To get insights into the best ways to extend the life of your suit, we spoke with Buddy Pendergast, a wetsuit repair tech at Patagonia. An East Coast native, Pendergast knows first-hand that a leaky seam in February is all it takes to ruin a good session.

Note: Interview edited for clarity and length. 

First thing’s first, how’d you end up repairing wetsuits? 

I was running the Patagonia Bowery surf shop (in NYC) and became familiar with wetsuit repair via Patagonia’s WornWear program. In June 2019, Patagonia did the first WornWear on the East Coast and I got to travel with them for the month of June from the Outer Banks up to Maine as they repaired suits. That was my real look behind the curtain into wetsuit repair and the robust program Patagonia has set up. I learned how to fix wetsuits on tour and eventually started a small repair facility out in Rockaway. 

As someone who repairs suits all day, what are the most preventable damages that you see? 

UV damage tops the list, especially as many wetsuit manufacturers have moved away from blind stitching and towards powerseams (an exterior coating of liquid tape used to keep water out.) Power seams are super susceptible to UV damage; it compromises the glue bond beneath them, and the glue bond is about 90% of what keeps the water out of your suit. Once you start to see the glue failures, that’s when you get leakage. About half an hour or so outside is fine, but when you leave your suits out for hours or days, that’s when the problems begin. 

What would you look for when looking for a quality second-hand suit?

First and foremost, check the seam integrity, especially at the crotch and shoulder seams — those are always the first to go because they see the most stretch-stress from paddling and sitting on your board. Always good to flip the suit inside out and take a look at the interior seams as well. 

What repairs should someone try and tackle themselves, and when do you need professional help? 

If there’s some seam failure on the calf or the arm, small holes, or fin cuts, those can be tackled on your own. The internet is an incredible tool for what to do, as well as what not to do.

If it’s something in the critical zone like the shoulders, that’s a bigger picture problem to fix. It’s like your car… you might be able to do an oil change, but eventually you should reach out to a mechanic for the big stuff. 

What’s your wetsuit care routine? 

Definitely rinse your suits, especially the zippers — between the sun and salt, that’s a recipe for corrosion. If you have a change of season with your suits like you do on the East Coast, set yourself up for success by giving your winter suits a proper wash with a wetsuit wash before you put them away for the season. 

And never hang it by a shoulder hanger for any prolonged amount of time — wetsuits are heavy garments, so that puts a lot of stress on one area and will blow out the shoulder panels so much faster. Hang them (folded over) at the waist by a properly supported hanger.

Any other tips for making sure that wetsuits don’t just get thrown into landfills?

Neoprene by nature is an interesting material — think outside the box and find a new purpose for it! You can make coozies, you can line board racks with them. Take care of these products! There’s so much that goes into surfboard and wetsuit construction - it’s a really special thing. 

If your wetsuit has reached the end of its life and you have enough coozies, check out some of these great companies that will recycle them in various ways:  

  • Suga Yoga mats will take your old suits and turn them into yoga, surf change, and meditation mats. 

  • Green Guru Gear takes wetsuits and combines them with recycled camp gear, climbing ropes, and bike tubes to create backpacks, pouches, bike gear, and more. 

  • Enjoy Handplanes cuts up used wetsuits and uses the material for straps on the planes they make out of old surfboards and scraps from blanks. 

  • Lava Rubber cranks out slippers and mats from wetsuits.  

Andrew Nota