Can You Use a Scuba Wetsuit for Surfing?

Wetsuits are manufactured according to the requirements of particular water sports. Even though companies offer versatile wetsuits that can be used for different activities, these wetsuits are usually not durable for regular engagement in different water activities for long. Therefore, if a person is a regular swimmer, diver, and surfer; a wiser option for them is to buy two different wetsuits 

Though you can, you shouldn’t use a scuba wetsuit to surf. They are cut out and patterned differently compared to surfing wetsuits, and they are not ideal for surfing. Other characteristics that differ in the two types of wetsuits are:

  1. Zipper placements
  2. Thickness of material
  3. Stretch and flexibility 

The two types of wetsuits fit for their own respective forms of water sports more appropriately.

Underwater diving generally requires strong and thicker bodysuits to keep stable under the water pressure and avoid being compressed. Surfing requires thinner and flexible gear for easier movement in water. Even though some individuals use the same wetsuit for both activities, they tend to do so if they are only occasionally engaging in them. Most experts recommend that if you surf or scuba dive regularly, you should get separate suits to make the experience safer and more comfortable.

Wetsuit Characteristics and Requirements

All wetsuits are manufactured in a way that can help the swimmer with the motion and pressure of the waves. Some basic features that wetsuits should include:

  • The ability to behave like second skin. The lighter the individual feels above or under water, the better will be the experience
  • The ability to provide warmth to the swimmer. Water tends to maintain a certain temperature. Even in hot areas, water temperature is cooler and gets colder with depth.
  • The ability to assist movement in water. Swimming and surfing entail a lot of body movement, and the wetsuit one is wearing can have a huge impact on it.

Wetsuits for different water sports require these main characteristics, however, in varying proportions. 

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Surfing Wetsuits:

Surfing requires movement, and to maximize that movement; surfing wetsuits are cut with stretched out arms and legs. Extra panels are added in these wetsuits with thinner arms and shoulder sections. The suit is made up of flexible neoprene (material used for majority of these suits), which helps in paddling. Surfing wetsuits have zippers at the back because surfers lay on the surfboard face first, and zippers at the front would press in to the body or scratch the headboard. 

Surfing wetsuits are also thinner than scuba diving suits. This is because surfing requires constant movement and paddling, so the material should be flexible for the surfer to conveniently move around in. A thicker suit would tire the surfer out more quickly and possibly lead to overheating and dehydration.

The seams and stitching in a surfing wetsuit should be such that will make the suit flexible. Flat lock stitches are better in this case. Lesser seams are placed around the shoulders and armpits, making the paddler more comfortable paddling. 

They also cause less chafing because movement is rapid and frequent on a surfboard. The only downside to flat lock stitching is the water seepage that can occur into the suit. The needles used for the stitching can leave tiny holes in the suit through which water can pass. This can be problematic in cold water for the surfer.

Scuba Diving Wetsuit 

Scuba wetsuits are made with tougher and thicker neoprene to a resist compression under deep water. This is also to keep the diver warm, and therefore these suits are less flexible and stiffer than surfing wetsuits. When choosing a scuba dive suit, one should it with at zippers on the front mainly because the diver has the breathing tank clasped on his/her back, and with the zipper at the back, he or she would be uncomfortable. However, it should be noted that front zipped scuba wetsuits can be a little pricey.

Divers have to use their legs under water with the fins on their feet and don’t require other limbs to work too much; hence the suits are made more for warmth than for movements. Similarly, the diving suit is denser to be less buoyant to help the diver use less dive weights when possible. I wrote a full guide to choosing a wetsuit for scuba.

Scuba diving wetsuits are either flat lock stitched or blind stitched. A more preferable option is the blind stitch because it makes the suit warm and waterproof and can be suitable for cold water diving. Flat lock stitching is not preferable because the water can seep through the stitches and make the diver cold. It can be an option in warmer waters.

A Comparison Between Scuba Wetsuits and Surfing Wetsuits

The following table shows a summarized comparison of the two types of wetsuits and what characteristics they should have:

Scuba Diving WetsuitsSurfing Wetsuits
They should be less buoyantThey should be more buoyant
They should have thicker and tougher neoprene to avoid compression under waterThey should have flexible neoprene to assist in movement and paddling 
Their ideal zipper placement should be in the front to avoid air tanks pressing inTheir ideal zipper placement should be at the back to avoid chafing and pressure on the front
They should assist warmth as water gets colder deep downThey should target movement because surfing demands it
They should be less floatable so that the diver can go deep underwaterThey should be more floatable so that the surfer can stay afloat while riding the waves
They should be blind stitched to make them water resistantThey should be flat lock stitched to make them more flexible

Temperature and Wetsuits

When choosing and buying a wetsuit, the temperature of the surroundings and of the water you are about to venture in should be kept in mind. Warmer areas and warm surfing winds do not require warm wetsuits; however, if it is cold, it is necessary to be equipped with a suit that protects your body against the cold. This is because water is a medium through which heat can pass faster. Air is a poorer medium in comparison. Hence, cold water can put a diver or a surfer at a risk of losing body heat more quickly if the gear he or she is wearing is not warm enough.

Divers, especially in such cases, require thick dive suits because of two reasons.

  1. The suit will undergo less compression at depth if the suit is thicker than in a thinner wetsuit.
  2. Thicker neoprene will help with better thermal insulation.

Wetsuit manufacturers compete on the balance between warmth and thickness of a wetsuit. They try to provide with the thinnest possible wetsuit that can also promise safety from hypothermia. 

Can You Use a Surfing Wetsuit For Scuba Diving?

A surfing wetsuit should never be used for scuba diving, especially when you are diving deep for longer hours. The stretchy material in a surfing wetsuit, its thinness, and its flexibility will ruin the scuba diving experience. By the time you come back up on the surface, the wetsuit will turn flat and lose its shape. It will not remain useful anymore. Also, in cold water, you will likely feel extremely cold and come back up before you plan.

Swimming demands movement from the whole body, and buying a good gear is important to make that movement easy for a person. It is better to get two separate suits for the two water activities even if you have to rent one of them. The reason is that you will be more comfortable and enjoy the sport smoothly. 


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Tim Conner, M.D.

Tim Conner, M.D. started boating in 1974. He has been involved in recreational boating continuously since then. Dr. Conner has been active in boating and watersports safety education for decades. He rode his first jet ski in 1997, and rejoined the personal watercraft arena in 2012 with a Sea-Doo GTX 155, followed by 2 supercharged SeaDoos. Scuba certification came in 1988, and he and the family have traveled the world snorkeling and scuba diving for decades. The family has recently taken up paddle boarding. Click the photo for a lot more.

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