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The In and Outs of Thermal Protection - How to Maximize Your Windsurfing Season
with Jon Massmann

Windsurfing in cool air or water temperatures requires a person with North Pole ancestry or improvisation – i.e. wearing neoprene wetsuits. Here in the Midwest the winds are usually strongest in the early spring and fall seasons. Having adequate thermal protection when air and water temps are less then ideal help windsurfers take advantage of more windsurfing opportunities. Wetsuits come in a variety of thicknesses, constructions and styles to suit the conditions of use. The thicker the neoprene wetsuit, the cooler air and water temperatures it’s designed to accommodate.

Thermal Layering can increase effectiveness and warmth of existing wetsuits, while protecting your extremities with hoods, booties and gloves or mitts aid in the preserving your heat and comfort in cold conditions. Here are some tips to help guide you through the ins and outs of thermal protection.

Neoprene Thickness vs. Air and Water temps:
- 3mm wetsuits in convertible and full arm designs target moderate to cool temperatures – 60 degree air temps and above.
-4/3mm “Steamer” wetsuits place 4mm insulation in the torso and are better suited to cooler temperatures of 50 degrees and above.
-5/4/3mm “Steamer/ Drysuit” target cold temperature use that could be near freezing to 60 degree temps. These typically combine 5mm torsos, 4mm leg and arm panels, with 3mm neck and wrist seals.

Keep in mind that not all wetsuits are created equal – more sophisticated features can aid warmth factors. For example, some Steamers use zipper-less entry systems (E1, E3 or E4) that minimize water seeping in through the zipper area (yes they do have zippers) and increase overall warmth of the suits. If you get cold easily, consider a thicker suit or thermal layering. Drysuits have a Dry Zipper across the shoulder that is water tight.

When purchasing a wetsuit, carefully consider the following:
-Windsurfing specific designs vs. other wetsuit types?
Windsurfing suits are designed to minimize forearm fatigue by incorporating oversized forearm areas or more flexible neoprene material panels. Careful consideration of panel designs and materials insure comfort, flexibility and warmth while exposed to the surface conditions and water temperatures.

- What are the average temperatures of air and water for the season of intended use?
It is a good idea to factor in wind-chill for windsurfing use.

-What is your skill level?
The less skilled you are the more likely you‘ll spend greater time in the water and desire a thicker neoprene design.

- What is your budget?
The more sophisticated the wetsuit design, expect to pay more and gain better comfort and features for use.

The surface of wetsuits and drysuits that are designed for windsurfing use a textured or coated finish to the neoprene that repels water on the exterior. The neoprene is usually black in color to attract sunlight. This acts like a windbreaker and minimizes the exterior cooling of a wetsuit by repelling the water.

Thermal Layering options:
By adding an additional layer under your wetsuit you can increase your warmth factor. Insulated shirts and shorts help to keep your torso warm and toasty and aid in overall thermal protection without excessive bulk or restriction. -Neoprene tops and shorts vary in thickness from .5 up to 2mm thick and fit flat under your wetsuit.

-Thermo tops and shorts incorporate a Lycra exterior with a Polyolefin, or Polartec inner layer. These materials actually wick away moister and are extremely comfortable. (Thermal layer options)

Accessorize for added protection:
Consider Booties, Hoods and Mitts or Gloves to protect your extremities. A hood and booties are key to keeping your head a feet warm. Your feet have the most exposure to water submersion while your head has the greatest heat loss when unprotected. Mitts and Gloves focus on keeping the backs of your hands warm.