By Jake Thomas
We Canadians are a hardy bunch, always pushing the seasons for our enjoyment of sport. We downhill ski as soon as the hills open and in some cases, even after they close for the season. For the diehard water sport enthusiasts, it’s no different. But your choices for equipment are much more limited and you have to deal with two obstacles – air and water temperature – so here are a few suggestions if you’re anxious to get out on the water this spring.
Neoprene rubber wetsuits are by far the most popular choice when it comes to keeping warm. The problem is you need a different suit for each temperature. Traditional wetsuits should fit snug to do their job. However, as the name implies, they are wet so you will need to allow water to penetrate between the skin and rubber layers, which the body will eventually warm up. There is a moment of terror while the water seeps in, but it’s short-lived (so just suck it up). Wetsuits also offer additional floatation, support and will provide some cushion from those hard falls, but you still need to wear a PFD for proper safety.
The “Steamer” is a one-piece suit with full legs and arms that leave hands, feet and head fully exposed. These are one of the warmest options for wetsuits, but can be difficult to put on and sometimes inhibit mobility. If you are looking for versatility, the “Farmer John” is a two-piece pant and jacket combo that allows you to wear the pants on the medium days and add the jacket on the really cold days. The “Shorty” is usually a rear zip short sleeve, short leg suit for those colder summer days. More recently, some companies have started making a “Long Sleeve Shorty.” This is my personal preference because it provides a warmer upper body leaving lower legs exposed. If you are not pushing the season to the extremes, I have managed with this suit alone.
For those who really want to push the season, a “Dry Suit” allows you to ski in basically any temperature because your body does not get wet at all. (I tested this theory one spring and skied around the ice on our lake, but I don’t recommend it.) Underneath the dry suit you simply need to wear cozy track pants, a long sleeve shirt and a PDF (there is zero floatation in a dry suit). It takes some getting used to and the seals on your ankles, wrists and neck need to be uncomfortably snug, but you really can ski in any water temperature.
There are also a variety of gloves available. I find the rubber on neoprene gloves alters my grip, causing my hands to fatigue prematurely. My preference is traditional leather/nylon water-ski gloves, but you have to do your best to keep them dry because there is no insulation.
In the old days there was no way to escape ice cold toes because the bindings were all open toe. Thankfully, most modern water-ski and wakeboard bindings now have an enclosed toe.
On really cold days, a dock start and the right boat driver can minimize your time IN the water, but you are on your own once you are ON the water. But if you cover up and minimize that wet exposed skin, you can easily extend your watersports season by as much as a few months each year.
This article is featured in the Spring 2014 issue of Boats&Places.