Wetsuit : Neoprene basics - The practical guide to decode the bullshit
This is my take on wetsuit technology, way of doing things and why they’re bad.
Simple non techy write up so you can understand what’s going on behind the scene of the wetsuit material world, including the uprising of new technology materials and new terminology.
cellbillquickneillcurl and other more unknown manufacturers from the windsurf and kite world use the standard chinese neoprene of different types, thickenesses and properties, they almost all use the same general kind of neoprene of different grades for lower or high ends. The only one (to my knowledge) to use something a bit different, great and weird (in my opinion) altogether is o’neill with their technobutter 2 neoprene, touch it, stretch it, it’s really different from the rest of the pack. The psychofreak using that neoprene is reviewed on this site.
You’ll see a lot of emerging or less known brands advertising limestone neoprene in their construction that is made from a rock and not from petroleum. It is more eco friendly and certainly have better properties and advantages for surfing than the regular neoprene, especially the widely renowned highest end of limestone, the one made from a japanese company named yamamoto.
So, we have the usual chinese neoprene and different limestone neoprene sources.
I won’t start with the inside tech of each limestone rubber sources and I don’t know everything so that would be pointless. They are also good at keeping secrets so having some real info is pretty much impossible.
That's what I'll be covering as standard chinese neoprene ain't interesting anymore and everything has already been said, we have 3 big sources for limestone neoprene:
- Chinese limestone based neoprene. The cheapest limestone.
- Japanese limestone neoprene.
- Yamamoto Japanese limestone neoprene.
The yamamoto is probably the best one, mostly used in advanced and high end wetsuits for triathletes, swimmers or surfers. Their material is supposedly not cheap and therefore, the wetsuits made with it aren’t.
Yamamoto uses numbers to categorise their product. #39 beeing the one mostly used by wetsuit makers for surfing allowing superb performance with some durability. They recently introduced their latest #40 rubber that should replace #39 in a near future as it's stretchier.
You will find lot of brands using limestone but only a couple of them are specifically sourced from yamamoto.
Wetsuit brands advertise clearly their use of limestone, japanese limestone, or japanese yamamoto limestone.
Janga, carapace, Feral, NEEDSessentials, seventhwave, Zion, Adelio, Nine Plus, Sen No Sen, Matuse and Isurus are limestone based wetsuits ( this is not an complete list of all manufacturers). I've had the oportunity to own and check carefully Matuse, Needs, Nine Plus, Seventhwave, Isurus, Janga and Zion.
The only way to compare some yamamoto limestone with some chinese or other japanese sourced ilimestone, would be to compare 2 identical suits. Impossible in reality.
Let's focus on what's really important in choosing a wetsuit.
Remember that the number one function of a suit is to keep you warm and material is not the only thing at play here.
Fit and panel junctions are the two others most important thing on a suit.
It’s the number one thing that will keep you warm. No looseness and water entry from neck flush, ankles or wrists. Some 3mm chinese neoprene wetsuit that fits you perfectly will keep you warmer than a yamamoto 4mm that is too loose or not apropriatly engineered for your body type. Sizing is critical.
if the wetsuit fit is loose in some areas water will come in, if water comes in you’ll get cold.
if the wetsuit is only stiched, that water that can come in when the fit ain’t right will continue coming in at times, well to be honest when it’s only stitched even with a custom wetsuit perfectly fitted, you’ll get that fresh feeling from the water along the stitching.
Cold water wetsuits need at least to be glued, and nowadays they add a glued taping or some kind of welded seems along the junction of the panels, inside or both inside and outside.
I’ll put those aspects in order of importance : Fit, seams, neoprene type, lining type, neoprene thickness, panel construction and then, after that, you get everything comfort related.
Now the biggest trick, the biggest con in the wetsuit industry : the inside lining of wetsuits, the one supposed to add warmth.
Using the best rubber has no sense with a stiff or thick lining.
quikbillcurlcell and others use a thick lining so they use a thinner neoprene. Don’t get fooled, nothing is warmer than the rubber. Some of their 4mm is around 2.5mm rubber and 1.5mm combinned inner and outer lining!
3mm neoprene + 1mm inside lining won’t be warmer than a 4mm rubber neoprene that has just a finish lining, it just won’t.
A finish lining, as I call it is an ultra thin lining glued on the rubber just to protect it or so the wetsuit can be put on.
Lining is cheaper than rubber and it probably allows them to compensate the lack of stretch of their neoprene at 4mm.
The thicker the neoprene, the stiffer.
This is even more true with cheap neoprene. This is why they use fluffy « warm » lining.
It’s even worst than that because the lining soaks up water so it adds a huge wet weight, take a look at solspot 2012 raw data tests (more info on their website):
Yes, you can realise that the only suits in this lineup using yamamoto, the Isurus I-Elite wetsuit is lighter than the rest, dry and wet, and it only soaks 1kg of water, while the competition can soak up to 5kg of water with the Patagonia Wetsuit and I beleive it’s merino lining. Merino lining, what an aberration!
This was in 2012, so things changed a bit since then, patagonia changed everything and are now using yulex material.
The reality and the effects of lining did not change a bit though.
The other thing with lining is that it doesn’t dry as quick as impermeable rubber, especially the yamamoto rubber that is 98% impermeable.
Don’t be naive, nowadays, you don’t judge a good neoprene only because it’s silky smooth or stretches really good anymore. If you think that, they tricked you.
You see an error here? please enlighten me and others in the comments section.
I guess your next question is: what should I buy then?
If you are on a budget : 150 to 250$ - You can get some chinese limestone neoprene at that price.
As I said, fit is your number one focus, so you have to find the right suit for your body type. Needsessentials could be an option, they use some fluffy lining though but still a good option.
If your budget is higher : 250 to 450$ - You can get some Yamamoto rubber at that price
This is tricky, If the fit is right for you, I'll probably try to grab a bargain on an old matuse as they have regular sales or maybe some Isurus on sale, I could also check Feral that also uses Yamamoto rubber. All those do not use lining in their 4/3.
If your Budget is on the higher range: 450 to 600$
You have plenty of options, again think fit, I could go for a custom carapace premium yamamoto, Nine Plus (if it fitted me) or Isurus (that fit me quite well). If you want something super durable given the price tag, I would go with a custom seventhwave MAX, the lining they use is durable.