The Best Surf Gear: Tried-and-True Essentials Our Editors Love

I put chic wetsuits, reef-safe sunscreens, and even lightweight dry bags to the test.
A collage.

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New York is a beach town if you want it to be—but I didn’t know that when I first moved here four years ago. That first New York summer, I left my Williamsburg apartment, boarded the ferry, and was miraculously lounging on the beach an hour later. As I squinted into the sun, I spotted surfers in the water. Surfing in New York? I couldn’t believe it. The following summer, I signed up for lessons with Locals Surf school, and have since spent almost every single weekend flinging myself into the waves at Rockaway Beach.

I’m in the lucky position of being close friends with my coworkers, and even luckier that a couple of them are just as obsessed with surfing as I am (if you’ve listened to the Women Who Travel podcast lately, you’ve likely heard them share tales of our newfound love of the sport). Though we still probably average more wipeouts than waves caught, we’ve learned so much over the past three summers, and between us have surfed in Rio de Janeiro, Costa Rica, Los Angeles, Lima, San Diego, and Montauk.

We’ve learned how to read the waves, and graduated from instructors pushing us to catching waves of our own. We’ve learned what types of boards to use depending on the wave size, and how to properly wax them. We’ve also learned a lot about the type of gear we like best, from the most comfortable bikinis to wear underneath our wetsuits, to the perfect post-surf routine (which involves a delicious guava scented leave-in conditioner and less glamorous but highly effective electrolyte tabs).

Below, a look at what you’ll find inside our surf bags—it’s by no means an exhaustive list of the best stuff out there, but it's a tried-and-true guide to the best surf gear that we’ve used so far.

P.S. As the surfers say: spread the stoke! If you live on the coast, there’s a chance that there is surfing not too far from you. I’ve found myself pulling up Surfline on every vacation, searching for local breaks near me. There are the obvious places, like Rio, where I spent one day catching waves on Ipanema Beach (and one day wiping out at Macumba). But other destinations have surprised me—like Scotland, can you surf there? Shockingly, yes! And in Seattle, WA and Portland, ME, too. If you’ve ever wanted to try, I hope this encourages you to book a lesson on your next vacation, or find a surf school at your local break!

This article has been updated with new information since its original publish date.

Our favorite surf gear:


The type of wetsuit you’ll need greatly depends on the temperature of the water you surf in, as well as your personal coverage preferences. In New York, temperatures vary throughout the summer, from chilly high 60s in May warming up to mid 70s by September.

The wetsuit I find myself reaching for most often is my Patagonia front-zip spring suit, designed for temperatures ranging from 65 to 75 degrees. It’s a classic—the design is flattering and comfortable, and it has great specs, like a nice and tight seam on the legs, and its made out of mostly recycled materials.

If you’re looking for something more fashionable, but just as effective, we’ve been loving both the Spring Suit Back Zip and the Summer Short Jane from Australian brand Atmosea. The colors are fun, and the cuts are ultra flattering, but it’s the buttery-soft material (premium 2mm Japanese Yamamoto derived from limestone) that I really can’t shut up about.

Comfortable with a cut that’s a bit cheekier? Senior Editor Megan Spurrell loves her paisley-patterned Cynthia Rowley spring suit, “it's just the right amount of cheeky in the back, with enough coverage in the front so I don't have to worry about readjusting my suit while I straddle my board,” she says. Also nailing flattering, feminine cuts is Abysse. When the water is warm, I like wearing this 1.5mm two-piece rash guard and shorts set from the brand, which is a super snug fit that stays put even on rough days (and during wipeouts).

This summer, I experienced my first bout of surf rash, which occurs from the friction of your bare skin rubbing against a waxed surfboard (ouch). While nursing my burning inner thighs, I searched for a long legged suit, and found exactly what I needed in this Long Jane from Kassia. I love the super-sporty fit, and the extra cushion for my boney knees. Having both protection and full coverage of my lower body has made my surf sessions even more enjoyable.

Note: If you’re a beginner taking surf lessons, the surf school will generally outfit you with a temperature appropriate loaner.

Atmosea Spring Suit Back Zip
Atmosea Summer Short Jane
Kassia Surf Aquarelle Long Jane
Patagonia spring suit
Cynthia Rowley Sunrise paisley wetsuit

Surf suits and swimsuits

If you’re wearing a wetsuit, you’ll most likely want to wear a swimsuit underneath—it can add an extra layer of warmth, and makes changing on the beach a lot less complicated. I’m a huge fan of this ribbed one-piece style from Solid & Striped. Its barely-there feeling makes it my go-to under a wetsuit, and bonus: it's still cute enough to lounge in on the beach afterwards. Spurrell raves about this Vanessa Mooney bikini, which stays firmly in place and adds a fun pop of color beneath her favorite bodysuit from Seaa, which is super-flattering and fantastic for staving off surf rash.

When you’re in warmer water and don’t need a wetsuit, you might still want a bit of protection from both the sun and the surf wax. The Lulu paddle suit is a comfortable midpoint between a regular bathing suit and a surf suit. It provides sun protection, keeps everything in place, and has certain features of a surf suit—like a back zipper—that makes it more technical than your average one piece. And although the material is thick and sturdy, it's lean enough that you can throw a wetsuit over it if you end up getting chilled during your session.

For a proper surf suit, this Cynthia Rowley number is slinky and protective, and really well made. However, it's a high (think '80s-style) front cut and very revealing back. If that's the fit you want, it's the most comfortable suit of the style we’ve found (and those patterns can't be beat).

Solid & Striped Anne-Marie ribbed one piece
Vanessa Mooney Cora bikini top
Lululemon Zip-Back paddle suit
Seea Penelope bodysuit
Cynthia Rowley Sunny surfsuit


The most important thing in our surf bags is our sunscreen collection. I’ve waxed poetic about my love for Kinfield sunscreen time and time again. I have an allergy to most chemical sunscreens and have long searched for a mineral sunscreen that’s easy to apply and doesn’t leave me looking chalky. I use Kinfield’s waterproof Daily Dew on my face, and Cloud Cover on the parts of my body not covered by a wetsuit. Spurrell doesn’t have the same allergy as me, but has also found herself gravitating toward Kinfield’s reef-safe mineral formulas. But another glowy sweat- and water-resistant option she loves is Supergoop's body Glowscreen.

If you don't care for that sheen, Sun Bum makes a highly moisturizing SPF. For an extra layer of protection, I like swiping Sun Bum’s Mineral Stick across my nose, cheeks, and hands before I jump in the water. I usually swipe it across my lips, too, while Spurrell opts for the original lip balm.

Supergoop! Glowscreen Body SPF 40
Sun Bum SPF 30
Sun Bum Baybum Mineral SPF 50 Sunscreen Face Stick
Sun Bum SPF 30 Sunscreen lip balm


This is one category I’ll admit we’re still figuring out. I’ve tried out a few different kinds of surf hats—this one’s too floppy, that one can’t survive a wipeout—and still haven’t found the porridge that’s just right for me. However, my husband (also surf-obsessed) has been rocking the Dakine Surf Hat all summer. He says it’s really secure, but so comfortable that he forgets he’s wearing it. He just wishes the bill was a bit longer to block out more sun.

One I’ve yet to try but have been eyeing is the Patagonia surf brim hat, because several other students and instructors at the surf school swear by how secure and comfortable it is. If you're a newbie, you'll want something like the Dakine or Patagonia cap which is designed to stay put even if you take a few tumbles. Both hats are adjustable (good thing, since both are technically for men, and seem to be a bit larger).

Dakine surf hat
Patagonia surf brim hat

Hair care

Now onto the unexpected but essential products we’ve come to swear by: great, protective hair care items. Right after hopping out of the water following a great morning surf session, and just before plopping onto the sand for a well-deserved afternoon of unwinding, my friends and I break out the leave-in conditioners and Tangle Teezers (a good ole Wet Brush also does the trick). Smelling the guava-rich Ceremonia and the beachy banana Sun Bum is one of my favorite post-surf sensory experiences, and whenever I use the products at home, it transports me right back to the sand.

Wet Brush
Tangle Teezer
Ceremonia guava rescue & repair kit
Sun Bum 3-in-1 leave-in conditioner spray


I recently learned the term “après-surf” from the aforementioned brand Atmosea, and now I can’t stop saying it. I’ve been using it as a catch-all for the comfy apparel I like to throw on after a surf—like my Billabong board shorts that, in my opinion, go with everything (leopard print is a neutral, I swear). Another favorite: the classic Patagonia baggie shorts, particularly in this ‘80s shade of teal. Both pairs of shorts are loose, adjustable, and most importantly, comfortable to throw on when you’re wet. After some hair care, a dad cap is essential for locking in moisture and shielding your eyes and face from additional rays while you take that well-deserved nap. When it’s time to head home, you’ll want to throw your wetsuits in a dry bag, and the medium Sea to Summit is our current favorite. For everything else, the Junes mesh tote is a lifesaver—not only because it fits a lot more than you’d expect, but because the sand easily shakes out as you walk.

Junes Hombre Tote
Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil dry bag set
Billabong Spotted In Paradise 3" boardshorts
Patagonia women's 5" Baggies
Atmosea Dad Cap

More surf essentials we love

I’d be remiss not to mention the SabaSurf wax I’ve been using this summer. It’s super tacky, smells amazing, and is unique in that it works in all water temperatures. For the foamie boards that I surf on, I only need a top coat, but if you’re working with a hard top board, they sell it in bundles so you can get both your base and top together.

One last lifesaver? These Nuun electrolyte tabs. They’re handy for when you’ve been in the “just one last wave” mindset for an hour and the leg cramps start to kick in.

Saba surf wax
Nuun Sport electrolyte drink tablets