Words by John Streit.

Through the winter and early spring in Virginia Beach, the difference between having a blast and being miserable while surfing isn’t necessarily the size or quality of the waves.

The difference is your choice of wetsuit and cold water accessories.

With all of the factors that go into having an enjoyable session — board selection, swell, wind, tide, etc. — the most important and most often overlooked variable is the comfort of the surfer inside of the wetsuit. In warmer climates, or in Virginia’s summer and fall, wetsuits play a far more reduced role in this equation.

But when the water is 38 degrees, maintaining the temperature of the core and extremities is both vital to your stoke as well as your health.

One look at the racks at Surf & Adventure Co., and even the least experienced waterman can see that the consumer is faced with a myriad of options in the wetsuit game. Different thicknesses, materials, construction methods and entry systems may seem like too much to digest at times.

So, we’ll take a walk through all of our offerings and discuss which pieces of equipment fits your needs. A click on the hyperlinks throughout the guide will take you to our webstore.

1. Grading the needs of the surfer given the conditions they will encounter and the duration of their sessions.

A surfer’s wetsuit needs are unique as the waves we ride. With that in mind, the most important decision for the buyer is the consideration of the surfer’s level of dedication to the sport with relation to the conditions they will encounter while surfing.

  • An experienced, skilled surfer who is looking to spend hours at a time in the water for the duration of a Virginia winter will benefit the most from the upper echelon of wetsuit options from our suppliers in Billabong, Xcel and O’Neill. While these suits are more expensive than the economy options from the same companies, the old adage “you pay for what you get” holds true. If your or gift recipient’s needs fits the above description, skip down to number 3.
  • The more casual surfer does not necessarily need all of the high-end features geared towards the high-performance rider. While the added warmth and flexibility of the high-end suits are certainly advantages for every surfer, the cost-to-water-time ratio also needs to be considered. If you or the surfer on your list enjoys occasionally braving the cold for a short surfing fix in the winter, or if economy is the sole purchasing factor, our next section has you covered.

2. Billabong “Foil”, O’Neill “Epic” and Xcel “SLX X-Zip” models: Economical and functional.

Don’t be fooled by the fact that these suits are placed in the “economical” category — these models all come from three of the most reputable names in surfing and are made with high-quality materials and high-quality construction. The differences you’ll find here lie in the level of flexibility of the neoprene, methods of construction and sealing and entry methods. Let’s break down the features of these suits.

  • Billabong Foil — Features “ZG400 Superflex” neoprene in the stretch-critical areas. Superflex is both durable and flexible as well as the same neoprene used in the higher-end SG5. The seams are glued and blind-stitched for a nice seal, but is not water-tight like the sealing found in the higher-end suits. Also features a moisture-wicking, heat-retaining lining on the chest and back. Surf & Adventure Co. carries the Foil in back-zip in 3mm/2mm thickness (58-68 degree water), 4/3 (48-58 degrees) and 5/4/3 (less than 48 degrees) with an included 3mm hood.
  • O’Neill Epic — Features “Super Stretch” neoprene, which is a combination of O’Neill’s “UltraFlex DS” (40 percent) and “FluidFlex” (60 percent). This material is not to be mistaken with the all-Ultraflex DS suits O’Neill offers on the higher end, but is still quite flexible. Glued and blind-stitched seams, a flexible, heat-retaining lining on the chest and back, and a “Blackout” back-zip make this a great value. Available in 4/3 (48-58 degrees).
  • Xcel SLX X-Zip — This suit offers a chest-zip closure, which is a feature not present on the Epic or our run of Foils. Chest-zip is more of a high-end feature and provides more flexibility and warmth. Xcel pairs this feature with similar construction and materials as its Billabong and O’Neill counterparts. Features eco-friendly limestone-based “Ultraflex” neoprene, heat-retaining lining on the core and glued and blind-stitched seams. Available in 4/3.

3. Billabong “SG5″, O’Neill “Pyscho RG8″ andXcel “Drylock” models: High-performance flexibility and warmth.

These next three models are the premium wetsuit offerings at Surf & Adventure Co. Each brings the surfer a suit of the utmost comfort, warmth — and most dramatically — flexibility. Through the companies’ methods of sealing seams, closure systems, thermal linings and utilizing high-tech materials; these wetsuits are geared towards the surfer seeking extended sessions through the bitter cold months without sacrificing performance. The difference in the quality of materials and methods of construction are easily felt when suited up.

  • Billabong SG5 — While the SGX Xero and SGX have supplanted the SG5 as the respective warmest and most flexible suits in the Billabong line; we believe that — for the money — the SG5 is the company’s go-to suit for everyday use throughout the winter. Billabong seems to agree, calling it “the SUV of wetsuits, designed to function and perform surf after surf.” The SG5 is markedly more flexible than the Foil due the use Superflex neoprene throughout the entire suit. Liquid rubber welded seams on the exterior and interior provide additional flex, water tightness and comfort. Heat-retaining and moisture-wicking lining covers the chest and back (and inside the hood on the 5/4/3), while “Solar Mesh 5″ neoprene turns the Sun’s rays into 30-percent more heat around the core. Available in 3/2, 4/3 and 5/4/3 hooded.
  • O’Neill Psycho RG8 — According to O’Neill, every “RG8″ (short for regenerate) fullsuit saves 100 plastic bottles from potentially polluting the world’s oceans. That’s rad, but it’s just one of the reasons why we love this wetsuit. This high-end option features “UltraFlex RG8″ neoprene throughout the entire wetsuit, and this stuff is as smooth and flexible as any material in the industry. The “F.U.Z.E.” chest zip closure system is one of the most efficient entry systems, as well as one of the most functional with an ingeniously placed purge hole on the shoulder to reduce cold water flushing to the core. The “RG8-Air Firewall” heat-retaining and moisture-wicking lining uses infused air pockets to crank up the core’s temperature, which translates to longer sessions in the cold. Liquid rubber welded seams keep you comfortably water-tight. Available in 4/3.
  • Xcel Drylock — This is the Ferrari Surf & Adventure Co.’s wetsuit offerings, and one session in the Drylock will prove it. Xcel pulled out all the stops in producing it’s highest-end suit, starting with its attached zipper flap chest zip entry for reduced flushing over the X-Zip entry system. From there, the Drylock is 100-percent limestone UltraStretch neoprene throughout the entire suit. As opposed to the liquid rubber welding employed by our other brands, Xcel opts for “Fusion Seam Technology.” The seams are glued and blind-stitched and then lined with flexible Fusion tape on the interior of suit, which reduces the exposure of the water-tight seal to the elements. The tape is also more durable and less prone to dry-rotting and cracking than liquid rubber welding. Seamless Drylock writs seals prevent further flushing, and quick-dry fiber lining the exterior repels water to promote additional warmth. The kicker is the “Airprene” construction — air-infused neoprene — on the core panels, which warms more quickly and efficiently than standard solid neoprene. The entire core as well as the thighs are lined with “ThermoCarbon” heat-retaining lining. The result is a wetsuit that exceeds the water temperature standards of nearly every other suit on the market. A 3/2 can be worn as the water dips to the lower 50s, and a hooded 4/3 has proven to provide comfort even in 38 degree water, which is normally reserved for 5/4/3 suits or thicker.

Thanks so much for reading! Check out this short video of the Surf & Adventure Co. crew getting at it throughout the bitter cold winter of 2010-2011.

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