs (or certainly my legs) can handle pretty chilly conditions when you get used to it.

But this gets to the most important point Jeff hilighted above: always adapt what you are doing to conditions! I am closer to shore and taking fewer chances the more the temp falls. Always do watersports ASSUMING the worst case will happen because eventually it will. In 1980's on a early December day off Bradford windsurfing I forgot to zip the back of my drysuit, went out on a quarter mile reach in a nor-easter in huge waves, missed my gybe and immediately found out the gaping hole behind me was filling my drysuit with 40 degree water. Survived but learned.

While I agree with Jeff that drysuits - especially the baggy ones, have a risk that if they rip they can fill with water, I still prefer them. I will even add that these drysuits are very inneficient and damn near impossible to swim in. However, they are easy on and off, and not as unplesant to put back on wet. There are undergarments that work well under them to keep warm and adjust for very cold or even not terribly cold conditions. I just blew the gaskets in my primary drysuit and ordered my third Ocean Rodeo Heat (thanks Stafford), though I have a kit and am repairing all gaskets for that suit also as a backup. My oldest one still works, but it is patched up a bit and I only use that one during winter on thin ice in shallow areas where I expect to break through. I may get a bit damp, but since I can get back on ice it works great and I do not damage the one(s) that need to stay water-tight. Seems each drysuit probably needs new seals every 5 years or so, even if you are treating the rubber as recommended.

The point is, if you are careful, and have a plan for worst case, the baggy drysuits work great also. Jeff can (and will anyway) take more chances than me and kite more aggressively - and he is so young and spry that he can get into and out of those seal suits very easily. But my old man's style matches drysuits nicely!
jv.
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Re: Winter Wetsuits

Postby jv. » Wed Nov 27, 2019 11:18 pm

I wanted to add one other thing, some of the guys who have been in this discussion a long time may recall this. I do not remember the year, but a number of years ago a kiter from northern IL was kiting during the late fall in Lake Koshkonong, not a icy day, but cold. He was in a wetsuit but no hat or mittons. At some point during his session, kite went down and he ended up a long way from shore. I suspect he was probably wet several times during the session, but always in places where he could relaunch and get back to safety. However, by the time someone saw his kite floating in the water near evening, he had died of hypothermia. I attended his funeral, and his wife and friends related how stoked he was about kiting, but simply hadn't completed his cold water kit due to budget. It ended up costing him everything.
jv.
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