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What wetsuit should I buy? Your guide to choosing the right wetsuit for surfing in Cornwall…

Updated: Jun 15

Planning a surf trip to Cornwall? Need some tips on choosing a wetsuit? You’ve come to the right place!

 With its beautiful turquoise waters, stunning coastlines and year-round waves, Cornwall is the UK’s very own surf paradise. However, while bikinis and boardshorts might be the ultimate surfers’ dream, it’s unfortunately not a reality here in the UK, which is why it’s essential to understand what type of wetsuit is best for each season. Getting this right will ensure an enjoyable surf session, and will help prolong your time in the water. Remember that more time in the water means more waves, and more waves means you improve faster. So let’s make sure you get the right wetsuit! 


While there are general guidelines for which wetsuit to wear at each time of year, you should also take into account your personal tendency to run hot or cold, especially in the shoulder months like May and November, when temperatures are just starting to rise or fall. It is also important to remember that you get what you pay for; buying the best quality wetsuit that you can afford, is always a good idea. A quality wetsuit will utilise more advanced technology to keep you warmer, allow more flexibility and, hopefully, will last longer.



The basics - how do wetsuits work?


Wetsuits have been around since the 1950’s and are an essential part of surfing in places with cold water, like Cornwall.  Traditionally made of neoprene - a synthetic rubber substance (more on this, and sustainable alternatives, later). They work by trapping a thin layer of water between the fabric and your skin, which is warmed by your body heat.  For this reason they need to be tight, so the warm water doesn’t flush through and cold water doesn’t enter. Putting a wetsuit on for the first time can be a challenge, but it should be a nice, snug fit, particularly around the neck, wrists and ankles, with no rolls (this will mean it’s too long). Your wetsuit will loosen up after a few wears, so it should become (slightly) easier to put on with time.  Wetsuits come in a variety of thicknesses, which are indicated by two numbers (the ones you will predominantly hear about when surfing in Cornwall are 3/2, 4/3 and 5/4). These numbers indicate the thickness of the neoprene in millimeters. The higher number is the thickness of the fabric around your core, providing extra insulation where your organs are located, and the lower number is the thickness of the fabric at the limbs, where you need more flexibility in order to maneuver in the surf.



So, now you understand some of the basic principles of wetsuits - but which thickness is right for which time of year in Cornwall?


Summer Season

Months: Approximately Late June to September

Recommended wetsuit: 3/2mm

Water temperature: 14 to 20°C


Summer is a great time for learning to surf in Cornwall, as the waves are smaller and the water temperature is more inviting. While the air temperature begins to warm up as early as May or June, it takes the water a little longer to heat, so you’ll want to start wearing your summer suit around June-July, as water temperatures approach 14 or 15 degrees. If you time your trip right, there may be the occasional day when you can get away with a shortie (a wetsuit with short sleeves and legs) - or maybe even a bikini or pair of boardshorts if you don’t plan to stay in too long.  For the majority of the summer though, to ensure a nice long and comfortable surf session, you are going to want to wear a 3/2mm wetsuit. Don’t forget your suntan lotion too!


Shoulder Seasons (Spring and Autumn)

Months: April - November*

Recommended wetsuit: 4/3mm (boots and gloves optional)

Water temperature: 10 to 14°C


A 4/3mm wetsuit is perfect for the autumn and spring months, before it gets too cold or too warm, respectively.  If you’re just looking to invest in one wetsuit to cover you for as much of the year as possible, it’s probably best to purchase a 4/3mm wetsuit, to which you can add a thermal underlayer and hood in the colder winter months, and its typically ok for the summer months. These shoulder season months are a great time for surfing in Cornwall; the crowds have departed or are yet to arrive, and the swell can be perfect for beginners and intermediate surfers, before the big winter swells arrive. You can gloves and boots for additional warmth as the water temperatures begin to drop towards the end of autumn.



*4/3 can often be worn throughout the summer, so if you only want to buy one wetsuit this is the one!

Winter Season

Months: Approximately December to March

Recommended wetsuit: 5/4mm plus hood, boots and gloves

Water temperature: 7 to 10°C


For anyone dedicated to surfing year round in Cornwall, there is much fun to be had and amazing waves to be scored throughout the winter months.  This is when the waves are at their biggest, due to the storms that are firing out in the Atlantic, creating our awesome Cornish swell (don’t worry, there are always beginner and intermediate waves to be found too).  If you’ve committed to surfing in the winter, you’re going to want to get the most out of what the ocean has to offer at this time of year, and it’s advisable to invest in a good quality 5/4mm winter wetsuit. Hooded or not is a personal preference; it is possible to buy a hood separately which makes the wetsuit more versatile for warmer days when a hood can become bothersome, but separate hoods also mean more opportunity for water to leak into openings in the neck. There is no right or wrong answer here. Boots and gloves are important too and investing in a quality pair of both is worthwhile - your extremities get colder first, so making sure your feet and fingers stay toastie is key to a comfortable, long surf session.



Boots - These come in either round toe or split-toe styles.  The split-toe option allows for better grip and balance on the board, but this is not something to worry about if you are just starting out. The round-toe option means your toes are all together, which will keep them slightly warmer. There’s nothing worse than cold feet, so we recommend going for a 5mm wetsuit boot for winter surfs in Cornwall. It’s a good idea to visit a local surf shop and try a few pairs to see which are the best fit for you. We personally love the C-skins Session boots, which can be found here.


Gloves - There are three styles of surf wetsuit gloves - 5 finger, mitten and lobster claw. Just like with the boots: the more fingers you have together, the warmer your hands will be. This means that the mittens are the warmest option, however, having your fingers clumped together in a mit does make life considerably harder.  The lobster claw allows slightly more control than the mitten and can be a good option for longboarders. 5 finger gloves will allow maximum dexterity and are the most common choice, particularly for short boarders who need the freedom to duckdive. In terms of thickness; it’s possible to go much thinner with gloves, as your hands are only in the water whilst paddling, so the main aim is to protect from wind chill. A good pair of 2 or 3mm gloves should cover you for the winter months in Cornwall. Of course, you should consider how much you feel the cold, and make the choice that is best for your own comfort. 




If sustainability is important to you, then take some time to research the different types of wetsuits available on the market these days. Unfortunately, traditional wetsuit neoprene is not an environmentally friendly material (it is produced from petroleum based chemicals that are harmful to our planet), but advances in technology mean that more sustainable options are now becoming readily available and more affordable.  Here is a very simple look at the alternatives to traditional neoprene:


  • Limestone neoprene - These wetsuits are made by replacing petroleum with a more environmentally friendly alternative; calcium carbonate, which comes from limestone. This limestone neoprene is said to be even more flexible and insulating than traditional neoprene.

  • Yulex - The most environmentally friendly option on the market currently, although also the most expensive. Yulex wetsuits are neoprene free, and are created using natural rubber.

  • Second hand - If you would like to keep things sustainable, but are on a tight budget, it’s also possible to purchase second hand wetsuits - check out the Wave Project Shop on Fore Street in Newquay, Krog Den Surf Shop in Newquay and Hayle or this Facebook page.

For more detailed information on sustainable wetsuits, be sure to check out the Srface Eco-Friendly Wetsuit guide here.






Ready to buy your wetsuit? 


Our best overall recommendation that offer high quality, long lasting suits at a really good price, would have to be SRFACE wetsuits. We have been wearing their suits for years now so we decided to get in touch so we can offer you, our lovely audience, an extra 10% off! (see code below).

If you have a little more to spend, then C-Skins suits are typically more durable, but the suits don't tend to fit as versatile as SRFACE.

We recommend these over the usual 'high street' brands of Quicksilver, Billabong & Ripcurl as they have had very mixed reviews and can be quite hit or miss. The other big bonus to SRFACE is you have a 30 day trial which is just an epic offering which shows they trust what they make!



So there you have it - a simple guide to choosing the right wetsuit for your Cornwall surf trip. To prolong the life of your wetsuit make sure to rinse it after every surf and avoid drying it in direct sunlight. Happy Wave Hunting! 


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