Wetsuits are supposed to be tight. They act as a second skin, one that is a protective layer between the water and your body. They can sometimes take a long time to break in or they may feel just a bit too tight to be comfortable.
Is it possible to stretch a wetsuit and if so how do you go about doing it so you don't break the wetsuit?
To permanently stretch your wetsuit manually pull the neoprene to its maximum stretch without breaking and hold it there. Get a friend to help you pull it or create a template out of wood and towels to put inside your wetsuit and leave for a few days. The wetsuit will stretch slightly but lose some elasticity.
Neoprene is stretchy and elastic but it does not permanently stretch very well in a short period of time. Forcibly stretching your wetsuit can potentially damage the neoprene or the seams and lead to your wetsuit not lasting as long as it otherwise would.
The best and easiest way to stretch a wetsuit is to do your pre-surf or pre-dive stretches with the wet suit on. However, this can be a time consuming and uncomfortable way to break in your wetsuit.
So if you're desperate for a larger fit what are some ways you can go about stretching your wetsuit so it fits you perfectly and is easier to get on?
In this article, I want to take a look at the risks involved and give you a few methods of stretching a wetsuit that works for me or others like me. Let's jump into it.
Is It Safe To Stretch A Wetsuit: What Are The Risks?
Before you go ahead and stretch your wettie to the nth degree you should be aware of the risks involved, because forcible stretching your wetsuit can potentially damage it.
There are numerous risks involved when trying to break in a wetsuit.
It is important to remember that a suit comprises of multiple pieces. So, when you stretch the wetsuit, it is best to keep that in mind. Here are a few risks that come with stretching your wetsuit:
- You might damage the stitching. The multiple pieces that make a wetsuit are called “panels.” These are first glued and then stitched. The stitch work is highly complicated and different wetsuits use different methods of stitching to achieve waterproofing and durability. These stitches makes the wetsuit highly durable, but putting too much pressure on the glue and stitch could ruin the waterproofing or even tear the stitches.
- Stretching a wetsuit comes at the risk of damaging one of the zippers. The better the quality of the suit, the better the quality of the zipper will be. However, applying too much pressure on it can break it.
- Overstretching your wetsuit can render the suit useless. The openings around you neck, feet and hands can become too big letting water in and the suit can lose it's elasticity making it saggy and baggy in some areas especially when wet.
4 Methods To Stretch Your Wetsuit
The truth is there is no “proven” method to safely and effectively stretch your wetsuit, and as we have discussed, stretching neoprene can be a challenge.
As unorthodox as these methods may seem, they have worked for me in the past, and trust me, I have done all of them. Here are my 3 easy steps to stretching a wet suit.
The Double Stretch
Whether going surfing or diving, it is always recommended that you stretch before and after your session. If your wetsuit feels a little bit tight, one of the most convenient methods of stretching it out or breaking it in is to do your stretches with the wetsuit on.
I recommend stretching for at least 5 minutes. You want to do your lower and your upper body during that time.
You can also do small warm-up movements such as jumping jacks, as this will be one of the most efficient ways of stretching the wetsuit's shoulders and torso.
Focus on stretching the areas where the wetsuit is specifically tight around your body. So it it's tight in the shoulders stretch those out, if it's tight in the legs focus on leg stretches.
The goal here is the stretch the neoprene to near it's absolute limit and do it repeatedly. This may not fix your wetsuit the first time you were it but over time you'll notice a little bit of stretching in the areas you focus on.
Once done with your session, try to do a few stretches while the suit is wet. Doing this means you cover all your bases as you stretch the neoprene while it is dry and wet.
Use A Buddy And Pull The Wetsuit
Having a buddy help you with this method makes everything so much easier and if you don't have a buddy and you are going for a surf, you can try to do this yourself but it's a bit harder. You can also do this method while the wetsuit is dry or wet.
This method is best for stretching out areas that don't stretch with body movement. For example the neck, wrist and ankle openings of the wetsuit where it can be painful if it's too tight.
Don't think of this as a step-by-step, but instead, these are a few things that you can do to make stretching your wetsuit a lot more efficient while minimizing the risks. So, here are a few pointers:
- For larger areas start by slowly twisting the wetsuit, almost like ringing it out. Remember, slow and steady is best, and you do not want to twist the wetsuit too tightly.
- While the wetsuit is twisted, both you and your buddy should give a few light pulls. For this part, one of you should hold the waist while the other has the neck. Try not to tug on the arms or legs just yet.
- Unravel the wetsuit and give it a good shake.
- Now, start with the legs. I prefer to do them individually.
- Next, move on to the arms.
- Finally, do the holes that your limbs go through. You can use your hands for this, and you do not need a buddy. Please be careful not to stretch them too much as you don't want to tear or over stretch these areas.
Remember, when doing the arms and legs, you want to have your buddy holding the base of the limb instead of holding the opposite end of the wetsuit; otherwise, you aren't getting a full stretch on that specific limb, and that is why I prefer to do them individually rather than the entire wetsuit all at once.
Let Your Larger Friend Wear It
Unfortunately, this only works if you have a friend that is bigger than you and is happy to spend an hour or so uncomfortable for you. They need to be a little bigger than you, and they would have to be comfortable getting into an exceptionally tight wetsuit.
Remember, if it is tight for you, it'll be even tighter for your bigger friend.
If they can wear the wetsuit for just 5 minutes before you surf or dive session it can help a little bit. However, if they wear it for an entire session (or multiple sessions) that can help stretch it out even more. This will help to speed up the break in process and stretch out the neoprene.
Make A Stretching Template With Wood and Towels
Full disclaimer here I have never gone to this extreme measures myself in order to stretch a wetsuit. But I did find some people talking about it on forums online.
The idea here is to build a template out of wood and wrap it in a thick amount of towels (so the wood doesn't cut or damage the neoprene).
Place this template inside your wetsuit so that the wetsuit is in a state of constant stretch. You want the neoprene to be near a maximum stretch as a small stretch is unlikely to do much at all.
It sounds like it would be an absolute mission and punish to get the template inside the wetsuit so that it's stretching it in the correct way. However, the benefit is once you get it in you can leave it for multiple days at a time to encourage permanent stretching.
This carriers some risks, like stretching too much in the wrong places, as it's not conforming to your body but rather a wooden template.
But if your wetsuit really is too small and unwearable anyway and you deem it worth the risk then this can be a good last resort option for a maximum stretch.
Stretching Your Wetsuit: What Not To Do
Right, wetsuits are not cheap. So, I want to discuss a few things you should avoid doing when stretching your suit. If you want to minimize the risks involved, I recommend that you keep reading:
- Do not soak it in warm water. The only time you use warm water is when you try to restore an old one. Soaking it in warm water before stretching it might weaken the integrity of the neoprene.
- In my experience, you should only stretch your wetsuit in terms of its length. Try to avoid pulling a wetsuit sideways, especially in the torso area. You don't want to weaken the zipper of the wet suit.
- Again, I have to mention you should never stretch the holes too much. A wet suit is supposed to keep you warm, and you would want the suit to create a seal around your limbs. If there is no proper seal, water will seep into the suit, making it irrelevant.
An article like this can always be subjective. What works for some people doesn't work for others. You will notice that most people talk about breaking in a wetsuit rather than stretching it because that is what people typically do. They allow the suit to become looser over time. I just wanted to help you speed up the process.