For much of the Northern hemisphere, and areas of the Southern Hemisphere, a kiteboarding wetsuit or drysuit is an essential part of kiting life. Since water robs the body of heat 32 times faster than air wrap up and get out there!
The peace of mind a good wetsuit or drysuit offers, if you run into trouble in cold water can make your swim to shore the difference between relaxed beers on the beach or a serious hit of hypothermia.
The important part is to make sure your core is warm and then to stop your extremities, especially your hands from going numb, leaving you weak and useless.
Kiteboarding wetsuits or regular surfing wetsuits come equipped for all types of weather and water temperatures. There are many great wetsuits out there like O'Neill, Rip Curl, Quicksilver, Billabong, Aleeda, Hyperflex and Hotline. So depending on your location and needs you may go with a 3-2mm shorty wetsuit, where you may just be feeling a little windchill to a 5-4mm full kiteboarding suit with or without hood for water in the 10C/ 50f range. Tight fitting boots and gloves are just about essential at this stage too. More kiteboarding specific wetsuits by Mystic and Prolimit are now also on the market.
The 'hidden' benefits of kiteboarding wetsuits are various and quite beneficial - a 'safety' from the occasional enema after a bad 'wipeout' - hitting the water from height or at speed! I've been thankful on more occasions than I'd like to admit!
Kiteboarding wetsuits can help as impact vests after hitting the water - although this shouldn't be relied on as its function.
Wetsuits/boots also help against board knocks on legs feet and body mostly from your board.
Wetsuit boots (or booties ) made for both cold and tropical warm conditions also are really helpful in launching and landing your kite in rocky/coral terrain - in these scenarios you can focus more on your kite and not where you are stepping. I always like the split toe for better balance ;)
Some of Mystic's wetsuits now have shin protectors and a useful drainage system to drain out leg or another holes where it drains above your harness if water gets caught there. Although these features are not 100% necessary, a regular wetsuit will do fine; its just a way this kiteboarding company is showing that it is thinking about its market and kiteboarders needs.
Kiteboarding Drysuits have gained in popularity in the much colder areas of the USA, Canada and Europe - keeping fanatics like us on the water longer! The technology in drysuits has come along incredibly over the past 10 years and made them a great alternative to a wetsuit if you want to keep dry and warm with good mobility and freedom of movement. A Canadian kiteboarding company, Ocean Rodeo, now makes a reliable, technical kiteboarding drysuit that can be used for both kiting and surfing and is gaining popularity in North America and Europe.
So if you aren't really keen on the cold or are one of those hardcore enthusiasts who chases the stoke of kiting sun, rain or snow, the drysuit might just be for you.
Things to consider when buying a new wetsuit/drysuit -
2nd hand wetsuits are not often good ideas as wetsuit lifespans are relatively short - perhaps 2 to 3 years at most.
Drysuits have longer lifespans and seem more durable but consideration for the rubber seals fraying over time must also be considered. Although this cost would be cheaper than replacing a whole wetsuit.
Outer surfaces of wetsuits should have a good portion (chest and arms at least) as the 'slick seal skin' - the quick dry rubber that does not absorb water as it adds to windchill.
Possible option of a detachable hood. Useful if you do or don't want to wear a helmet or high windchill or cold water temps.
Sealed seams, Glued and blind stitched, taped - essential to a quality warm suit.
Velcro straps on the legs - might be a consideration to stop water shooting up the legs.
How easy is it to get in and out of the kiteboarding wetsuit or drysuit?This is perhaps not critical, but if you are going to be using your wetsuit or drysuit regularly and getting in or out is always very difficult - it may become a drag. The type of entry to the suit - back/front zipper or top entry may help make your decision. So obviously try on different brands to find out what the best fit is for you.