On the more technical front, Patagonia’s R1 front-zip spring suit, designed for temperatures ranging from 65 to 75 degrees, is a classic—the design is still slick, but at $100 less than the others, you aren’t paying extra for showy style. It also has great specs, like a nice and tight seam on the legs, and mostly recycled materials. If you aren’t into the high front cuts or cheeky backs of the other suits, this will give you super-comfortable coverage (just read the size chart carefully; the fit seems to be the smaller side, and because it has a pull-over neck section, you really don’t want things to be too tight).
Surf suits and swimsuits
As the water has warmed, I’ve found myself peeling off my wetsuit and hitting the water in just a thin surf suit. (Fingers crossed my future surf trips take me places where that’s all I need.) There are a lot of cute options out there, and I think this is where personal preference for the cut—essentially, high cut or fuller coverage—determines everything. My Cynthia Rowley surf suit is slinky and protective, and really well made. However, it’s a high (think 80’s-style) front cut and very revealing back. If that’s the fit you want, it’s the most comfortable suit of the style I’ve found and, again, those patterns can’t be beat. If you need more coverage, a friend found a lookalike on Amazon for a quarter of the price; for a middle-of-the-road cut, this one from Gigi C fits like a glove, but keep in mind that you’ll need sunscreen where those cutouts let the sun peek through.
If you’re ready to rock a bathing suit on its own—or, if you just want a stay-put option to wear under a borrowed or rented wetsuit—it’s all Youswim for me. The one-size-fits-many brand, comfortable on U.S. sizes 2 to 14, hugs your body and doesn’t ride up, down, or sideways. Even the Youswim two-piece is more comfortable than one-pieces I have from other brands.
This is the one category where, admittedly, I’m taking cues from friends in the water because I didn’t get my act together to order a hat in time for summer. Two that I’m placing orders for, though, are the Patagonia surf brim hat—several other students at the surf school swear by how secure and comfortable it is—and an affordable water-repellent bucket hat from Amazon that one of my surf instructors wears daily. If you’re a newbie, you’ll want something like Patagonia’s cap which is designed to stay put even if you take a few tumbles; for those with more waves under their belt, the bucket hat is a smart option for great sun coverage at a friendly price point. Both hats are adjustable (good thing, since the Patagonia hat is technically for men, and seems to be sized a bit larger).
Nothing has taught me the importance of great sunscreen like surfing—and it has taken some trial and error to find reef-safe products that really do the work I need them to. I’ve leaned toward mineral sunscreens as I’ve entered my 30s, knowing that the protection they offer is just one step up (and a lot easier on the skin) than chemical sunscreen protection.