If you look after your wetsuit, it will look after you. For surfers in temperate latitudes, a wetsuit is second only in importance to their surfboard – particularly through the winter. Hopefully, depending on how regularly it is used and abused, you should be able to get more than one winter out of a wetsuit before having to invest in a new one. The simple fact is that you could be thinking about prolonging the life of your wetsuit from the day that you buy it, but at the very least the key to getting more than one season out of your second skin is to care for your winter wetsuit and store it properly over the summer.
Now that winter is over here in Europe, many surfers have shed their hood, boots and gloves, and are looking forward to the freedom and flexibility of their summer wetsuit. If you’re making that switch then whatever you do, don’t leave your winter wetsuit festering in your wetsuit tub in the back of your van, or in your shed or garage. Give it a service just like you do your vehicle, and it’ll be good to go when the water temperature starts to drop again rather than a stinking, mouldy mess.
How Can I Care For My Wetsuit After A Surf?
After those heavy winter sessions, after walking back up the beach, do you still have the energy to take care of your equipment? You are probably really careful about putting your board down in the car park so as not to ding it, but do you take the same care with your wettie? Or do you wrestle it off with numb hands and stamp it into the car park as you try to get your legs out so that you can get dressed and warm as quickly as possible?
Your wetsuit is a practically space-age piece of kit, keeping you warm in the depths of winter whilst still offering enough flexibility to paddle and perform. Do you really believe that beyond keeping you engaged with your favourite pastime throughout the winter, your most valuable garment must also be able to survive the wetsuit equivalent of extreme off-roading as you stomp it into the gravel at your local beach car park? Take care of your suit when you’re getting changed, please! Sit on bumper of your car, stand on a surf mat or bucket, and don’t wrench the thing around like you’re wrestling an anaconda that’s looking for its lunch.
As soon as you are able to after a surf, turn your wetsuit inside out and give it and any neoprene accessories (boots and gloves) a good rinse in fresh water. Saltwater isn’t very good for your neoprene or, more importantly, the zip, glues or stitching that hold it all together. Whether you fill your wetsuit tub or bucket with water from the hose or take your wetsuit inside to rinse off in the shower is down to personal circumstances and preferences, but the main thing is to give it a rinse. Give it a good slosh around too rather than just a cursory dip, to get all the sand out and saltwater off. Avoid hot water though – it’ll reduce the flexibility of the neoprene over time. If you’ve pissed in your wetsuit (more on that later), this whole ritual is particularly important; for the longevity of your wetsuit, and for the longevity of your friendships and relationships of whoever shares a lift to the beach with you and your wetsuit tub.
Whilst it’s still inside out, drape it in half at the waist and hang it to drip-dry in the shade. Wetsuits don’t like being folded in half though, so If you’re hanging it over a washing line then drape it over several of the lines rather than just one to spread it out, and if you’re hanging it over a railing or fence then try this trick to prolong the life of your wettie: get your hands on a length of plastic downpipe or guttering, and cut down one side of it lengthways so that you can slip it over a railing or fence to create a larger and more rounded surface over which to drape your wetsuit to dry. You can also cut a slice off the end and use it like a giant clothes peg to hang your booties and gloves up. If you hang your wetsuit up on a conventional hanger it will take ages to drip dry (the water at the neck and shoulders has to travel a long way to drip off the bottom of the legs) and the weight of the wet wetsuit will stretch those fragile and flexible shoulder panels beyond all recognition. Also, if you hang it up like this it looks super creepy in the dark.
The sun will do to your neoprene what it will do to your skin if left exposed or a long time: age it prematurely. It may dry your wetsuit faster, but it’s not ideal. Hang it in the shade, turning it over or inside out at intervals until it is dry. Don’t put it in your tumble drier, whatever you do. If you’re switching to your summer wetsuit and about to store your winter suit away then dry it out thoroughly, inside and out, over several days, before doing so. Thick wetsuits take a long time to dry properly and you don’t want to store a damp suit away for several months. It will start to smell bad.
How Should I Store My Wetsuit?
Let’s keep this as simple as possible. The place where your wetsuit is happiest, is in a cool dry place outside of sunlight, definitely after being rinsed out with fresh water.
If you have a shed or garage with some space, then hanging your wetsuit up draped in half at the waist, over a wide beam or rafter (or a piece of plastic pipe as per our tip above), is ideal. That way the air can still circulate around it, and finish drying it out properly if it wasn’t when you hung it up.
If you don’t have that sort of space and it’s going to have to go in a cupboard or the like, then it’s really important that it’s totally dry. If you need to put it in a drawer then it is better to roll rather than fold your wetsuit – those hard crease lines will become lines of weakness. Lay your wetsuit flat on the ground, facing down; cross the arms behind the back; place a short length of tube as wide as your suit (a bit of plastic guttering, or a cardboard postage tube) across the bum and fold the ankles up to the shoulders before storing flat or, if necessary, rolling up.
Are There Any Products I Can Use To Prolong The Life Of My Wetsuit?
They’re there if you want them, and they make a difference.
If you want (or need, if you’ve been peeing in your suit when you surf) to put that kind of effort in, then wetsuit shampoo exists and it does prolong the life of your suit. You can also use a mild detergent like Milton, or a baby shampoo.
We understand that there are plenty of surfers who are not really interested in making this a part of their after-surf process, however if you do want to do it, the process is simple:
Fill a large tub or bucket up with cool water (hot water isn’t better), then add a few capfuls of whatever cleaner you’ve chosen to purchase. Drop in the suit, get your hands in, and give it a massage. Treat yourself, and your suit - make it nice you know, like a bubble bath.
Here’s the kicker though – be sure to then rinse it in a tub of freshwater afterwards. You don’t want to leave any of that shampoo on the suit because otherwise next time you wear it you’ll be at very real risk of sliding around inside it with bubbles coming out the cuffs. You’ll smell lovely, but you will really struggle to stay on your surfboard.
Is It Okay To Pee In My Wetsuit?
Pissing in your wetsuit has its pros: we can acknowledge that. Nobody wants to cut a good surf short to run back up the beach to pee in a cave or the public lavs, plus in the depths of winter it warms you up. We get it. It’s just our job to tell you though that it is one of the worst things you can do for the lifespan of your wetsuit’s seams.
Another way of thinking about it, is that little moment of relief has a cost. Maybe all that’s needed here is the suggestion that there is nothing wrong with adding a bit of nitrate to the plants around your local beach car park or the hedges lining the path down.
Wetsuit Care and Storage 101
Go easy on your wetsuit when you’re pulling it on and taking it off. Rushing increases the risk of ripping (or putting your heel through a seam). Try not to pee in it EVERY surf. Rinse it out in fresh water, and consider using a shampoo or cleaner every now and then. Hang it up, folded in half at the waist, over a wide rail, pipe or special wetsuit hanger, and allow to drip-dry in the shade. Avoid the temptation to hang it in direct sunlight to dry. Turn it inside out and back to dry thoroughly. And then if you’re parking it for the summer whilst you wear your thinner summer wetsuit, hang it up in a cool, shady place (if you have one, like the back of your shed or garage). Finally, if you aren’t going to be using your winter wetsuit for a few months over the summer then it’s a great time to get any repairs seen to (or done yourself) – wetsuit repair centres often have a bit of a wait list and you want your thicker wettie to be good to go when the thermometer drops and that first winter swell rolls in.