Kiteboarders are outdoor athletes in a harsh
environment; they have an overwhelming urge as they
progress to ride longer in stronger winds. They deliberately expose their bodies
to a combination of extreme conditions that can produce a deadly cocktail. Being
totally saturated then standing in the full force of
the wind while performing a strenuous activity is recipe for disaster.
Kiteboarders beware, severe Wind-chill and Hypothermia kills! Fortunately for us
the invention of the kiteboard was preceded by the invention of the wetsuit.
Wetsuits provide an insulating layer to reduce the loss of body heat while wet.
Wetsuits will not prevent heat loss totally, but they will significantly
increase your riding time, comfort and enjoyment.
Water is a very efficient conductor
of heat so you lose heat faster when in the water; even warm water has
this ability. Wind blowing across the skin conducts heat away much faster
then still air and the faster the wind blows the greater its ability to
suck the heat out. This is called wind-chill. This situation is exacerbated
with wet skin.
A wetsuit will make you more comfortable and
safer in cold water. It is difficult to
concentrate on riding when your teeth are chattering and your body is
aching. Beyond a certain point the body looses so much heat energy that the extremities become cold and numb, the muscles will function
less efficiently and you will become less coordinated. If a rider persists
beyond the pain barrier, the heat loss can lead to the body's core temperature
dropping mild Hypothermia can be recognized by slurred speech, blue lips,
apathy, this is a dangerous condition to be in on the water because it
can quickly lead to severe Hypothermia which results in unconsciousness
followed by death. The average person would give up riding for the day
before reaching severe hypothermia because of the pain and discomfort,
but if they get stuck in the water or lose their equipment they don't
have the choice. Hypothermia will happen to anyone no matter
how fit they are. In fact obese people with a thick layer of body fat have
a slightly slower rate of heat loss, but it gets to everyone in the
end. What if you become stranded a long
distance from shore?. You may have to wait for a rescue. In cold water it may
not be possible to swim as far as you think. Swimming may actually increase your
rate of heat loss by 35-50%. You'll wish you had adequate Floatation and
A wetsuit provides an insulating
layer between the skin and the air or water. The neoprene material in a wetsuit
has a thousands of tiny air bubbles that create closed-cells within the
material. That is why they float so much. The suit traps a layer
of water against the skin, which the body warms up. The air bubbles reduce the
amount of heat conducted to the outside water, it is the trapped water
and air layer that insulates the body from excessive heat loss.
The wetsuit must fit closely
to the body to work properly but not be so tight as to restrict movement.
A common mistake that new kiteboarders make is to use any old wetsuit, usually
a borrowed one that doesn't fit. While sometimes it is true that something
is better than nothing, there are occasions where an incorrectly fitting
wetsuit can be dangerous. A kiteboarder's wetsuit should allow for freedom
of movement. Many newer suits have specially designed stretch panels along
the back and under the arms to allow the rider the necessary mobility.
A good fitting wetsuit should allow you to grasp your hands together over
your head easily. Remember that you will be doing a lot of swimming in
it. A wetsuit should also be easy to get on and off many first time wetsuit
buyers ask "How tight should it be?" and this usually means they can't
breathe. An unscrupulous salesman might say "Skin tight" just to make a
sale. The general rule when buying a wetsuit is if it doesn't feel comfortable
in the shop, it won't feel comfortable in the water.
For example SCUBA Diving wetsuits
are designed to insulate a relatively passive athlete at great depths.
The wetsuits are made extra thick because the water pressure at depth compresses
the air bubbles within the neoprene and reduces its insulating capabilities. A five or six millimeter
thick suit will give the same thermal protection at 10 meters below the
surface as a 2 to 3 mm suit at the surface. (because the neoprene is compressed
to 2-3mm). When a Diving suit is used
for kiteboarding (at sea level) it is too thick and will dramatically restrict
their movement and can lead to overheating.
Another cause for Hyperthermia
is wearing a wetsuit on a hot day, combined with physical exertion. If
you don't fall in it will make you too hot, which can result in heat stroke.
Heat stroke (Hyperthermia) can result in nausea, headaches, dizziness and
vomiting and even fainting. This problem is not as common as Hypothermia,
but it does happen. Remember that a wetsuit is designed to be wet so as
soon as possible get it totally wet so you will not overheat.
There are many different types
of wetsuits designed for the specific demands of individual sports and
only very few of them are suitable for kiteboarding. The sport we can most
readily identity' with in terms of exposure would be surfing. This is why
wetsuits designed for kiteboarding are almost identical to surfing wetsuits.
A surfer however is not generally exposed to the extreme winds that a kiteboarder
would normally go out in. So a kiteboarder needs a warmer suit for similar
Wetsuits come in
a variety of shapes and thickness', from a simple vest to a total cover
up. It is wise to consider the conditions that you will be riding in before
buying a wetsuit. The most common types are listed below;
tropical conditions only, they take the chill out of evening sessions.
For hot conditions, are generally used to prevent chafing from a seat harness
A vest top with short legs, a good midsummer suit. (also known as Short
arms and short legs. As the name suggests it is designed for the spring
season and is much warmer than a tube suit.
|| Long arms and legs, the
most popular type of wetsuit. Available with short sleeves.
||A sleeveless steamer.
||Are wrist to ankle like steamers, but with tight wrist
and ankle bands combined with "Smoothie" neoprene to minimize water exchange.
||Have water-tight bands at the
neck, wrists and ankles and a watertight zip to exclude all water. Dry
suits are rarely seen in Australia but are common in northern Europe and
The quality of neoprene foam has improved
dramatically over the 70 years. The modem materials are warmer and more
flexible. This means that the newer suits are more comfortable than their
predecessors are. There are also a variety of types of neoprene available to
suit different purposes. Thinner and more flexible materials are used in the
high stretch zones like along the back etc, and reinforcing patches are common
on knees and elbows. Thicker wetsuits
may be essential to your climate, but most suits compromise by strategically combining
various thickness' of neoprene to achieve maximum warmth and flexibility.
TWO TYPES OF NEOPRENE
There are two basic types of neoprene
material used in most wetsuits: Single Lined neoprene (SL) and Double
Lined neoprene (DL). Single Lined and Double Lined neoprene serve
different purposes in the function of a wetsuit.
The single lined or
"smoothie", has a fabric laminated on the inside
(usually nylon or polyester) and a smooth
or textured finish on the outside which is impervious. This reduces
evaporation. Single lined neoprene is often used in the torso area,
for warmth. Double lined neoprene has fabric laminated to both sides.
Double lined is usually used in knees, elbows, and other areas to
resist abrasion. Sealed seams, glued seams with blind stitching, also
make a suit warmer because it reduces the exchange of water.
The best place to buy a wetsuit
is from a shop that carries a wide range and large quantities. If you don't feel
obliged to buy a suit before leaving the shop, you are more likely to walk
out with a good one. This is especially true for women as the range of
female wetsuits is far less than for men. Women should not use their dress
size as a hard and fast guide to buying a wetsuit because the interpretations
of a particular size vary between different manufacturers. Many women have
had to be physically assisted to remove their wetsuits in the changing
room because they insisted they were a particular size. Some women may
be surprised to find that they actually fit better into a men’s wetsuit.
Men have it a bit easier because their sizes range from small, medium,
large, etcetera, and many manufacturers are now producing additional sizes
like "medium short" or "medium tall". The cut of a suit also varies from
brand to brand. A muscle bound vee-shaped person may fit one brand, and
a straight up and down person may fit another. Don't be brand loyal at
the expense of a good fit. Beyond a good fit a wetsuit should come from
a well known manufacturer. They have the experience and technology to make
better suits. A wetsuit is an important and personalized investment, so
be prepared to spend a few extra dollars and a little time and get the
In addition to a wetsuit, a pair
of neoprene booties can increase your overall comfort. Again fit is important
because a bootie that is slightly loose when dry, will be extremely loose
when wet. You will have to adjust your footstraps to accommodate them.
As well as providing extra warmth, booties can give you a better grip on
the board, prevent sores on the feet from footstraps and are invaluable
when climbing over rocks. For a better feel, opt for the
thinner flexible sole. Some people prefer a split-toe style bootie to a
Neoprene gloves are great if
you ride in colder waters. They also save your hands from blisters. If
they are too thick across the palm they widen your grip and make your hand
and forearm muscles tire quickly. If thermal protection isn't necessary
and you just want to save you skin, a good range of leather and synthetic
gloves are available. Sailing gloves usually have the finger tips removed
to allow you to tie knots etc. Gloves should he as tight as you can get
on your hands without making them cramp because they always get looser
when you use them. Gloves that are too loose can bunch up at the knuckles
and cause blisters.
Hoods and caps made from neoprene
can make you look like a bullet head but they are a better option than
headaches and earaches while riding in winter. Some are available with visors. You may get a few laughs
when you start wearing them, but you'll have the last laugh when other
kiteboarders are coming in because of the cold. (then they'll want one too).
Purpose designed helmets are
quite common these days and for good reason. If there's one thing that
you can't ride without, is your head. A watersports helmet is a cheap
insurance policy for any time that you are pushing your personal limits.
Many kiteboarders say that they feel more confident when they wear one and can
get more radical. Helmets can prevent; burst eardrums, sunburn on bald
heads, cuts, stings and most knocks. They keep your head warm too.
Rinse your 'rubber' goods in cold fresh water after each use. Allow
them to dry thoroughly and place them flat for storage. Store them in
a cool dry place. Do not hang your suit on a hanger. Keep the suit out
of sunlight as much as possible. Every now and again you may want to
soak your suit overnight. Use a neoprene wash solution to get the
greasy sweat buildup out. The product is sometimes called 'wetsuit
shampoo' and is available from marine suppliers. Do not machine wash your neoprene. Never put
it in a clothes dryer. Beware of chemicals and oils spilling onto the
fabric. (like the spare gas can in the trunk of your car).
Rshguards are Lycra shirts that are used for sun
protection, and also used under wetsuits. They are very useful from warm water.
They prevent belly rash, and protect the skin from the sun, and from bumps and
scratches. rash-guards aka "rashies", also create a layer of protection against
jellyfish stings too. There are different types of rashies available, but mostly
they are constructed using Lycra fabric which uses rubber to give it stretch
capabilities. So you should care for a rash guard the same as a wetsuit.
Rashguards are available in short sleeve, and long sleeve, as well as fleecy
warmer varieties for colder water. Sometimes rash guards come with hoods, and
can even include thin neoprene panels for a hybrid wetsuit/rashguard.
Over time the closed-cell bubbles within the suit begin to break down,
the seams start to leak and the neoprene starts to get hard and less
flexible. A suit in this condition takes on more water, insulates
less, is less comfortable and is harder to get into. Then it is time to buy
yourself a nice new wetsuit. When you try on a
brand new wetsuit you will realize just how bad your old suit had
become. Give your old suit away, or cut it up to make roof-rack pads, or knee
Protection From The
Elements - Wetsuit Guide
|Style of suit
Gorge in May/June
||Full wetsuit or
Gorge in March/April
hood and booties