Surfing Montauk with Debra Rose: November 2021

The 5/4 Wetsuit Season

An exceptionally warm fall, in and out of the water has East End surfers poised to transition into the notorious winter wetsuit.  One positive byproduct of muscling through the surf in a hood, boots, gloves (and particularly ear plugs) is how strong and free one feels when released from all that gear late spring.  Contorting oneself into the 5/4 allows for year-round surfing, along with taking a winter surf trip to a warm destination.  That luxury however is coupled with the caveat of returning to the full body neoprene all over again if you return mid-winter.

As we know the wetsuit is not meant to keep you dry, its function is to allow a layer of water into your suit and keep it warm. Worn correctly you may have a few hours of not being too cold during a session if the wind and temperature cooperate.  We asked a few local surfers what it is like to manage themselves (and their suits) over the winter season.

Mind Your Core

Try to start your session with a dry suit, as in not putting on a wet wetsuit before paddling out into the cold water. Psychologically and physically, it is that much harder to jump in and surf with a chill.  Keep your core temperature from dipping by not exposing skin to the wind and low temperature before you surf, which is why some people drive to the beach in their wetsuits.  Putting a 5/4 on at home is already an acrobatic skill, let alone trying to do so in your car or standing outside when it is freezing.  If you are outside and putting on a suit, some swear by wearing a changing robe (many love theirs from Channel Islands).


Most surfers we spoke to keep their winter gear in one place, eliminating the fumble around for gloves, boots, and the winter accoutrements.  The invention of UGGS suddenly makes sense when you change out of your suit after a session and create instant happiness for your feet in those wool boots.

We have seen all methods in the parking lot, a dedicated changing mat, extra towels, a bathmat, a tub of warm water, even a human-sized Tupperware bin to stand in while pulling off that suit.  Figure out what works for you.  One mistake after surfing in the winter water is to take your boots and gloves off outside immediately without realizing how quickly they will freeze.  Many surfers simply reverse the process and drive home in their wetsuits, hood, gloves, and boots.  Some keep a giant thermos of warm water to pour over any cold extremities in case the boots and gloves must be removed outside.

Always Assess

Most importantly make sure you have the right sized suit, and check if the neoprene has worn out, cracked, or ripped.  Some signals that it does not fit are if your suit feels like its restricting your blood flow or squeezes your neck too tightly.

If the suit no longer conforms to you (assuming no one has borrowed it), if it is suddenly too baggy in certain places or is stretched too thin in some areas, you need to replace it.

A few tricks we have seen to get into the wetsuit is using a plastic bag on your foot before sliding your leg in, once your foot is through remove the bag and repeat on the other side.  This process may help with squeezing your hands into your gloves, avoiding using your teeth to put that second glove over your wrist.

Luckily the latest wetsuit technology does not require a lot of “breaking in,” but putting your suit away every spring may require some period of adjustment at the start of each winter season.  The evolution of 5/4 suits will continue to create a better experience with super stretchy neoprene, so do not hesitate if it is time to replace your suit.  And always remember your ear plugs.