Surfing Attire 101 (What To Wear While You Surf)

If it’s your first time heading out for a surf then 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 some waves anywhere in the world.

Let’s dive into our definitive list of surfing attire packed full of the best surf gear.

surfing attire 101

Surfing attire: The essentials

Before you start considering what to bring on your surf adventure you’re going to need to know if you need a wetsuit to keep you warm in the ocean.

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 then you may want to pop some neoprene on even if it’s +25C and don’t forget to take into account the wind chill.

Your swimsuit

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

This can be any type of 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’re going to want to avoid strapless swimsuits which don’t provide the same support as strapped swimsuits.

*Take care when selecting swim shorts with internal netting. Sand and salt can get everywhere when you surf and short netting is notorious for causing surf rash

Your wetsuit

If you’re surfing in cold water then you’re going to need a layer of neoprene to keep you warm while you’re out in the ocean.

If you’re surfing in an organised session or lesson they’ll normally 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 

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Wetsuits come in all sorts of 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.

If you’re just starting out on your surfing journey and can’t hire or rent a wetsuit, you can find some great economy suits available online for as little as $50.

Good quality sunscreen or zinc

Keeping your skin safe when you enjoy outdoor activities is incredibly important. When you’re surfing the sun reflects off the ocean’s surface giving you a double dose of UV rays.

This means you can even burn even on overcast or gloomy days.

Surfers wear a variety of sun protection from waterproof suncream to sunblock and zinc. Nasty sunburn can ruin your surfing experience.

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

Beach towel

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

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 make sure to always bring your own.

Surfing attire: Other beneficial surf gear and equipment


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

The addition of a t-shirt also saves you from slathering your whole 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 referred to as rash guards can be worn as is or underneath your wetsuit. As you’d imagine their primary focus is to create a soft barrier between either your surfboard or your wetsuit 

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

Surfing hats and caps

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

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

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

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, both of which deliver a nasty toxic payload when you step on them with your bare feet.

Wetsuit boots

If the temperature of the water is on the colder side then 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.

Wetsuit gloves

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

Available as either five-finger options, lobster claws or full nits depending on what you prefer.

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 changing poncho is a good idea if regularly surf in cold conditions.

You’ll spend a lot of time peeling your wetsuit on and off in car parks and a good changing robe saves both your body temperature and your modesty


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

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 the majority of surf watches provide you with 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

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

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 which can reduce the lifespan and warmth of your suit over time.

Waterproof dry bag for your wetsuit/ swimsuit

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

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

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.

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 it’s advisable to add a layer of protection on your upper body like a t-shirt or rash vest. In ocean temperatures below 77-degrees Fahrenheit or 25-degree Celsius you should always wear a wetsuit to stay warm.

What do surfer girls wear?

Most girls that surf will opt for either 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.

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