Wetsuit Survey

So what’s really going on in the wetsuit market? That’s the question we here at TransWorld SURF Business hoped to answer when we sent out 1,900 surveys in late January to surf-related retailers around the country.

The best estimates of a few wetsuit manufacturers place the number of U.S. retailers actually selling surf wetsuits between 1,200 and 1,500 shops, so the 110 valid surveys we received back represents about seven to nine percent of the entire marketplace–not a bad return.

Some of the shops responding included O’Neill Surf Shop, Ron Jon’s, Surf Ride, Rip Curl Surf Center, Santa Cruz Surf Shop, Val Surf, Unsound Surf, Encinitas Surfboards, Clairemont Surf Shop, Brave New World, Blue Pacific, Innerflight Surf Shop, Ventura Surf Shop, and Inflight. For a complete list of the shops providing their name on the survey (which was an optional question), Thirty-six percent of the shops responding were from the Southeast (North Carolina to the Florida Keys), 30 percent were from Southern California (shops located south of Point Conception), sixteen percent were from the Northeast (Virginia to the Canadian border), seven percent were located between Point Conception and the Canadian border (which we’ll call NorCal for simplicity), six percent were from Hawai’i, and five percent were from the mystical land of “other” (generally inland shops in states such as Colorado and Arizona).

On average, the shops responding to our survey do approximately 1.2-million dollars in retail sales volume a year, but this figure is skewed by retail heavyweight Ron Jon’s (with 39-million dollars a year in sales), and the median was a more down-to-Earth 600,000 dollars.

Store Size And Location

Of the shops responding to our survey, an average of thirteen percent of their total sales were from wetsuits.

Overall store sales volume doesn’t appear to drastically affect the percentage of overall sales a shop gets from its wetsuit department. For example, shops with total sales of two-million dollars or more reported that ten percent of annual sales were from wetsuits. Shops with total annual sales between one- and two-million dollars reported that fourteen percent of their sales were from wetsuits–a figure identical to those shops reporting annual sales of less than one-million dollars.

Not surprisingly, however, where a shop is located does affect the importance of the wetsuit department to overall sales. NorCal shops reported that 30 percent of overall sales were from wetsuits. However, shops in the Southeast report that only seven percent of sales are from wetsuits. The Southern California shops responding to our survey came in with an average figure of thirteen percent.

The shops we polled carried an average of three brands of wetsuits, although fifteen of the shops responding to the survey carried just one brand (mostly O’Neill and Rip Curl, with a few shops carrying just Aleeda or Xcel). Other shops carried as many as six different brands of wetsuits.

O’Neill And Rip Curl Carried Most

According to the result of our survey, O’Neill and Rip Curl are the clear leaders in the wetsuit market. We asked retailers to rank the brands of wetsuits they carried by listing each brand’s percentage of sales in the wetsuit department. For example, if 21 percent of the wetsuits a shop sold were from O’Neill, they’d mark 21 in the space next to O’Neill.

When the scores from all the shops were tallied up and averaged out, O’Neill ranked first with 33 percent, followed closely by Rip Curl with 29 percent. After that the results were nearly even between Xcel (seven percent), Billabong (six percent), Quiksilver (five percent), Aleeda (four percent), and Hurley (three percent). See cover chart for more details.

Once again, regional differences were pretty easy to spot. For example, Xcel wetsuits account for 22 percent of sales in the Hawai’ian shops responding to our survey. Quiksilver was strong in the Northeast (fourteen percent), Hotline was the solid number-three brand in NorCal shops, and Hurley and Aleeda sales depend on the Southern Californian market.

In the NorCal shops responding to our survey, the percentage of Rip Curl wetsuits came in at 43 compared to 32 percent for O’Neill. And O’Neill came in at 31 percent in Southern California compared to Rip Curl’s twenty percent. This is somewhat surprising given that O’Neill’s headquarters are in Santa Cruz and Rip Curl’s U.S. home is in Carlsbad. Go figure.

How Much Money Are We Talking About?

By multiplying a shop’s annual sales by the percentage of its annual sales from wetsuits, we’re able to gauge a shop’s annual wetsuit business. For example, if a shop listed its annual sales at a million bucks and 30 percent of that was from wetsuits, it’s pretty basic math to peg that shop’s wetsuit sales at around 300,000 dollars a year.

It seems some shops were a little sketched out by giving this information–only 88 surveys had both questions filled in. When we crunched those numbers, however, we discovered these 88 shops do an average of 117,000 dollars in wetsuit sales a year (the median was 62,000 dollars, reflecting the strength of the top-ten retailers in our sample).

We can get a good idea of how much each brand does a year in each shop by multiplying a shop’s annual wetsuit sales by the sales percentage breakdown of the brands they carry. For example, a shop with 300,000 dollars in annual wetsuit sales that does 25 percent of that business with Rip Curl wetsuits probably sells around 75,000 dollars worth of Rip Curl wetsuits at retail each year (300,000 multiplied by 25 percent).

When we did this math for each of the 110 shops in our survey, O’Neill become the clear dollar-volume leader, accounting for 46 percent of the wetsuit dollar volume of the shops we polled. In a nutshell, O’Neill dominates in the shops that do a lot of wetsuit business. Rip Curl came in second with 24 percent, with the rest of the field fairly even at around three or four percent.


Fifty-nine percent of the shops responding to our survey reported that wetsuit sales were up compared to last year, with 28 percent saying they were the same, eleven percent admitting they were down, and three percent not answering the question.

When we asked shops whether they sold more women’s wetsuits this year than last, 43 percent said they sold more, 37 percent said they sold the same amount, and fourteen percent said they sold fewer (six percent didn’t answer the question).

Zipperless wetsuits don’t appear to be significantly gaining momentum. Twenty-six percent of the responding shops said they sold more zipperless wetsuit this year than last year, while 38 percent said it was the same amount and 31 percent said they sold fewer zipperless suits. Five percent didn’t answer the question.

The shops answering our survey said an average of 56 percent of the wetsuits they sold were less than 200 dollars, with 33 percent being between 200 and 300 dollars, and the remaining eleven percent sold at more than 300 dollars. Regional difference are obvious–88 percent of the wetsuits sold in the Hawai’ian retailers in our survey where less than 200 dollars, while 26 percent the wetsuits sold in NorCal shops were more than 300 dollars.

Springsuits accounted for an average of 56 percent of the wetsuits sold in the responding shops, with clear regional breakdowns. The NorCal shops reported that only ten percent of their wetsuit sales were springsuits. Shops in the Southeast, Hawai’i, and the Northeast had a ratio closer to 50-50.

Fewer zipperless wetsuits and more short zips, more and better super-stretch panels on wetsuits, the gradually lowering of consumer price resistance to high-end suits, and concerns about the durability of superstrech neoprene–these were just a few of the trends the surf sh
op owners and managers noted in our survey.

“The new ceiling for 80 percent of high-end consumers will be $349.95,” says Marc Adam and Encinitas Surfboards. While DK at Santa Cruz Surf Shop says, “People will pay for flexibility and suffer with the longevity of suits. It’s a new era and people are dropping coin for the latest and greatest.”

These concerns about durability were echoed by the manager of Big Time Surf Shop: “Many customers like the suits that only have the superstretch panels because they last longer. When people fork over 300 dollars for a suit, they want it to last a couple of years.”

Richard O’Reily at Spyder Surfboards says surfers are definitely aware of the new materials on the market: “If the arm of the suit can’t reach the other side of the room, they move on to the next suit.”

Mike Campbell and ZJ’s Boarding House thinks seamless suits will be the next evolution, but first stichless sales will be strong. Dana Gibson at the Katin Superstore thinks surfers will end up buying as much superstretch as they can afford, and that “most consumer dollars are spent in the 180- to 220-dollar price range.”

–Sean O’Brien

The following shops listed their name on the wetsuit survey. (This was an optional question.)

Aussie Island Surf Shop

Bigtime Surfshop

Blue Pacific

Boarding House


Boardstiff Surf and Sport

Brave New World

Brighton Beach Surf Shop

Bruno Troadec

Clairemont Surf Shop

Classic Surfboards

Earth Core

Encinitas Surfboards



Gravity Sports


HH Surf Inc

High Tide Surf Shop

Hot Wax

Hot Wax Surf Shop

IG Boarding Shop


Innerflight Surf Shop


Island Watersports

Katin Superstore

Liquid Foundation

Malibu Surf

McCormack Shapes

McKevlin’s Surf Shop

Mouse Wakeboards and Surfboards

MR’s Surf and Skate

MTB Surf Emporium

Nichols Surf Shop

Nor’Easter Surf Shop

O’Neill Surf Shop

Ocean Gear Surfboards

Ocean Magic

Ocean Pulse

Performance Board Center

Point Southside

Prarie Soul Board Shop

Pro Sport

R-Coast Surf Shop

Ride The Wind

Rincon Designs

Rip Curl Surf Center

Ron Jon Surf Shop

Root Beer Barrell

San Pedro Surf and Sport

Santa Cruz Surf Show


Second Wind Sail and Surf

Shirley Can’t Surf

Sockeyes Beach and Sport

Spunky’s Surf Shop

Spyder Surfboards

Sunrise Surf Shop

Surf and Sea

Surf Ride

Surf Unlimited

Sweetwater Surf

The Surf Club Surf Shop


University Surf n Sport

Unsound Surf

Upfront Surfboards and Surfwear

Val Surf

Ventura Surf Shop

Village Surf Shop

Waveline Ventura

West Coast Surf Shop


Windflight Surf Shop

Windward Sports

World Watersports

ZJ Boarding House