How to Buy, Store and Care For a Wetsuit with Shelby Ling

Hailing from Encinitas, CA, Shelby Ling is an artist in many mediums, including wetsuit repair. As an apprentice at Swell Stuff Surf Shop in Leucadia, she’s seen suits in every manner of condition. Shelby has kindly offered up these pointers to increase the longevity of your suit, keeping it out of the repair shop and in the water.

The care and keeping of wetsuits

An essential part of most surfers’ gear is the wetsuit, and most are lucky if he or she can get more than two seasons out of any one suit. While it may seem like longevity varies from brand to brand, I’ve come to notice, as a wetsuit repair seamstress, that how one takes care of their suit makes all the difference. With proper care and preventive repair, you can make your cheaper suit last an extra season and your higher-end suits last longer than that.

Tips for keeping your suit from breaking down quickly:

  1. Always rinse in fresh water.

  2. Always hang to dry in the shade. It may take longer, but the sun cracks seams, breaks down neoprene and makes glue in seams and tape break down.

  3. Never leave suit in a hot car, a backpack, or hanging in the sun on a fence (unless you want it to smell like a beached whale).

  4. Hang inside out: The layer closest to your body dries faster, making you warmer! Also, seams on outside don’t split as fast, which keeps water from getting into your suit; and bacteria and mold won’t grow on the inside, keeping you healthier.

  5. Never put your suit in the dryer. Heat breaks down the glue that holds the suit together, making holes appear faster. Heat also breaks down the neoprene, making your suit more fragile and the neoprene more prone to ripping and cracking.

But now it’s summer, and you don’t need to use your suit. What do you do? Hang it up in a well-ventilated and covered spot. Try to keep it hanging while folded in half; this will keep the hanger from stretching out the shoulders of your suit and causing holes or cracking of the neoprene. Don’t bunch it up, leave it laying on the floor, or stick it in a box — all the time you spent keeping your suit nice and clean will be shot come fall.

With care and keeping, suits last a long time. But when it’s time to purchase a new suit, make sure you’re getting your money’s worth. There’s nothing worse than spending $300 on a suit that gives out after the first few months of wearing it. Since I spend a good amount of my week fixing suits for a living, I have noticed a few things about what makes one suit better than another. 

Pro tips in buying:

  1. Welded seams are not so great. Once they start breaking down, they often tear the neoprene around them, making a lot of tiny holes. Lots of tiny holes make bigger holes, and pretty soon the seams tear apart.

  2. Smooth neoprene is incredibly warm; those suits that are all shiny and smooth are also very warm. The sun heats the neoprene, which heats you up like a baked potato. The only downside is these suits require even better keeping than your normal suit. Worth it? Yes.

  3. Custom suits can be worth every penny. Not only is the fit perfect (ensuring comfort, mobility and warmth), but the construction is excellent and will last a very long time.

Bathing:

Now that we’ve covered care, keeping and buying correctly, I’ll throw one more tidbit of help your way. There is nothing worse than smelling like dead fish. Clearly. That smell is bacteria and mold that grows in your suit when it stays wet too long, bakes in your car, or gets left out too long in the sun. You can make your suit clean, disinfected and smell good. All it takes is about 10 minutes and a few items you can get at any drugstore or grocery store.

How to make a Special Suit wash: 

  • ½ gallon vinegar – killer of bacteria

  • bathtub or bucket of water

  • 10 drops tea tree essential oil – antibacterial

  • 5 drops lavender essential oil – antibacterial, smells nice

  1. Mix water, vinegar, essential oils.

  2. Let suit soak for 10-30 min.

  3. Rinse with fresh water, drip dry inside out, in the shade. This will kill all the nasty stuff growing in your suit, make it not smell like rotting kelp, and keep you healthier all at the same time.

Armed with all this information, you are now able to make excellent decisions about what suits to buy, how to take care of them, and how to keep yourself healthier. Don’t be lazy.