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Surf Technical Information

• Surfing in Washington, huh?
• What thickness and/or size of wetsuit do I need?
• Water temperature and wetsuit thickness chart.
• Wetsuit brand sizing charts.
• What are wetsuits made out of?
• What goes into making a wetsuit?
• What surfboard is best for me?
• What are the different surfboard shapes?
• What are surfboards made of?

Surfing in Washington, huh?

Despite the cold, the rain and the sharks, Washington actually has some great consistent waves. Where California or Hawaii will have long stretches without any measurable swell, we have waves year round. When California is flat in the summer, Washington will still be getting waves.

Washington generally relies on Northwest swell direction which is what we get 90% of the time. The waves come all the from Alaska and smack against our coast. Occasionally we will get Southern swell coming up from Mexico and it brings warmer water, sometimes reaching near 60 degrees (whoo!).

Westport is the most surfed and easiest beach to get to in Washington. It picks up swells from most directions year-round. There are lots of little secret breaks ripe for expoloration all along the coast. Remember, just because it isn’t breaking the one time you looked at it, doesn’t mean it won’t start going off in 2 hours! Good hunting!

What thickness and/or size of wetsuit do I need?

Wetsuit thickness is usually given with two numbers like 4/3, 5/4, or three numbers like 5/4/3. These numbers mean that the thickness of the neoprene is 5 or 4mm on the body and 4 or 3mm on arms. The thickness of the wetsuit is going to depend mostly on the temperature of water you are surfing in. Here’s a basic guide:

Water Temperature (F) Thickness (MM)
58°-55° 3/2 to 4/3
54°-49° 4/3 to 5/4/3
49°-43° 5/4/3
42° and below 6/5/4

As the water gets colder, fit on wetsuits (as well as gloves and boots) are paramount in their function. All neoprene should be very tight. The tighter the suit, the less room for water to get between the suit and your skin. The less water in your suit, the warmer you’ll be.

More expensive suits will be seam sealed, either with tape or a rubber welding. This seam sealing slows down water getting into a wetsuit.

Each brand has slightly different sizing. Here’s each brand’s sizing:

What are wetsuits made out of?

Wetsuits are made from neoprene. Neoprene is an elastic synthetic rubber material with good insulation properties. Neoprene is a generally a petroleum based product. There are some suits that use a mix of limestone in the process of making the rubber. All Patagonia and the high end Xcel suits are limestone “Geoprene”. The basic thing that wetsuit does to keep us warm is this: wetsuit catches a thin layer of water between our skin and the neoprene. Body heat warms this layer of water. The better the fit of the wetsuit, the warmer we are. Every time we fall, wipe out, duck dive, get pummeled, cold water wants to enter the wetsuit and flush the warm water out. Wetsuit thickness is usually given with two numbers like 4/3, 5/4, or three numbers like 5/4/3. These numbers mean that the thickness of the neoprene is 4 or 5 on the body and 4 or 3 millimeters on arms. A 4/3 wetsuit is generally suited for summer and autumn surfing here in the Northwest. A 5/4 or 6/5/4 wetsuit keeps us warm when surfing in winter and spring. Almost always will a suit that is 5mm have an attached hood. Gloves and boots are a necessity most of the year here in the Northwest. Fit on these items is paramount in their function. Gloves especially should fit very tight. If they are even a little bit too big, they will balloon up with water and make your hands very cold.

What goes into making a wetsuit?

Generally speaking, all wetsuits here are blind-stitched. The difference in pricing is related to what’s on the inside of the suit for seaming/insulation. Some will be just glued together; others welded, while some will have neoprene tape. This is the same idea as taping on outerwear. Taping or welded seams slow down the trickle of water through seams so that you can keep up with heating the water in your suit. Some suits are lined with fleece, which helps hold water in place against your body so that you can warm it. Patagonia cold-water wetsuits are lined with Merino wool, which is a great insulation. As wetsuits get more expensive, all materials get better and generally stretchier. Wetsuit companies are trying to walk a fine line of a flexible suit that will last more than a few months. Back zip suits are easier to get into, but the large zipper is a big place for water to leak into the suit. Chest zips are harder to get into, but tend to be the most flexible and water-tight.

What surfboard is best for me?

There is no rule that states if you are “this” tall and “this” weight that you should have this sized board. Generally speaking, longboards are easier to learn on and shortboards are more difficult to learn on. Surfboards are generally made in 1 to 2 inch increments so finding the right size board for your skill level is generally up to your ability and the recommendations of the surfboard shaper or surf shop employee.

What are the different surfboard shapes?

  • Shortboard (5’-7’) fast turning boards for the more experience surfer. Usually 3 fins but can be any fin variation.
  • Longboard or Mal (9’-12’) classic wide thick board that is easy to catch wave on. Usually associated with hanging 10, noseriding. Can have one single fin or 3 fins.
  • Mini Longboard or Mini-Mal (8’-9’) Can be single or tri fin, good for gals who can’t carry a longboard or anyone who wants a slightly more maneuverable board than a classic longboard.
  • Fish, Hybrid, or Retro Shape (5’-7”) Can have any fin setup. Generally wide and thick and better in small to mid sized waves.
  • Hybrid or Egg (6’-8’) Stubbier and wider boards, somewhere between a mini longboard and a shortboard. More maneuverable than longboards, easier to catch waves on than a shortboard.

What are surfboards made of?

  • Open cell foam and polyester fiberglass has been the standard for over 50 years. Custom hand-shaped surfboards are generally made this way.
  • EPS, PE, EPX is a closed cell foam similar to the beaded foam you’d find in a Styrofoam cooler. This is glassed with epoxy resin. This is a newer construction, generally used in mass production, though some shapers are beginning to work with this process more as it’s more environmentally friendly.
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