Thursday, October 17, 2013

Wetsuit 101 and other cold weather tips.

Summer is over.  Fall is here. Winter is not far behind.  Stand Up Paddling is not just for warm weather.  With proper gear, some preparation and a little caution,  Stand Up can be safely enjoyed all year long.  

Winter Paddle out,( January 2013).

I have been wearing and selling wetsuits for close to 40 years.  Many wetsuits are sport specific, but they all share certain characteristics.
The purpose of a wetsuit is to keep you warm in the water. When you are in the water, the suit traps a thin layer of water next to your skin.  Your body warms that water, and the thickness of the suit provides insulation from the outside air and or water temperature.
The thickness of the suit is usually measured in millimeters. Most suits are a combination to provide both warmth and flexibility. ie: 3/2 or 4/3.
The thicker the suit, the warmer it is.  The thinner the suit, the more flexible.
Wetsuits are made of neoprene rubber.  Thickness for thickness, the more expensive suits tend to be more flexible and warmer.  You get what you pay for.

Wetsuits have approximate temperature ranges:
 2/1 mid 60's
3/2 mid 50's
4/3 mid 40's
5/4 around 40
I say approximate, because one person might be freezing in a thick suit, and someone else might  warm in a thinner suit.    

Wide range of outfits for last December's East of Maui Santa Paddle.  Note wearable PFD's.  Always a good idea for cold weather! 
 Stand Up paddling presents an interesting challenge.  Unlike surfing and diving where you are in the water all the time, you may or may not get wet on a stand up board.  Stand Up paddling generates a ton of heat and energy.  In most cases the right suit for the water temperature, is going to be too warm paddling. However, you could find yourself in big trouble if you should fall in and get separated from your board in cold water.*

Here are some chilling facts about hypothermia:

The United States Search and Rescue Task Force has a risk list for when hypothermia might set in if you are submersed in water:
Water temperature: 32.5 to 40 degrees
Time until exhaustion or unconsciousness: 15 to 30 minutes
Expected time of survival in the water: 30 to 90 minutes

Water temperature: 40 to 50 degrees
Time until exhaustion or unconsciousness: 30 to 60 minutes
Expected time of survival in the water: 1 to 3 hours
Water temperature: 50 to 60 degrees
Time until exhaustion or unconsciousness: 1 to 2 hours
Expected time of survival in the water: 1 to 6 hours.
People have survived longer or shorter periods of time than outlined on this list. These are estimates.

What is the Stand Up paddler to do?  Than answer lies in what type of paddling you are doing.  If you are surfing your Stand Up, you will need to wear a suit based on the water temperature.  A flat water paddler, can make do with a thinner suit.  A "Spring 2/1" with short legs and short sleeves is always a good thing to have in your gear gear bag. It will give you some basic core insulation on a cool day and not be over restrictive. 

2/1 Spring

  The "John or Jane", a full length suit with no arms has been a go to for kyakers for years  and works equally as well on a stand up board. By wearing a long john top, fleece or a lightweight jacket on your upper body, you can paddle comfortably in all but the coldest conditions and have a decent  margin of safety should you fall in.  
O'Neill Jane

We also sell a separate pant from a company SUPreme  that works well for cool to even cold weather if you are pretty certain you will not fall in.  Unlike a John/ Jane, they will not give you  core insulation in the water.   Once again, teaming it with different types of tops allow you to fine tune for the air temperature

Supreme Pant

For winter and cold air/water paddling a drysuit is the best way to go.  Insulation comes from what you wear under the suit. They are loose, non restrictive, and if you fall in, you stay dry.

O'Neill boost Drysuit

In addition to the wetsuit you need booties to keep your feet warm.  In most cases, the thicker the better.  Cold feet suck! 

 East of Maui has everything you need to paddle comfortably and safely all year long.  Stop by or call, and let us help you get geared up this fall. 

  Two more things.
  One: Proper fit is CRITICAL!  It is critical to performance, and it is critical for comfort.  The size charts are close, but there is no substitute for trying them on.  Do not order suits online.  Let the staff at East of Maui correctly fit your suit.

Two:  Not many people look good in wetsuits.  They don't hide much. Actually they don't hide anything.   Get over it.  Go paddle have fun.  Plus if you paddle all winter, you are  still gonna look better than your friends that don't paddle! 

Aloha, see you on the water.  MB

 * I find myself wearing a lightweight coiled leash most all of the time.  In cooler temperatures, I won't leave the beach without it. Getting separated from the board is the last thing I want to worry about when the water is cool or cold.

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