If you care for your wetsuit well, you should get a good return on your investment. After your surfboard, it is the most important and generally next most costly item in your surf equipment so its in your best interests to make it last. Occasionally things may go wrong purely by bad luck - however, you can facilitate a longer lifespan and maybe learn some tips, by following our guideline below:
1. Always take care putting on and taking off your wetsuit.
This is when damage is most likely to happen, especially when it’s wet. Take your time to pull your hands and feet into/out of your suit and avoid putting excessive stress on zips. Do not stand on your suit to take it off. Ensure you use your hands to pull your feet through the ankle holes. This is especially important for very stretchy suits with tight ankle seals. On back zip wetsuits fold the Velcro back on itself when not in use because it can adhere to the lining of your suit and cause damage.
2. Keep your wetsuit away from sharp objects.
Avoid placing your suit on tarmac, as the grit and oils can degrade the neoprene while gravel or sharp stones may puncture it. Be conscious of harsh edges when hanging it over a fence or rough surface. Ideally don’t hang your suit on a fence. Don’t leave your wetsuit at the beach or on the roof of your car when you drive off!
3. Rinse your wetsuit in fresh cold water regularly.
Ideally after every use. Do not use hot water or a washing machine. A fresh water rinse prevents the rubber stiffening up due to crystallization from the salt water, which can cause cracking, corrosion and tearing of the neoprene, seams, and zips. Keep it flexible!
Wetsuits are not designed to be used in chlorinated swimming pools.
If there is wax on your suit there is no need to try and remove it, you could damage your suit. Wax does not harm your wetsuit and you’ll get more on it next surf anyway.
Try your best not to urinate in your wetsuit. This will keep the lining fresher, more flexible and cause less odor.
*There are special wetsuit detergents available like Rip Curl’s “Piss Off” which can assist in cleaning and prolonging the life of your suit.
4. Drying your wetsuit
Ideally, hang your suit inside-out in the shade, using a wide hanger so it gets good air circulation or hung in half over a rounded surface.
Avoid drying your wetsuit in the sun. Excessive heat and direct exposure to UV damages both the neoprene and glues. This causes your suit to lose stretch, memory, and durability. Your wetsuit will dry faster in the sun, but the downside is it will deteriorate much more rapidly too.
Drying inside out gets the lining of the suit dry first so even if it’s not totally dry before your next surf, at least you will be getting into the dry part. Always try to dry both sides out when you have the opportunity.
5. End of season care
Soak your wetsuit thoroughly in cold fresh water then dry it completely inside and out at the end of the season before you store it away. If you store it away damp it will end up smelling bad and might grow mildew. If you put it away without soaking it the neoprene will stiffen and the seals will degrade.
How long will my wetsuit last?
It depends mainly on how often it is used and how well it is cared for.
Some people who surf most days might be happy to replace their 4/3 winter wetsuit annually so they can have toasty warm, flexible sessions. Less regular users that look after their suits could easily get 5 years or more out of them.
With some rubber you compromise durability for stretch or vice versa. A high performance, stretchy suit will require more care. Those older style stiff neoprene suits can have a good life expectancy but can have a marked limitation on surfing performance.
Most of the major wetsuit companies try their best to optimize the durability of a suit in relation to its anticipated performance. Contrary to regular criticism in online forums of surfing wetsuits, the companies do want you to be happy with your suit and not experience issues with it.
Keep an eye out for manufacturing faults. Get them sorted out as soon as you can! Most major wetsuit companies have at least 1 year warranty on their materials and seams - If something goes wrong in the first year you might be able to get it fixed or replaced for free. Things like fin cuts or catching your suit on a barbed wire fence are not covered by warranty. Nor is general wear and tear or user error.
There are companies in New Zealand that can repair wetsuits for you, like Stitched Up Wetsuit Repairs in Papamoa. There are also wetsuit glues that you can use yourself for minor repairs, but do be aware that repairing your suit yourself may void the terms of the warranty.