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What’s the single-best investment you can make to extend your riding season? Easy, a wetsuit. But while adding a suit to your wardrobe may seem obvious, a lot of PWC owners, and wetsuit wearers in general, do it wrong. Here’s how to properly fit a wetsuit for the PWC user.
I’ve watched first-timers put on wetsuits for literally decades, and the biggest mistake they make is to not choose a snug enough fit. Maybe it’s the idea of tight neoprene exposing that beer gut or showing your every curve front and back, but a lot of wearers tend to err on the side of looseness. And with a wetsuit, that kind of defeats the purpose. Wetsuits work not by keeping water out, but by letting just a small amount in, and then using your body heat to warm up this thin layer of H2O between your skin and the rubber so that it acts as insulation. Leave any part of the suit loose or baggy and too much water factors into the equation, and requires too much body heat to be sacrificed attempting to warm it up.
That said, tighter isn’t always better. Snug means close, but not so tight that the suit is restricting your movement, or worse, cutting off circulation. Try a wetsuit on and then look for the areas that uniquely affect PWC riders. One example is the lower back. Other than the increasingly rare standup rider, we sit on our PWC for long periods of time, even bend forward somewhat. Make sure your suit has the flexibility in the lower back to handle this posture. Most PWC-specific wetsuits factor it in, but surf wetsuits may feel a little tight in the lower back. Also pay attention to the neck. Make sure your suit doesn’t pull or choke at the neck once you take the seated position. Also consider your arms. They’ll frequently be held in front of you, not at your sides. Make sure there’s flexibility under the arms and in the shoulders to allow you to reach forward without restrictions. Manufacturers often provide this flexibility with thinner panels under the armpits, across the shoulders, or down the sides. Wrist and ankle openings are also key. They shouldn’t be restrictive, but must be snug to keep excess water out of the suit.
One factor that’s tough to prepare for is whether the suit will be wet for most of your riding time, or dry. Surfers are essentially immersed in the water, but unless you take a fall, a PWC rider may often go an entire ride without ever getting wet. This can make fit a little tricky, as most suits will become more flexible and even feel larger once they get wet. If you’re an average recreational rider who will spend the vast majority of their time in a “dry” wetsuit, make certain that it offers plenty of flexibility. Should the suit get wet, chances are you’re going to note the suit feels a whole lot looser, and as a result, may let a lot more water in than you expected.
Speaking of flexibility, even longtime wetsuit owners will benefit from the newest designs on the market. The primary reason is that in recent years manufacturers have introduced far more flexible materials into modern suits. What once may have seemed thick, stiff or restrictive is now thinner, softer, surprisingly stretchy and far more flexible. The added flexibility has even made it possible to sometimes eliminate zippers at key openings like the neck and ankle, greatly increasing a suit’s flexibility and comfort.
As to final considerations, understand the numbers. Wetsuits are typically described in terms of the thickness of the neoprene. For the average PWC-specific suit, a blend of 2 and 3 mm neoprene is most common as you won’t spend much, if any time submersed in the water. For colder conditions, thicknesses of 4, 5, or even 6mm in some areas will be more common and necessary to maintain the suit’s warmth. As to size charts, consider them but don’t take their guidelines as gospel, particularly when it comes to height. Every body is different. Equally if not more important in many cases is weight, and/or waist, hip, and chest measurements. If your upper body and lower body are different, consider mixing and matching a john and jacket if possible to achieve the most personalized fit.
Finally, make sure you wear gloves and booties. A great deal of heat will escape from your hands and feet, and letting them get cold will quickly ruin your ride. But don’t wear the cuffs of gloves or ankles of booties outside your wetsuit. They’re designed to be tucked under so that water can’t easily enter or puddle.
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