One word sums up the most important aspect of buying a wetsuit: fit. If it doesn’t fit correctly, it doesn’t matter if it’s the most expensive wetsuit in the world; it won’t keep you warm & comfortable.
Different brands & models of wetsuits give a variety of fits, to enable you to get the one that suits you. Any decent surf shop should have a variety of models, and staff that know which ones fit which body shapes, to save you time trying on the wrong ones.
One of the biggest factors in determining the price of a wetsuit is the degree of stretch the rubber has, and also how much of that very stretchy expensive rubber is in the wetsuit, The most expensive wetsuits are all super-stretch, the medium priced ones generally just have super-stretch arms or upper body, & the cheap wetsuits are all low stretch rubber. The expensive ones will fit just about any body shape.
Now days most wetsuits models have all the extra sizes including medium-tall & large-tall, which are perfect for skinny teenagers. For fatter older blokes the XL-Short & Large-Short usually do the trick,
The next determinate of price are the seams. The best seams are sealed to keep the water out. This can be done various ways with different costs. The most expensive are the silicon glue ones which are incredibly stretchy & durable. Next are taped or partially taped seams, then the least expensive sealed seams are glued & blind stitched, which still work quite well. Then, most budget suits have non sealed flat-lock stitched seams, which let water through.
Other innovations in wetsuits include the battery powered model, which basically has the equivalent of an electric blanket on your back. I have one & it’s awesome. The only problem is whenever I go to use it, my son already has it on, & is already out in the water.
Another great development is the new rubber which has a layer of air in the middle of it, which has excellent insulation qualities. Hollow Fibre Polypropylene also called Firewall also utilises air for insulation.
Most steamer wetsuits for use in NSW have a 3mm body with 2mm arms. All serious surfers have a Spring-Suit with short arms & legs for Summer & a Steamer with long arms & legs for winter. A popular all round wetsuit is a Short Armed Steamer. I recently got a Short-John (singlet arms & short legs) with full super-stretch & sealed seams & I’m stoked with its comfort & warmth.
For Children, it’s now much easier to get the right fit because of the Super-Stretch being used in junior wetsuits. This allows for heaps of growth, with a reasonably snug warm fit when first bought.
For an adult, when trying on a new wetsuit, it should almost feel a bit tight in the change-room. It will stretch to your body shape the first time you wear it, then fit like a second skin. The more like a second skin the better.