Large tears, small tears and seemingly irretrievable tears: between glue, patches and manufacturers repair centres, you can do a lot to extend the longevity of a wetsuit. Here’s our guide to helping yours go the distance.
However carefully you look after your wetsuit, minor damage is almost inevitable. Most small tears happen when suits are put in. Make sure to pull it up with the tips of your fingers, and not your nails. Some people wear gloves. It’s possible to nick the neoprene when putting a wetsuit on, and a hard pull over your shoulders or hips can mean a tear. Small tears, which penetrate the top layer of neoprene but don’t go all the way through to the inside of the suit, are easily repaired and won’t affect performance once fixed.
Try to repair your suit as soon as you spot the damage – tears can grow, and early fixing will help avoid it becoming something that you can’t deal with yourself.
All you need to fix minor damage is wetsuit adhesive is used to deal with minor damage. There are various brands available including Black Witch, Aquaseal Neo, and Stormsure Neoprene Queen. They all work in the same way, creating a flexible bond between the layers of neoprene. Each glue will come with it’s own instructions, but the basic technique is simple: bend the wetsuit around the tear, to open it up, then apply a thin even layer to both sides of the tear. Hold it open when the glue dries (a bull clip or clothes peg will save you holding it) and then press the two sides together. Et viola! Tear fixed.
If you damage your wetsuit you could start by seeing if it’s under warranty. If your repair is covered by the manufacturer you could save yourself time and money and have it looked at by a professional.
If you’ve made a hole all the way through the neoprene, sticking the edges together with glue isn’t likely to give a strong enough join. Tears like this can be mended using a neoprene repair kit. The kit is almost exactly the same as a puncture repair kit for bike tyres, and will include neoprene patches and/or tape along with the same kind of glue as you would have used to repair a smaller tear. Kit components are also sold individually. c-skins make a neoprene repair kit which is widely stocked by swimming wetsuit suppliers.
Sometimes disasters do happen, and you might find yourself with a problem you can’t fix yourself. All is not lost! Many wetsuit manufacturers and suppliers offer a repair service.
Problems that can be fixed by a professional include large tears, split seams, zip repair and replacement and neoprene panel replacement. Prices vary by time and materials – most suppliers suggest you contact them for a quote.
Some of the companies offering these services by mail order in the UK include Bodyline (used by Finisterre for all of their wetsuit repair work), Alpkit and Lomo.
What if your wetsuit really is beyond repair? Neoprene isn’t widely recycled, so a little creativity is needed here.
Consider repurposing the suit. If the damage is to a leg or an arm, you could cut it down so it becomes a shortie. If the body is damaged, you could create leg or arm warmers by cutting off the legs and arms. To make a lightweight mat to stand on when getting changed, simply cut a flat piece of neoprene to size.
For the more ambitious among us, you could try making your own thermal swimming cap, headband or neoprene hand paddles. Click here for a guide to sewing neoprene and here to see how to make a headband.
Neoprene is also a fantastic material for making mouse mats, cup holders, and phone, laptop and camera cases.
‘Prevention is better than a cure’ as the old saying goes. Swimming wetsuits, made from smooth rubber-coated neoprene, can be very prone to damage
The first piece of advice is to be gentle with your wetsuit. Nicks and tears are often the result of over-enthusiastic pulling when putting it on or taking it off. This video from Alpkit shows how to put on a wetsuit correctly, avoiding damage in the process. Some manufacturers send a pair of cotton gloves along with your wetsuit to avoid fingernail damage when trying it on. You could also use washing up gloves or pop a pair of socks over your hands.
Wetsuits should be rinsed after each use, then hung up to dry. Keep them away from the washing machine, and, needless to say, the tumble drier. Make sure the wetsuit is completely dry before packing it away or you run the risk of it getting smelly and mouldy.
Storage is important too – your suit should either be hung on a rounded hangar (like you might use to store a suit jacket), laid completely flat or loosely folded. If laid flat or folded you could choose to store the wetsuit inside out to avoid accidental damage to the outer layer of neoprene.