What to Wear Surfing: Surfing Attire Explained

Ever wondered what exactly surfers wear? Or are you considering taking up the sport of surfing and wondering exactly what surfing attire you need? If so, you’ve come to the right place! In this guide, I’ve broken down the different pieces of surf attire and what they do, as well as exactly what you need to wear surfing in all different water temperatures. 

Luckily, the sport of surfing requires very little, so you won’t need much to get started. 

For everything you need to know about surfing attire, and what to wear surfing, read on! 

What to wear surfing: different pieces of surfing attire

Nosara Surfing

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A wetsuit is an essential piece of surfing attire for any surfers paddling out in colder water. A wetsuit is a thick, very fitted suit made usually from neoprene or geoprene. Wetsuits come in a range of different styles, that vary in both length and thickness. Wetsuits come in every style from full long sleeves and long legs, to tank top cuts with shorts on the legs. You can also buy a wetsuit jacket, which is useful for staying warm in more tropical waters, but on cooler, or windy mornings. Wetsuits also come in just about every thickness from .5mm all the way up to 6mm or thicker for really cold water, or diving. 

Generally, the colder the water, the thicker wetsuit you want. However, the thicker your wetsuit is, the more difficult it is to paddle, so you want to find that happy balance between being warm enough, and still having enough mobility. 

If you’re surfing somewhere with cold water, a wetsuit is one of the most important pieces of surfing equipment you’ll need.

Wetsuit Base Layer

A wetsuit base layer is exactly what it sounds like- a thermal layer you wear underneath your wetsuit to stay even warmer. Typically, you’ll see wetsuit base layers in two different styles: long sleeves, and vests with a hood. 

A wetsuit base layer is a great way to increase the warmth of your wetsuit, without having to buy a thicker suit. For example, if you have a 3/2mm wetsuit you’re happy with, but there are a few days every year where you might want a 4/3mm, you can purchase a wetsuit base layer to wear on those days for a lot less money than buying a whole new wetsuit, therefore increasing the versatility of your current suit! 


A surfing hood is a head covering made from neoprene that is worn to provide insulation and protection from the cold water and wind. The hood fits snugly around the head and neck, covering the ears, forehead, and chin. You can typically either buy a surfing hood separately, or buy a wetsuit that comes with a hood. 

Surfing hoods come in all different thicknesses and styles, with some featuring a visor or adjustable face opening for added comfort and flexibility. A surfing hood can be a great addition to your surfing attire, especially when surfing in colder water or in windy conditions. Wearing a surfing hood is also a fantastic way to protect your ears and eardrums from the colder water, and help prevent surfers’ ears.


Booties are another essential piece of surfing attire. Generally, booties are worn to keep your feet and toes warm. Booties are typically made of neoprene, just like wetsuits and hoods. 

Booties come in all different thicknesses and styles, all the way from 1mm up to 5 or 6mm. Booties can come in either a split toe style with a separation between your big toe and other toes, or in a round toe style where all toes are together. 

Surfing booties can come with or without straps, and in all different heights. 

Surfing booties aren’t just what to wear surfing when it’s cold- you can also buy thin, sock-like booties to wear in tropical waters to protect your feet from sharp rocks and coral reefs. 

Surf trunks

Surf trunks, or board shorts, are another essential piece of surfing attire. Surf trunks/board shorts are typically made from quick-drying polyester or nylon material that is lightweight and comfortable. 

Surf trunks come in a range of lengths, from short to mid-thigh to knee-length, and often feature a drawstring waist for an adjustable fit. Some of the best surf trunks even have pockets, which are crucial for storing keys or some spare surf wax. Ideally, the pockets in surf trunks have a zipper so you don’t have to worry about losing your keys. 

A well-fitting pair of surf trunks should be snug enough to stay in place while you’re surfing, but not so tight that they restrict movement and are uncomfortable. It’s also important to choose a pair that is comfortable to wear, with no irritating seams or tags that will leave you with pesky surf rash. I know Rowan really loves his Vuori board shorts. Finally, consider the style and design of the surf trunks, which can range from simple and classic to bold and colorful.

Surf bikini/Surf suit

what to wear surfing

Another piece of essential surf attire is a surf bikini, or a surf swimsuit for women. However, surf bikinis and surf one pieces are very different from a typical bikini or one piece for lounging on the beach, or swimming in a pool. 

Surf bikinis need to stay on at all times! The best surf bikini bottoms usually have a tight drawstring to stay on, and surf bikini tops are usually very fitted, sports bra style tops or racerback style bikinis that go across your back and fit snugly to stay on in the surf. Personally, I highly recommend Jolyn surf bikinis. I have about 4 pairs, and they are all amazing for surfing and have stayed on in some of the gnarliest wipeouts. Jolyn also makes great one pieces for surfing if you prefer that style. 

Rash guard

Rash guards are a piece of surfing attire designed to serve two purposes. The first, is that they protect your skin from chafing against your surfboard/ surf wax, and developing surf rash. The second, is that they protect your skin from the sun’s harmful UV rays. 

Rash guards are typically made out of a lightweight, quick drying material, like nylon or spandex. They are also usually quite fitted. 

Whenever I go to surf in tropical waters for the first time without a wetsuit, I usually wear a rash guard for the first few days as my skin toughens up, so I don’t develop a surf rash. 

Additionally, whenever I’m surfing in the middle of the day in the tropics when the sun is at its most potent, I usually always wear a rash guard or a long sleeve surf suit. 

Rash guards are a pretty important piece  of surfing attire if you’re going anywhere with warm water. They also make a fantastic gift for surfers

Surf Hat 

When considering what to wear surfing, you might not think of a hat. However, whether you’re surfing in cold or warm water, a surf hat can be an invaluable piece of surfing attire when it comes to protecting both your skin, and eyes from the sun! 

Surf hats come in all different styles, but they typically are all very secure, and usually have a chin strap with a buckle to stay on. However, you don’t want it to be too secure to where it’s hard to breathe. The most common types of surf hats you’ll find include baseball cap styles, visors, and bucket hats. 


If you have sensitive eyes holding you back from surfing, you might want to look into a pair of surf sunglasses. Good surf sunglasses are polarized, float, and have buckles that clip behind your head to stay on. If you typically wear glasses, you can also get polarized surf sunglasses so you can still see well while in the water. 

Wetsuit gloves

In particularly cold waters, you can wear a pair of wetsuit gloves to keep your hands warm. Surf gloves come in all styles, from 5 finger gloves, to three finger gloves, to lobster-claw style mits that will keep your hands warm in particularly cold surf. 

Wetsuit gloves are usually made from neoprene or geoprene, and come in all different thicknesses, ranging from .5mm to 6mm! 

You can even buy webbed surf gloves… which allegedly help you paddle faster. I haven’t personally tried them, but I’d imagine they’d work to some extent, and who doesn’t like an extra boost while they’re trying to paddle for waves?


While sunscreen is more of a surf accessory rather than a piece of surfing attire, it’s nevertheless one of the most fundamental pieces of what to wear surfing! 

According to a unique study by Southern Cross University, surfers and swimmers are 6x more likely to develop melanoma. To mitigate this, it’s important to use a good reef safe sunscreen


While not totally essential for everyone, if you have somewhere to be post-surf, you’re going to need to need this essential surf accessory to be able to keep track of the time! For everything you need to know about surf watches, check out my guide to the best surf watches on the market.

What to wear surfing in different temperatures

Surfing attire for 80 degrees and above

If you’re fortunate enough to be surfing in water temperatures above 80 degrees, you really only need a pair of trunks or a surf suit to stay comfortable. For sun protection, you can add a rash guard, hat, and definitely some sunscreen.

Surfing attire for between 75 and 80

For surfing in water temps between 75 and 80, it really depends on what the outside air is like. In southern Nicaragua for example, the water is very warm, but the strong offshore winds from Lake Nicaragua create quite the chill, and leave you wanting a nice 1-2mm vest, spring suit, or even full wetsuit! 

Generally, for water temperatures between 75 and 80 degrees fahrenheit you’ll want only trunks/ swimsuit, short sleeve spring suit, or maybe just a vest. 

What to wear surfing between 65 and 75 degrees

In water temperatures between 65 and 75 degrees, you’ll probably want a 2mm spring suit, or a 3/2mm full suit for colder days. If the air outside is hot out, you might even still be fine trunking it. 

What to wear surfing between 62 and 65 degrees

Between 62 and 65 degrees, you’ll probably want a spring suit or a 3/2mm full suit. 

What to wear surfing between 58 and 62 degrees

Between 58 and 62 degrees, you’ll probably want a 3/2mm full suit.

What to wear surfing between 53 and 58 degrees

Between 53 and 58 degrees, you’ll probably want a 4/3mm full suit, and maybe even booties & a hood. 

What to wear surfing between 46 and 52

As water temperatures drop to between 46 and 52 degrees, you’ll likely want a 5/4 full wetsuit, along with booties, a hood, and maybe even gloves. 

What to wear surfing for 45 degrees and below

When the water temperatures drop below 45 degrees, you’ll want at least a 6mm full suit, booties, gloves, and a hood. 

FAQs about what to wear surfing

What do surfers wear under their wetsuits?

One of the most commonly asked questions when it comes to surfing attire is “what do surfers wear under their wetsuits?”

Well, the answer is that it depends! Many surfers opt to wear nothing under their wetsuits. I’ve found that more often than not, most guys don’t wear anything under their wetsuits. 

Female surfers usually either wear nothing under their wetsuits, or they wear a comfortable bikini or one piece under their suit. 

Personally, I like to wear a bikini under my wetsuit because it makes it easier to change out of my wetsuit after a surf. 

What to wear for a surfing lesson?

If you’re taking a surf lesson somewhere with cold water that provides wetsuits, I recommend wearing a swimsuit/trunks to your lesson to wear under the rental wetsuit. I also recommend bringing comfy, loose clothes to change into after! 

If you’re surfing somewhere warm where you don’t need a wetsuit, I recommend wearing a good pair of surf trunks, or a good surf swimsuit. 

How much does surfing attire cost?

If you’re lucky enough to surf somewhere with warm water, all you really need are surf trunks or a suit, which won’t run you too much money. If you live somewhere colder and need a wetsuit and more, you can always shop the used marketplaces to find relatively affordable used wetsuits. 

Generally, a brand new wetsuit will cost anywhere from $100 on the low end to $500+. However, you can find used wetsuits on sites like Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist for as little as $20! 

Final thoughts on what to wear surfing

That’s a wrap on this post about surfing attire. I hope I’ve answered any questions you might have about surfer’s wear, and helped you prepare if you’re getting ready for your first ever time surfing! 

If you have any more questions about what to wear surfing that I didn’t answer in the post, drop a comment below and I’ll help you out. 

Happy surfing!

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  1. What about surf leggings?? How can that be missing? I think that is what non-surfers like me think of when we ask the question what do surfers wear underneath their wetsuit. Leggings can also provide extra warmth.

    1. Great point Michelle! Surf leggings are also great when surfing in tropical waters to avoid surf rash and provide more sun protection.

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