Surfing Attire 101 (what do surfers wear?)

surfing attire 101

If it’s your first time heading out for a surf, we’ve got you covered with our definitive guide to surfing attire with all your surfing essentials and a few extras for added ease and comfort. 

From rash guards and board shorts to wetsuits and surf hoods, you’ll be all set for riding waves anywhere in the world.

Let’s dive into our guide and make sure you’ve got the perfect surfing outfit.

surfing attire 101

What To Wear Surfing?

Before considering what to bring on your surf adventure, you’ll want to know if you need a wetsuit to keep you warm.

  • Above 77-degrees Fahrenheit or 25-degree Celsius – Warm enough for just a swimsuit
  • Below 77-degrees Fahrenheit or 25-degree Celsius – Wetsuit required

These are just guidelines; if you tend to feel the cold, you may want to pop some neoprene on even if it’s +25C and don’t forget to consider the wind chill.

Your swimsuit

Sleek and effective, the Comp series from the guys over at Xcel are my boardshorts of choice. Click here to get them today.

If you’re lucky enough to be heading out to surf in warm water you’ll need some form of swimming clothing at the very least.

This can be any swimsuit from the list below:

  • Swimshorts
  • One piece swimsuits
  • Boardshorts
  • Sturdy bikini top and bikini bottoms 
  • Speedos (we can’t promise you won’t get some funny looks)

As a surfer girl, you will want to avoid strapless swimsuits, which don’t provide the same support as strapped swimsuits.

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*Be careful when selecting swim shorts with internal netting. Sand and salt can get everywhere when you surf; short netting is notorious for causing vicious surf rash

Your wetsuit

If you’re surfing in cold water, you’ll need a layer of neoprene to keep you warm while catching waves.

If you’re surfing in an organised session or lesson, they’ll generally have a wetsuit for you to use, but always check in advance to avoid disappointment.

The best wetsuit for you to use will be based on the ocean temperature where you plan to surf.

Colder water means thicker wetsuits, so you’ll need to use the simple guide below to identify how thick you need your rubber and if you need any additional wetsuit accessories. 

Image credit

Wetsuits come in different designs with front zips, back zips, short legs and short rams, so picking the right wetsuit is as much about personal preference as the ocean temperature.

Surf shops are great options to get honest, helpful advice about the wetsuit size and fit.

I love Xcel wetsuits for any temperature, and their stealthy black design makes them look awesome in the ocean

If you’re starting with surfing and can’t hire or rent a wetsuit, you can find some great economy suits available online, like this one, for under $60.

Good quality sunscreen or zinc

Raw Elements Face and Body Mineral Sunscreen SPF…
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Keeping your skin safe during outdoor activities is essential, and when you’re surfing, the sun reflects off the ocean’s surface, giving you a double dose of those harmful UV rays.

You can even burn on overcast or gloomy days.

To tackle this, surfers use various sun protection, from waterproof suncream to sunblock and zinc.

Nasty sunburn can ruin your surfing experience, so applying it before you paddle out is a must.

Here are our top picks to keep your sun safe on your next surf adventure:

SunscreenReef Repair – Reef Safe Sunscreen SPF 50 is all-natural, moisturising and 100% safe for coral.

Sunblock / Zinc – Raw Elements – All-Natural Mineral Zinc For Face & Body – Perfect for strong sun and surfing in tropical locations (you lucky devil!)

*Important tip – Always use reef-safe sunscreen to avoid adding toxic chemicals to the ocean we all love and enjoy.

Don’t miss our full guide on the best surfing sunscreens for other coral-safe, skin-friendly picks.

Beach towel

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The humble beach towel is the last thing on our list of surfing essential attire.

This beach-based Swiss army knife can dry you, remove unwanted salt and sand, cover your board in the hot sun and even act as an imaginary surfboard deck if you want to practice popping up on your surfboard.

Unlike a wetsuit, chances are you won’t be provided with a towel during a surf lesson, so always bring your own.

Grab a pack of two for under $30, and you’ll always have a clean, dry one for the second surf of the day.

Optional Surfing attire & Surf Wear

Now we’ve covered everything you need, let’s look at some bits that you might want to make surfing a stress-free experience.


Salty Crew Bruce SS Tee White XL – Men’s Fashion…
  • Find Refuge in the Sea
  • Premium fit
  • Fitted silhouette
  • Side seam construction

If you’re blessed enough to surf in the sunshine and warmer temperatures, popping on a t-shirt will help protect you from sun damage and even the odd jellyfish sting.

Adding a t-shirt also saves you from slathering your upper torso in sun cream, which is often expensive in tropical climates.

While t-shirts are a quick, easy solution, they can cause a nasty rash and aren’t as beneficial as the next type of surfing attire.

Rash vest/ rash guard

Rash vests, sometimes called rash guards, can be worn as is or underneath your wetsuit. As you’d imagine, their primary task is to create a soft barrier between either your surfboard or your wetsuit 

Both of these can run and cause friction, particularly if your skin isn’t used to the rigours of surfing; you can also grab rash protectors in a long-sleeve option for even more protection from the sun.

You can’t for wrong with this one from the guys over at O’Neill, which comes under $40 and has loads of colourways.

Surfing hats and caps

Dakine Indo Surf Hat – Black, Small/Medium
  • Our goal is to make the best and longest lasting gear, while reducing our impact with the fabrics we…
  • Built for the roughest conditions
  • Ultimate flexibility, durability, and comfort

On summer days when the sun is shining directly into your eyes, a surf hat can be a good addition to your surf outfit to ensure you can spot incoming waves.

They’re a great way to protect your face and neck from sunburn and give them a massive tick from us.

Just get a quality surfing cap with a fastening clip or drawstring so you don’t lose it while surfing.

I’m a big fan of the bucket hat style because it covers the back of your neck, but you can get the baseball cap design with a flap that runs down to give you some extra sun protection.

Reef boots

Reef boots are like neoprene socks with sturdy rubber soles to navigate rockpools, reefs and coral.

They normally come with a drawstring to help you tighten them over your feet and are a must if you’re surfing anywhere with sharp rocks.

Reef boots can also protect you from critters like urchins and weaver fish, which deliver a nasty toxic payload when you step on them barefoot.

Wetsuit boots

If the temperature of the water is on the colder side, you may want to add a pair of surf booties to keep your feet warm.

They give you all the protection of reef boots with added warmth; you can opt for different thicknesses from 2mm all the way up to 6mm for surfing in frigid waters.

If you’re unsure about the best brand, I can strongly recommend the Drylock series from Xcel. They last more than one season while still keeping your feet snug.

Wetsuit gloves

O’Neill Psycho Tech 3mm Gloves, Black, X-Large
  • Light-weight performance-driven glove adds additional level of insulation
  • Tacky grip covers the palm through each finger for maximum dexterity
  • O-ring Seal around the wrist allows ease of exit and entry, while also keeps out water completely
  • Techno Butter Firewall is ideal insulator against the elements
  • Techno Butter 3 Neoprene offers the warmest, lightest, best-fitting material available allowing…

Much like boots, wetsuit gloves are another way of protecting you from heat loss in your extremities.

Available as five-finger options, lobster claws or full mits, depending on your preference.

The Psycho Tech range from O’Neill is our favourite here at Honest Surf, but you can’t for wrong with a pair from Xcel or Rip Curl.

Wetsuit hoods

Wetsuit hoods are made from thick neoprene and can be stand-alone or pre-attached to your winter wetsuit.

They’re an absolute lifesaver when you need to duck under big waves in the chilly ocean and can save you from the dreaded brain freeze/ ice cream head you feel in very cold water.

Changing robe

A changing robe or poncho is a good idea if you regularly surf in cold conditions.

You’ll spend much time peeling your wetsuit on and off in car parks, and a good changing robe saves your body temperature and modesty.

If you’ve ever had the pleasure of changing in a gale, you’ll know exactly what I mean, and a beach towel just doesn’t cut it!


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As your surfing skills progress, you might want to start seeing footage of you up and riding waves.

Rather than dragging your loved one to sit on the beach for hours with a camera, you can film yourself in action on every wave with an awesome bit of surf gear called a Go-Pro.

Surf watch

Casio G-Shock G-Lide Teal Resin Surf Watch…
  • Catch the best waves in style with the new Casio G-Shock G-Lide Teal Resin Surf Watch
  • The 46mm case and bezel are expertly crafted from resin and stainless steel, expanding G-Shock’s…
  • Completing the look is a teal polyurethane band that boasts slits near the 6 o’clock position that…

Some global surfing brands have released surf watches that provide you with various information about surf conditions, with some giving you live feedback on your surf as distance travelled, speed etc

While most surf watches provide the local swell, wind and tide data watches like the Rip Curl Search GPS 2 go way beyond that with digital displays of your waves and even stats on your aerials and rotations.

Surf watches are a perfect way for a beginner to monitor their surfing progress in real-time using data and statistics.

Surf changing mat

FCS Change Mat
  • FCS Change Mat keeps the sand and car-park grime off your surfing wetsuit while changing. Fits 2-3…
  • Laminated 600D Poly material is lightweight, flexible and strong. Easy to transport and Roll to stow…
  • Pull-tab cord locks for quick opening and closing. Keeps your sandy wet gear inside so your car…
  • Includes handles with hypalon connector for easy carrying. Excellent for any surf session or beach…
  • To use, simply stand in the middle, remove your wetsuit and wrap it up. Ideal for any surf, kayak,…

A Changing mat helps protect your wetsuit from sand, gravel and damage incurred while you put it on and remove it.

Many surfers get changed out of the boot of their car, and the rough surface is an easy way to create small tears in your neoprene, reducing the lifespan and warmth of your suit over time.

Waterproof dry bag for your wetsuit/ swimsuit

Earth Pak Waterproof Dry Bag – Roll Top Waterproof…
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Waterproof dry bags are the perfect storage solution when you’re out at the beach for the day, and you don’t want sand all over your suit.

Better yet, they make wetsuit transport easy with straps to carry it on your back and storage for accessories like surfboard wax, fins and spare leashes.

Wetsuit bucket

If you don’t want to invest in a waterproof dry bag for your suit then a simple flexible concrete bucket from your local DIY store is a great way to store your wetsuit when you’re travelling between your home and the beach.

(Bonus) First aid kit

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While this isn’t technically surfing attire, bringing a first aid kit is a great choice, particularly if you’re surfing long distances from medical help.

Surfing has its very own list of dangers, and if you happen to be on the wrong side of one, you could need medical attention fast.

You can buy a simple first aid kit online that can sit in the boot of your car just in case you ever need it (which hopefully you won’t).

Commonly asked questions about surfing attire

We answer the internet’s most pressing questions about what to wear while you’re out surfing.

What should a beginner wear while surfing?

In warm waters, you can opt for a swimsuit, and adding a layer of protection on your upper body like a t-shirt or rash vest is advisable.

In ocean temperatures below 77 degrees Fahrenheit or 25 degrees Celsius, you should always wear a wetsuit to stay warm.

What do surfer girls wear?

Most girls who surf will opt for a bikini top and bottoms with a rash vest or t-shirt or a quality wetsuit for colder water temperatures.

What are the suits that surfers wear?

The black neoprene suits you see surfers wearing are called wetsuits.

They help to keep surfers warm for longer periods of time by trapping a layer of water between the wetsuit and the wearer, which is kept warm by your body temperature.