Surfing in Cape Town without a wetsuit means your session will be short – probably less time in the water than it took you to drive to the beach. And you may be driving home mildly hypothermic.
If you are making the effort to find surf, you should maximise your time in the water, and to do this you need to go for warmth with flexibility.
A wetsuit is made from neoprene, which is full of small cells filled with air that provide insulation by trapping heat. The thicker the neoprene, the warmer the wetsuit.
A common misconception is that a wetsuit is meant to keep you dry. It actually works by trapping a thin layer of water between your body and the wetsuit. Your body warms this water, which prevents you from losing too much heat while surfing in the cold ocean.
In Cape Town a 4/3mm wetsuit is used most regularly (4mm rubber on the chest and 3mm on the body). It depends on how cold the water is, how active you are in the lineup, the wind speed, water temperature and air temperature, but if you are unable to feel your board under your feet after a45-minute session it may be wise to look at a thicker wetsuit or accessories such as booties, gloves and a hood.
The False Bay water temperature ranges from 16-20°C and the Atlantic from 12-15°C.