For most people that surf, one of the things they like best about the sport is that it doesn’t require much gear, especially compared to other sports like snow skiing or scuba diving. In warmer climates (like tropical regions) all you really need is a board.
However, in other climates, even temperate ones, there is usually a warm season and a cold season, which means that if you want to surf year round you’ll need a couple of different types of wetsuits, depending on conditions. “Conditions” refers not just to water temperature, but also to wind and sun as well.
Here is a very basic guide as to what kind of gear you’ll need for different types of surfing conditions.
Gear You Need for Warmer Conditions
When surfing in warmer conditions, you will want to be looking out for things like rash guards, vests and short-johns. This will prevent you from getting a chill from the wind and sometimes you will also find that you may get sticky from the wax. A good vest will prevent this from happening as well. Pull over jackets and vest are probably the most popular and you will feel the difference when paddling out in the colder waters.
Jackets that have zippers down the front can be uncomfortable as you can imagine. People also wear short-jeans when they want more protection on the legs, but they don't feel it is quite so necessary to have a full length suit, while spring suits are also helpful for these types of conditions providing protection for the legs and more warmth for the arms as well.
Looking at Colder Conditions
When it comes to colder conditions some people will just stay away and you may only see the brave paddling out to catch a couple of waves. However, we are fortunate enough to have gear that will help with these kinds of conditions which enables you to surf all year round. The thicker long-johns are made of neuropene and this helps a lot so this is something to look out for.
Miscellaneous Neoprene Gear for Surfing
Wetsuit booties are a necessary part of your wetsuit quiver if you are surfing in cold conditions and want to keep your feet from freezing. But they are great not only for keeping your feet warm, wetsuit booties are also for protecting your feet when you encounter more rugged beach conditions like you often find at beaches that are quite rocky. For these reasons, there is a variety of wetsuit booty styles to choose from.
Wetsuit Socks (also known as fin socks) these are generally very thin and are meant to be worn under booties or fins. For example, Hyperflex sells a “hot sock” that is made out of thin poly fleece and is intended to be worn as a lining under heavier neoprene booties. Neoprene booties, or fin socks, are made purely out of neoprene and do not have a protective rubber bottom, as do booties.
Booties - True wetsuit booties are constructed out of neoprene and incorporate a rubber sole for better gripping on the board and better protection from rocks and sharp coral reefs. They extend up the ankle (intended to be worn under the wetsuit leg) and some have a Velcro closure strap for a better seal from water leakage.
Others incorporate a strap at the instep for a better fit. You find them in, either sock style (like mittens for your feet) or they are split toe style (meaning the big toe is separated from the other toes) for better board control. I recommend the split toe style.
Reef Walkers - These are wetsuit booties that are sort of in between the sock type and full booty type. They generally don’t have the high ankle tops, but more of a shoe style. They also are made of thinner neoprene, while they do feature the rubber soled bottoms. They are great for water that is cold, but not super cold, or for lower tide conditions where you will have to brave slick, algae covered rocks.
Hoods and Gloves
Wetsuit gloves are made out of neoprene, in thicknesses between 2 and 5 mm. The colder the water, the thicker you want the neoprene to be.
Wetsuit hoods, like wetsuits, are made out of neoprene, which range in thickness from .5mm to 5 mm. Some are lined with poly fleece for additional insulation.
Different Types of Surfboards
One of the greatest things about surfing is the multitude of surfboard types available to enhance the experience. Your mood and the conditions will be the determining factor on what to ride on any given day, provided you have multiple boards at your disposal. Here we offer a discussion on these shapes in the order of easiest to most difficult to ride, based on the surfer’s proficiency.
But before we launch into the nitty gritty about surfboards and make suggestions about what type you should buy, it’s important to say that before you go out and invest money in a board, you would be wise to first surf on a few different types to get the feel of them. This will depend on your skill level.
The best way to determine this is to rent boards before buying. Then, once you have gotten a sense of how these different boards perform, you are ready to take the plunge into surfboard ownership. This basic guide will benefit you immensely. Also be sure to keep an eye out for the annual surfboard buyers guide in most of the major surfing magazines.
The longboard is generally any board over 9 feet long with a rounded and wide outline. These are the easiest and most forgiving surfboard types of all but are generally limited to smaller surf. Funboards
Next on the list is the funboard. This is a board that looks like a t-shirt that someone left in the dryer too long – shrunk in size. This is a great overall board that has the capability of handling most waves. This is a great board for traveling if you can take just one. The funboard doesn’t do anything exceedingly well, but would be considered the “jack of all trades” board.
One of the most fun of all surfboard types is the Fish. This is a board anywhere from 5 feet long, and in some cases, up to 7 feet. The Fish is characterized by its wide nose, stubby appearance and wide split tail. This board will usually have two fins but in recent years has grown four fins due to evolution.
These boards are extremely fast and catch waves very easily but are suited to usually small and weak conditions. Due to the speed they deliver they’re sometimes difficult to control, especially when the surf gets steep or hollow.
Hybrids In the mid-range of difficulty is the hybrid board. This is a board that Dr. Frankenstein would have loved to create. The hybrid is a combination of several designs. The shaper will take valid portions of different designs and meld them into a board that can have the best traits of two or more surfboard types.
High Performance Shortboards
The board that most surfers would love to be proficient on is the high performance shortboard. Unfortunately, few surfers are able to ride them properly as they take the proper conditions to work to their potential. They also require a lot of rider flexibility, a high level of fitness and an awareness of turning mechanics. To watch a professional surfer ride one is the epitome of performance surfing. To watch an average or below average surfer ride one begs the question “wouldn’t you have more fun on something else?”
Big Wave Guns
The ultimate in surfboard types is the big wave gun. This is a board that is shaped with only one thing in mind ……. BIG WAVES! These boards are beautiful to look at for their long, flowing curves that just LOOK like they mean business, serious business, and they do. These surfboard types are generally 9 to 12 feet long, have a very narrow and pointed nose and tail and a lot of thickness to paddle quickly and penetrate through the ledge at the top of all big waves.
These boards will be more visible to the fallen rider if they’re painted a bright color (typically yellow or red), so most are. The only surfers that ride this surfboard type are the ones that are confident in a life and death situation, which is what big wave surfing is all about.