Cold-weather Kiteboarding: Drysuit or Wetty?

Aaron kiteboarding in a wetsuitCold-weather Kiteboarding: Drysuit or Wetty?

Here on the Great Lakes, we've been spoiled with some pretty mild winters over the past couple of years. There has been little to no ice build up on the lakeshore, which has allowed us to be in the water all year long. So, with that, we need to be geared right for the winter months.

The majority of riders in our area are using thick wetsuits, in the 5/4mm and 6/5/4mm range, along with 5mm boots, gloves and hoods. There are also a growing number of riders that have been using some of the new, kiteboard specific drysuits for these frigid sessions. There are pros and cons to both types of suits - let's have a look.

Aaron's front zip wetsuitA good, quality 6/5/4mm wetsuit is very warm and is great for surfers and kiteboarders alike. I'll wear my thick wetty on any day that I think that I might score a double session (surf and kite). For some reason, I also feel a bit safer in our frigid, Great Lakes wind swell when the surf is head-high to over-head. If I'm gonna' get pitched over the falls, I'm not worried about my suit getting flushed too badly due to the chest-zip entry. The thicker suits also offer quite a bit of natural floatation, so if you find yourself stuck in the water after a bad wipeout, with your lines all jacked up, you'll have a little help staying afloat while you self-rescue (please note: it's always a safe idea to at least wear an impact vest for added floatation as well). A good wetty should be pretty durable, and last a few seasons, depending on how much abuse you're giving it.

One potentially challenging aspect of using a thick wetsuit is just getting into it. The chest-zip style is becoming more and more popular, but they're also a little harder to get into than the back-zip style. No matter what though - a thick suit is a thick suit, and it gonna' be harder getting into than your 4/3 or 3/2mm. Along with the added thickness comes a bit more restriction in your natural range of motion. You'll definitely feel it as soon as you put a 6/5/4 on in the parking lot, but once you get in the water, you'll probably forget all about it.

Base layers before suiting upOn the drysuit channel, you'll find that they're much easier to get into. Just layer up according to how cold it is and zip it up. First, put on your synthetic base-layer, just like you would to go snowboarding or skiing. Next, hit your mid-weight, insulation layer. Then put on the drysuit. One big difference in getting into a drysuit vs. a wetty is the extra care that you'll have to take with the wrist, ankle and neck seals. They are usually made of latex and can easily rip if you're not careful. Most drysuits have a back-zip entry that run from shoulder to shoulder, which can be challenging for a solo mission. One easy way to handle this is by attaching your leash to something solid, like your car's roof-rack, and attach the other end to the zipper on your drysuit, then grab the cuff of your suit and zip it. Easy.

Aaron can still show off his moves in a drysuitOne of the first things that you'll notice is the unrestricted range of motion that you'll have when wearing a drysuit. It might feel weird at first - like you're about to hit the water in your snowboard gear. But this goes away real fast. You'll be warm, comfortable, unrestricted, and wind-chill free.

Of course, all of this comes with a price tag. The good drysuits aren't cheap - and understandably so. They're made of expensive materials that require a little more care than your typical wetty. You'll need to wax the zipper on a regular basis, and check your seals before each session.

Kiteboarding in a drysuitPersonally, I use both a wetsuit and a drysuit during the winter months. If it's a 7M session in gusty conditions with head-high or overhead surf, I like to have the wetty on, just in case I have to swim for it. I'll also wear the wetty if there's a chance of going kiting and surfing in the same session, because surfing with a drysuit would not be ideal. However, if it's a nice 12M wakestyle session while getting snowed on, I'll always put on the drysuit for the overall warmth and comfort.

Cheers and good winds!

Rider: Aaron Johnson
Age: 41
Weight: 185
Years riding: 11
Preferred gear: 2013 Cabrinha Switchblade 16M/12M/8M, Custom 140cm and S-Quad

Steve ready to head out in a drysuitLots of flexibility for kiteboarding tricks in a drysuit