It's about life - not "lifestyle"
As surfing spread from tropical Hawaii to decidedly un-tropical California - this lack of warmth is one of the great disappointments to many European visitors - the general water conditions went from year-round warmth to year-round coolness, to absolutely frigid. Since surf is usually bigger in winter, cold became the enemy of surfing. Eventually wetsuits were invented in some military/diving/surfing mutation of interests.

Amazing that it took from the early 50's to the late 1960's to come up with truly workable long legged surf suits, followed within a decade by some first rate full suit designs. By that time the wetsuit had gone from being something nice to have to being something vitally necessary for performance surfing.

With the seemingly endless wetsuit design and material tweakery, the world oceans have expanded to allow those so inclined and suitably equipped to ride waves in places like Alaska, Norway, Antarctica, and wintertime New England and Oregon. On the other hand, increased knowledge of sun damage has given wetsuits credibility as protective warm weather gear. Rashguards have also emerged from the wetsuit experience.

A case could be made that wetsuits are as important, and maybe more important, than improved surfboard design and materials in allowing the sport to grow and progress to what it is today.

Think not? Imagine that no wetsuits exist, and a nice January swell is hitting Southern California. The water is a nasty 54 degrees - and you can do the math for Santa Cruz and other points north. It's 1969 and boards are going real short - but this isn't Queensland or Oahu. The boards don't float the surfer like the longboards did. Arms and legs grow stiff in the chilly water, paddling becomes hard, wipeouts and swims brutal. Swim twice and you might call it a day...

Or think Santa Cruz 2000, except no wetsuits. How many times would a surfer try getting air if each failure gave a dunk or a swim in 48 degree winter water?

Wetsuits: another piece of equipment, just as important (and maybe more so) as the surfboard.
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