Can You Surf Without a Wetsuit?

Maybe you've gone down to the beach and seen a bunch of surfers in the water all wearing wetsuits. With everyone seeming to be wearing them these days you might be wondering can you surf without a wetsuit? Or is it actually needed to go surfing?

The answer is pretty simple:

You do NOT need a wetsuit to go surfing. Wetsuits primary role is to keep surfers warm but in warmer water it's very common for surfers to surf in just board shorts or swimmers. Wetsuits actually make paddling more difficult so surfers prefer not to wear them when they don't have to.

How To Know If You Should Surf With a Wetsuit or Without

How do you know if you should south with a wetsuit or without one?

Really it comes down to water temperature. What are is 32 times more effective at transferring heat than air so cold water can sap your body heat really quickly.

In warmer water a wetsuit isn't needed and will actually make you too hot but failure to wear a wetsuit in cold water can take away all your energy and even lead to hypothermia.

Below is a simple table that shows you different water temperatures and what type of wetsuits people tend to wear given those water temperatures:

Water Temp Range ºF (ºC)Wetsuit ThicknessRecommended Wetsuit TypeSeal Type
>72ºF (>22ºC)N/ARashguardN/A
65-75ºF (18-24ºC)0.5 – 2/1 mmTop / Spring Suit / Shorty / Short JohnN/A
62-68ºF (16-20ºC)2 – 3/2 mmSpring Suit / Steamer (Full Suit)Flatlock
58-63ºF (14-17ºC)3/2 – 4/3 mmSteamer, BootsSealed
52-58ºF (11-14ºC)4/3 – 5/4/3 mmSteamer, Boots, Gloves, HoodSealed + Taped
43-52ºF (6-11ºC)5/4 – 5/4/3 mmSteamer, Boots, Gloves, HoodSealed + Taped
<42ºF (<6ºC)6/5 – 7 mmSteamer, Boots, 3 Finger Gloves, HoodSealed + Taped

Benefits of Surfing Without a Wetsuit

Surfing without a wetsuit is actually easier than surfing with a wetsuit and there are some benefits to surfing without a wetsuit.

Wetsuits are designed to be tight and restricting so they don't let him too much water but this makes it harder to paddle when wearing a wetsuit.

Surface wetsuits are designed to be thinner around the shoulders and the arms to make paddling easier but even still it does make it more difficult. The longer are thicker the wetsuit the more pronounced this is.

Surfing without a wetsuit makes paddling easier.

When you're surfing in warmer water wearing a wetsuit can actually make you too hot so you're better off just going in your swimmers or board shorts.

Surfing is also an immersive experience and it can be nice to feel the cool water on your body whilst in the ocean.

What Can You Wear Surfing Instead of a Wetsuit?

I've done a full article on what to wear surfing which includes a wetsuit but also includes a lot of other options.

For guy you'll generally wear board shorts and maybe a rash shirt as well if you want to protect yourself from the sun or have a little bit of insulation from the water.

Guys rarely just wear swimmers surfing though it can be done and I've been known to do it on occasion.

For the girls they'll generally wear just swimmers or swimmers with a rash shirt.

A bikini or a one piece are both common but most girls opt for swimmer with shoulder straps so their top doesn't fall down when duck diving or wiping out.

Negatives of Surfing Without a Wetsuit

The major downside of surfing without a wetsuit is that you'll get much colder than if you surf with a wetsuit.

In my article on why do surfers wear wetsuits I outlined some other benefits to wearing a wetsuit when surfing.

The other major benefit of wearing a wetsuit is that if you're surfing near rocks or on a shallow reef your wetsuit provides some protection from your body being carved up by the reef.

But the main reason people wear wetsuits is for walls and so the major negative I was not wearing a wetsuit is that you'll get called out quicker.

This may limit your surfing session and you might need to come in earlier than you would have otherwise because you're just too cold.