What To Wear Under Your Wetsuit (A Unisex Guide)

what to wear under your wetsuit guide

When it comes to watersports, one of the most important items of clothing to consider is what to wear under your wetsuit.

Your wetsuit allows you to participate in watersports like surfing, diving, and swimming and helps keep your body warm in cold water.

But in order for a wetsuit to work properly, it needs to have a snug fit against the skin without chafing or discomfort, this is where the right undergarments come in.

Let’s take a look at exactly what you can wear under a wetsuit and what the best option is for you.

what to wear under your wetsuit guide

Different types of undergarments for wetsuits 

There are lots of options when it comes to what to wear under your wetsuit, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. The most common types are:

Rash vests 

Men’s Premium Stretch Long Sleeve Rash Vest from Xcel

Also known as rash guards, they’re made of a stretchy, quick-drying material that helps to reduce chafing and abrasion while you surf.

They can help stop the rubbing and rash that many surfers experience when wearing a wetsuit but they don’t provide any additional warmth.

*Pro tip – Always make sure you’re rash vest is skin tight, baggy rash vests have the habit of rolling up while you surf and paddle, creating an uncomfortable bulge under your wetsuit.

Without a wetsuit, they provide a layer of UV protection for your upper body, which is important if you’re planning to surf for any length of time in warmer waters. 

Women wear rash vests over bikinis or swimsuits and men often wear one alongside board shorts.

You can pick from short or long sleeve skins depending on your preference and they’re relatively cheap compared to a lot of other surfing equipment.

Remember, only opt for a long sleeve rashy if you plan on surfing in a full suit.

Wetsuit vests 

Reactor Wetsuit Vest from O’Neill

Thinner suits can sometimes leave you lacking in the warmth department and the extra cost of a new wetsuit is no joke.

Thankfully, vests offer a layer of thermal insulation without the price tag that goes along with a new thicker suit.

These vests are specifically designed to keep your body warm in cold water. They’re made from the same materials as your wetsuit and instantly add another layer of insulation.

All of the large surf brands offer their range and you can find some great deals if you’re willing to buy last year’s stock.

Some of my favourites are Hurley, Xcel and O’Neill or if you’re looking for lightning-fast delivery this one is perfect.

Swimwear or a bikini

Women have the option of wearing a bathing suit or a bikini under their wetsuit, both of which will need to be made from thin material to avoid bunching up under your suit when you’re paddling on your surfboard

The same is true for men, only use tight skin-hugging swimwear like Speedos and stay away from board shorts and baggy swimmers.

Wetsuit shorts

Premium Skins Wetsuit Shorts from O’Neill

Sometimes referred to as diving shorts or compression shorts these are tight-fitting shorts that normally extend to just above the knee.

Made from a lycra neoprene mix they fit tightly to your skin and don’t ride up, making them a great choice for under a wetsuit. 

If you suffer from abrasion and rash during water activity then these shorts can help protect your sensitive areas and unlike normal swimwear, they’ll help maintain your body temperature as well

Compression shirts and shorts

While I haven’t got any personal experience with wearing compression garments their tight skin fit means they’re probably suitable.

Just bear in mind they won’t provide the same added warmth that you’ll get from a wetsuit vest or shorts and they’ll need to be ultra-fitted so they don’t roll up.


If you own your wetsuit (avoid doing this with your friend’s wetsuits or rentals if you’re a decent human) you can surf with absolutely nothing underneath it.

It’s a liberating experience and for many surfers (myself included) it’s their go-to every time they hit the ocean.

Wetsuits work by trapping a very thin layer of water between you and the wetsuit’s inner surface. This thin layer slowly warms up due to your body’s heat and acts as a thermal barrier between you and the much colder ocean.

Technically, adding any undergarments disrupts this process and doesn’t let your wetsuit perform as well as it could so wearing nothing is an excellent choice.

If you’ve just invested in your first wetsuit I strongly suggest trying it just once, the added benefit of no restrictive clothes under your suit is amazing.

*Pro tip – You can use Vaseline to stop any surf rash caused by your wetsuit, this normally occurs around your armpits, neck, groin and the backs of your knees.

Choosing the Right Undergarments

Now you’ve got a great understanding of all of the options let’s look at what factors you need to consider before making a choice.

It’s important to consider:

  • Water temperature
  • The length of time you will be in the water
  • Your own personal comfort

If you on being in cold water for an extended period of time, it is best to choose wetsuit/thermal tops and bottoms that provide the most insulation, keeping you warmer for longer in colder temperatures.

In warmer climates, you can opt for swimwear or rash vests that can be less restrictive than their neoprene counterparts.

I still strongly believe that wearing nothing is one of the best ways to avoid discomfort while you’re surfing.

If you find that there’s too much friction and rubbing in certain areas you can use a lubricant like Vaseline or Coconut Oil to prevent chafing and surf rash.

A lot of issues with surfing undergarments lie in the quality of materials, cheap wetsuits and clothing tend to irritate much more than gear from quality surf brands.

A surfer wearing the lip of the wave!


Choosing the right undergarments to wear under a wetsuit is essential for staying comfortable and warm while you’re surfing or participating in watersports.

Make sure you consider factors such as water temperature, length of time in the water, and personal comfort when making your selection.

Don’t miss our other handy guides below packed full of surfing knowledge broken down into simple terms for surfers of all abilities.