Wet Suit for Monterey?????


I have made several posts asking questions about Monterey, CA as I will be moving there next month.

Here is another…I understand that the water there is quite cold and that a wet suit is needed year-round.

How cold is the water? Is a 3mm neoprene wet suit really needed all year, or could I get by with a Hydroskin wet suit?

What do you recommend?



Re Wet Suit for Monterey???
If I remember right, the water temp is in the low 50’s.

It’s hard to answer that question without a lot more details. How’s your roll? Will you be boating alone? What’s the likelihood of a swim?

There’s lots of people that go for years without swimming. Then if they do, they have the ability to get back in their kayak in seconds (reenter and roll)or a couple minutes (a well practiced paddle-float rescue). For these people I would say that Hydroskin is adequate.

If you don’t have too much experience, it would be a good idea to get a 3mm Farmer john and a Drytop. One way to find out for yourself would be to hold off any purchase until after you have gotten there and experiment a little. Jump in the water and spend about 3 to 5 minutes there. I think you’ll opt for the 3mm.

BTW,Rescue/recovery is not the only reason to have a good roll (I hope I don’t sound like I’m lecturing here). Without a good roll, it’s difficult to dress for immersion (3mm wetsuit) and remain comfortable. Without a roll, people will tend to dress for the air temps instead of the water. With a reliable roll you can avoid getting too hot by simply getting wet every so often.

My 2 cents,


Water temps in Monterey
are in the 56-58 range in the warmer months, occ. a little warmer, and can be as low as 49 in the winter, with 50-52 being typical. Most use mysteriosa gear in the summer or a shorty 3mm wetsuit, and then switch to a wetsuit, and then use a wetsuit with fleece or a drysuit during the coldest months, depending on individual cold tolerance, conditions, and paddling skill. There was a recent discussion of this on the WSK listserv.

At a Feb. surfzone class in Monterey I was wearing fleece under my westuit with a splash top on, booties and a hat (everyone else was too), and we stopped practicing after 2 hours due to chilled class participants. The instructor was in a dry suit.

It does get tricky planning for immersion because the air temps are moderate, and year round paddling is defintely possible here. I saw a whale last year paddling out of the Santa Cruz harbor. nearly always see lots of other wildlife, including dolphins.

Let us know when you arrive at your new home:)

This is one of the hardest deals it seem
None us likes being hot and clammy. No one likes to prepare for

occsional or rare consequences. It just ain’t the way us humans are. However, it really helps to just once with adequate support and safety present, put your self in 50 degree water in only hydroskin, with neck and head uncovered and observe what happens. Not pretty. Actually, no lecture, but if you have any history of heart problems this can be enough to produce a heart attack. Cold shock amazingly can begin even in much warmer water actually. For a real description of cold shock here is a great site. Read on, it will save your life.

Many people have gotten away with drysuit top and 3 mm farmer johns in these conditions, if on has ones neck head feet and hands neoprened as well. That is how one reduces cold shock (rapid involuntary gasping, changes in blood pressure, muscle cramping, inability to hold breath, panic, disorientation, involuntary breathing in of water, 80% of all cold water deaths due to this not hypothermia).

However, it is really the edge, 55 degrees to use this set up. Even with a real roll, and those of us who have one, know sooner or later cold water messes up ability to roll, time in the drink will happen. Cold shock and hypothermia can result from more time in water and repeated capsizes, failed recoveries, worsening conditions.

Can we have our cake and eat it too, maybe somewhat. I find the new gore-tex drysuits can be worn with just enough insulation and if moderate one’s work level in the boat one is more comfortable than with a wet suit on. And, it is really nice in the warmer months with somewhat warmer water to get wet as an easy way to cool off.

Here is the site:


Fact: Immersion in cold water kills more sea kayakers than any other factor in the sport. Cold water is the single most serious threat to the survival of an unprepared paddler.

Fact: Hypothermia is not normally the issue in cold water paddling, but rather a predictable series of shock reactions that first impair, then quickly preclude, effective self-rescue actions.

Fact: A review of 6 fatal and 12 near-fatal accidents (1985) noted that all but one involved water temperatures of 50°F or less. A more recent review of 20 accidents, 19 involving immersion of 26 people in cold water noted that 10 died before they could be rescued and the remainder had varying degree of hypothermia.

Fact: “Cold Water Kills” is the introduction to the medical safety section of the annual Cold Water Workshop held by Atlantic Kayak Tours. Our goal is to provide you, the beginning, intermediate or advanced paddler with the information you will need to keep yourself safe, healthy and enjoying paddling no matter what the season

Do we agree on goretex suits now?

– Last Updated: Oct-28-04 11:13 AM EST –

Well we agree on their usefullness if not on the mechanism of vapor transport.

For a surf class in water under 60 I would absolutely show up in a drysuit if the air temps were under 80. Surfers, especially newbies spend a lot of time in the water or getting heavily splashed when surfing. For me, surfing is also a calorie burning activity and would tend to challlenge my metabolism. The last thing I need is further metabolic and physical challenge from being cold.

My Personal Exprience

– Last Updated: Oct-28-04 1:49 PM EST –

Advice Part:

A 3mm farmer john and mysterioso top will do for a very short emmerion in 50F water, but no more than 5-10 minutes without getting really chilled.

In 56-58F water temps I can boogie board for hours in the farmer john with no top.

This just applies to me. Individual tolerance to cold water can vary greatly. You need to go swimming to see for yourself.

Surf Story Part:

I had an exprience a couple years ago that lead me to form some strong opinions on this subject.

Least I be called an idiot, let me provide some context. This was a private lesson with a national champion kayak surfer. He is a board surfer, former lifeguard, and a very strong waterman raised in NORCAL.

I was not really looking for instruction. Basicly, I paid this guy $150 to watch my back for 3 hours because I knew I was pushing my limits.

It was February. Water temps at about 50F. Air temps about 60F. The location was Privates. There is no beach at Privates on a rising tide. Just cliffs. In case of a wipeout, swimming in is not an option. I was surfing a WS Kaos SOT. The only option in case of wipeout is to remount the SOT. Very difficult with overhead surf bashing you every 10-12 seconds...

A couple good rides, and sure enough I get cocky and go to catch one deep. Awesome pearl. I get catapulted into the impact zone. The only time I have ever lost my grip on my paddle. Just ripped out of my hands...The helmet saved me from a boat bash on the head, but at one point a wave drives the boat right between the eyes. So much blood in my eyes I could barely see...

I finally managed a remount, but it took what seemed 15-20 minutes. I was shivering badly, but did not want to end the day on a bad ride, so I troughed it out until I caught one more set...I was in pretty bad shape when I got back in...

The way I have been handling this is to stay off the ocean for about 3 months each year, expect for very short trips very near shore, but I think maybe I will buy a semi dry top for this winter....

Go with the locals
Pam (Santa Cruz Midwife) has some good advice. Wait to get your gear until you visit and have a chance to buy from the local shops. If I remember right O’Neil ( as in one of the best makers of Wetsuits) lives right on the coast near steamer lane and makes suits that work fine for people who stay in the water 100% of the time. There are two or three shops that have excellent instructors and sales people that can help you out. For price you can probably get a 3 mm suit from NRS, something to layer it with and a semi dry top and you will be fine in the middle of the winter. A drysuit for water above 50 F is overkill unless you are going to be immersed alot.

Add a head and neck protection
A big key to using wetsuits above 50 degrees is to ADD head and neck protection to the neoprene suit. Seadart is correct, with allot of individual variation drysuit may not be needed above 50 some degrees, if one is careful to prevent cold shock intitated by freezing water on head, neck and shoulders, in addition to leaking into the wetsuit chest and groin areas. This is how I and many folks stay safe until temps head down to 50 and below where I go for the drysuit, for both cold shock prevent and hypothermia for unexpected longer immersion.

A few more facts that put it in perspective even starting at 60F!

Inability to hold your breath

An average person’s ability to hold a breath in water below 60°F is one third of that in warmer water. Studies with volunteers in 41°F water have shown a reduction from 45 to 9.5 seconds with a low of 0.2 seconds. Imagine the implication for the unprepared kayaker trying to set up to roll or wet exit after capsize.

Don’t think you can control the gasp reflex, it is a physiological reflex, becomes serious at 50 and below. The only way to fully protect against the gasp reflex and other serious effects is to dress properly with full head gear including wet suit hood. Cold water in ears can make one seriously dizzy.


Following a successful wet exit, the huge gasps are followed by immediate uncontrolled hyperventilation (rapid breathing). The colder the water the more dramatic the response. Hyperventilation increases breathing rates 4 to 5 times normal within 30 to 60 seconds of immersion, and it takes up to 5 minutes for relaxed volunteers in cold water experiments to stabilize their breathing at around twice the pre-immersion level.


Paradoxically coinciding with hyperventilation is a strong claustrophobic feeling of not being able to get enough air, a frightening sensation which continues for up to 3 minutes before gradually declining. Breathlessness increases potential for panic and disorganized behavior and makes hyperventilation more difficult to control.


Hyperventilation rapidly reduces blood levels of carbon dioxide (CO2), causing respiratory alkalosis. This diminishes blood flow to the brain resulting in confusion, dizziness and possible loss of consciousness. Sustained hyperventilation causes tetany, a tingling and numbness in the hands and feet which progressively develops into severe cramping of the extremities.

Inability to synchronize breathing

Loss of breathing control and reduced breath-hold time make it difficult to synchronize breathing while swimming and can result in water inhalation and subsequent drowning.


Pain, claustrophobia and general disorientation caused by the other shock responses increase the likelihood of panic. Panic elicits a flight or fight response in the body, our way of protecting self from harm. Release of adrenaline (epinephrine) in response to the panic dramatically rises heart rate and blood pressure to 2-3 times normal. Individuals at risk for vascular illness (heart attacks or strokes) can be dramatically affected.

In conclusion, an unprepared kayaker suddenly immersed in cold water below 50 degrees, runs a very high risk of drowning as a direct result of cold shock long before hypothermia has a chance to develop. The only known method of preventing cold shock is proper dress for cold water (wet or dry suits, including head and neck protection).


This is a lot of great information. Great (and somewhat scary) information about cold shock…something I really did not know about before.

To summarize what has been said…it sounds like a 3mm wet suit with some sort of head and neck protection for colder temps, and maybe some additional upper body insulation like a Hydroskin vest/jacket or dry top??? Does that sound about right.

I think it sounds like the 3mm Farmer John will work, but may need to add the additional layers when needed.

In dry suit type conditions, would a 3mm Farmer John and just a dry top work?

Where can I find some good neoprene head protection? I did not see anything like that in the NRS catalog.

thanks again


A couple of links…
I have an older hood made by Rapidstyle and a newer one by NRS. I prefer the Rapidstyle. YMMV.

Fold them up and store them away when you don’t need them. They take up very little room. Whenever your body gets cold (not just your head) put it on. These things are worth their weight in Gold…


Henderson diving gear hyperstretch
These are all good links. You might look at Henderson hyperstretch from www.hendersonusa.com They have amazingly stretchy neoprene, positive seal on face and neck, and the composite gold hood has titanium and soft lining that is both comfortable and warm. It is the one I end up using for really water, lower 40’s colder air temps, spray, etc. It works great with both wet and dry top/suit.

“A ship in the harbour is safe, but that is not what ships are built for”

-William Shedd

NRS Mystery Hood Bargain
I just bought two of these:


They are regularly $30/each but since they are mis-tagged with the wrong size on them (marked large/XL but are actually small/med) they are selling them for only TEN dollars each.

I knew it would definitely fit my daughter’s head and I was “hoping” that it would fit my “fat head” too. The head part fits me perfectly, the area around my neck is a little tight/uncomfortable but after I wore it for a awhile, it now feels snug, but comfortable.

We tried them out this past weekend and they were quite warm. I tucked the cowl under my semi-dry top collar, my daughter kept hers on the outside of her semi-dry top. If we were going to be in ‘below 50 degree water’ and happened to tip over or deliberately roll then more than likely our necks would get wet since the cowl portion does not seal tightly. The cowl flares out. The only other bad thing was that it was very hard for us to talk and hear each other with our hoods on. That is probably a problem with just about any hood that you wear that is designed to keep the water from freezing your head.

Overall, we are very pleased with our purchases and of course, since it is from NRS, the quality is top notch. No affiliation with them, yadda yadda yadda.

Jeff and Jen

Yes, that sounds about right. Shopp for a good 3mm farmer john first, and you can add on to that.

What time of year will you get here?

Great info here…
To add my two cents, as a diver turned kayaker/kayak diver the most important thing you can do is get in. Don’t roll, don’t practice rescue, go swimming without the kayak. Then you know if what you have on is sufficient, each one of us is different what works for me might not work for others. But a mistake I see made by many kayakers is assuming their skills will always prevail. The nature of kayaking is such that you as a kayaker really only use the surface of the water, in fact you learn the “bombproof roll” and always work toward never ever getting in the water. This is great as far as it goes but it appears to me that is also sets up additional problems. Things like not being prepared for the water or gasp reflex. Yes you can be prepared for such things within reason. Ever heard of the Polar Bears club? They jump in water so cold most of us wouldn’t consider even paddling in. The human mind and body is capable of amazing things. If you really want to know if your prepared or not get in! If you can’t take being in the water for long enough to deal with a capsize situation you shouldn’t be kayaking right then anyway.

Your on the water which means skills or not you could be in the water and if your not ready for that you shouldn’t be near the water. And remember it’s much easier to cool of then it is to heat up when your on the water.

Arriving in Monterey…
I will be arriving in Monterey in about a month and am excited about getting there.