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Finding the right Wetsuit or What suit do I really need?"


It is a question watercraft riders the world over ask about wetsuits. Full suit or combo? Shorty or full length? Or do I need a wetsuit at all?


The answer, as it is with so many questions, is, "It all depends."

Now, before you go screaming "cop-out" and head to the next article, bear with me a moment. While "it all depends" may not be the initial answer you're looking for, finding a definitive, helpful answer isn't all that hard. It just requires asking and answering a few more questions. If you do, the perfect wetsuit will be right at your fingertips. Well, that might be a bit of a stretch, but at least you'll know what to look for.

First off, accept the fact that you do need a wetsuit. Even if you're a fair-weather watercraft rider and only hit the water when the sun is shining and the mercury is above 80, you can benefit from a wetsuit. One of the enduring myths about wetsuits is that they're just for cold weather. On the contrary, a wetsuit will not only keep you warm in the water, it will also protect you against wind and spray, two things that can rob your body of warmth even on hot summer days - and remember, water conducts heat away from your body 25 times faster than air. A wetsuit can also provide protection against the normal bumps, bruises and chafing you get from extensive riding, making you more comfortable when riding anytime during the year. In addition to protection, a wetsuit also provides some (though fairly minimal) floatation.

However, that doesn't mean you need to wear a full suit year round. In fact, more often than not, a full suit will be overkill when riding.

Which brings us to wetsuit types, probably the most important factor to consider when looking for the right suit. Essentially, there are two basic types of suits on the market - one-piece suits and combos - though there are variations with each type.

One-piece suits are generally warmer and less expensive than combos, but the drawback is that you sacrifice some versatility. With a two-piece suit, you can leave off the jacket or the john depending on the weather and water conditions, which in turn increases the suit's comfort zone.

As a result, most of the one-piece suits sold in the personal watercraft market are of the shorty design, featuring legs cut above the knee and sleeves cut above the elbows or in a john style. These suits are particularly ideal for warmer weather, and some riders will even find them suitable for cold-weather riding because they still cover the most important area of the body when it comes to staying warm - the trunk. Because, as we all know, the body generates approximately 60 percent of its heat from the torso/chest cavity area - right? Only the arms and legs are exposed, two areas of the body that are not as sensitive to cold.

Combos are two-piece suits - a zippered jacket combined with a john (which is styled something like overalls) or pants or shorts. The two parts can be worn together or separately, adding to their versatility.

Jackets are usually waist-length and closed with a zipper in the front, back or side. Front zippers are easier to get in and out of, while back zippers are usually more comfortable. Most jackets are long-sleeved, though you can find some short-sleeved versions. A john or Jane (which is a women's version) covers the legs and trunk, providing a double layer of insulation in the trunk when worn with a jacket. Pants and shorts are used mainly for warm-weather riding, and can also be combined with a jacket for greater warmth.

Most manufacturers make complimentary johns, jackets, shorty johns and regular shorts, so you can mix and match throughout the year. Certainly, cost becomes an issue because you're buying so many pieces, but the various combination's ensure you'll have the right suit for the conditions.

Most wetsuit manufacturers suggest wearing a full or two-piece combo only when the air and water temperatures are both fairly low - usually 70 degrees and below for both. As the water temperature rises, your need for insulation lessens.

Water temperature is the biggest factor when determining what type of suit you need, and most wetsuit manufacturers provide a minimum water-temperature figure for their various styles of suits.

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