What’s in a Wetsuit Color?

Psychologists say wetsuit color may affect your performance far more than you think

| posted on January 15, 2014
Photo: Lowe-White

Danny Fuller, seeing red last winter in Los Angeles. He knew something we didn’t. Photo: Lowe-White

What color is your wetsuit? Black, right? Makes sense. Assuming you’re not a pro, you’re likely not looking to draw attention to your questionable cutback and weird arm placement with a brightly colored suit. Sports and behavioral psychologists, however, have news for you: wetsuit color may affect your performance far more than you’ve ever imagined.

There are a couple phenomena at work here. First, self-perception. The fine folks at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management led a fairly influential 2012 study which showed that people who wore a doctor’s white coat performed better in cognitive tests than those wearing street clothes. When a different group of people wore the same coat but were told it was a painter’s smock, they recorded far worse results than the group who believed they were wearing a doctor’s uniform. In a nutshell: if you think you’re dressed like a doctor, you’ll actually act smarter.

This same idea is supported by University of North Carolina researchers who argue that uniforms of the right color help athletes reach their “Ideal Performance State.” We react to colors on an emotional level, and peak athletic performance only comes about when your head is in the right place. Imagine what that could mean for your surfing, if you had the stylistic courage to strap on a neon wetsuit. Look like a pro, surf like a pro. Keep in mind, there’s a limit. The benefits of positive self-perception only go so far—you aren’t making the ‘CT just because you get ahold of one of Kolohe’s discarded orange-creamsicle suits. But, you just might feel like a better surfer.

SHOP: SURFER’s Wetsuit Buyer’s Guide

OK then, you’re probably wondering, which color will make me rip? Red. That’s according to reports published in the Journal of Sports Science. And this is especially so for competitive athletes. Soccer (or, sorry, football) teams in England that have worn red unis were found to have won matches at a rate far out of proportion than teams not wearing red. Other sports seem to show a similar trend. Nobody knows exactly why that is—ref bias, intimidation, aggressive self-perception amongst red-wearers have all been suggested—but statistics seem to bear it out. Wear red, perform better. Keep that in mind next time you’re betting on the outcome of a pro tour heat, or choosing between a suit with red logos or with blue.

But wait, if the color of what you’re wearing can affect mood and performance, what does that say about wearing a black wetsuit? “Black is viewed as the color of evil and death in virtually all cultures,” Cornell University researchers noted in a 1988 study of whether or not wearing black screws with your behavior. Their verdict: it sure seems so. Black uniforms were shown to increase an athlete’s aggressiveness, while at the same time intimidating competitors. Sports teams that wear black commit more penalties than their lighter-colored counterparts. Black can make you feel tough, and can make others look tough. This can’t be helping in those jam-packed, neoprene-filled winter lineups.

Of course, all of this is subjective. At best, research shows that what you wear can affect behavior and performance, not that it always will. But if you’re feeling a little flashy, and like the looks of an ice-blue suit, go with it. If you feel like you look cool, it might make you surf better. And if you want to catch more waves than anyone, try for the red/black combo. It works for the Miami Heat, it could work for you.

INSTRUCTION: Take Care of Your Wetsuit

  • Shannon K

    One theory is red is worn to agitate and create excitement in the opposing team causing them to lose focus. So I am not sure this theory that wearing red creates an advantage holds true for performance in an individual sport. I also don’t think it would create any performance advantage enjoying a surf session that is not part of a competition. Is there any studies on color and performance in individual sports that you came across in your research for this article?

  • Tyson Galvin

    I’d believe that I would improve slightly. However, I also believe that it depends greatly on how you feel that day. Some days I struggle to hold a decent wave or make silly mistakes but then there are other days that I dominate.

    • Brain Lab

      Yes, if we could only find the key to consistent performance. Some days I don’t even feel like playing the guitar and others I really get deep into it.

  • John Roelofs
    Clearly not true, read this

    • does it really matter? nope

      they’re comparing white and blue in the study you’ve referenced… not red and white or red n blue…

  • Reid W Harris III

    Black is the color of authority and power. It is popular in fashion because it makes people appear thinner.

    Red is the most emotionally intense color, red stimulates a faster heartbeat and breathing.

    Blue…he color of the sky and the ocean. It causes the opposite reaction as red. Peaceful, tranquil blue causes the body to produce calming chemicals

    • Brain Lab

      A state of calm facilitates creativity. In music, you can always tell the narcissists who come to the jam with an agenda, instead of becoming part of the music.

      Music and surfing are very similar, in one you ride the groove, in the other, a wave, it’s all energy.

  • gannysesh

    I’d be cool with more tasteful color options for suits. A little blue here and there. Not many options, though.

    Kinda the same idea as this article: I remember one time I borrowed a friend’s board that had a sex wax sticker on it, and I swear I ripped harder. Hate to say it but it gave me an ego boost! I was like, “man I bet people *FPAW* think I’m sponsored *FSHwAW*!”

  • ZEUS

    the celtics and lakers would beg to differ.

  • oceangrown

    Every guy I have seen in a colored wetsuit is a bit of a dick in the least, wants attention, is overly aggressive, and has a shitty wave hog attitude.

    • Brain Lab

      In other words, a kook

  • george

    Unless there is a study out there that actually looked at the contest results of surf opponents with red and black wetsuits, then this post is completely meaningless. The two studies cited in this post looked at English football, NFL, and NHL uniforms and their effects on results. You can’t extrapolate that to surfing. Anyone who has a cursory knowledge of statistics knows this. It’s 2014. Get your math/science right.

    • Kooks McGee

      I have watched many ct contest and the red jersey’s usually prevail…they are also normally the higher seeds. So we can’t count on that observation.

      • barryd

        The competitors with the yellow jerseys do even better on average. So if you get a yellow wetsuit, it will make you rip!

        That’s what I thought when I saw the article: CAUSATION FALLACY, DUMBASSES!

        If someone really rips, is he going to paddle out at a crowded new break with a bright wetsuit that everyone will recognize? Sure. It’s to his advantage. He can establish himself as a skilled surfer quickly, and with the exception of certain genuine “locals only” spots dominated by mediocre surfers who keep others out by force, a ripper gets respect in the water, quickly.

        If someone isn’t going to be wowing everyone with a big air reverse on his first wave, is he going to paddle out at a crowded new break and want to stick out? Probably not. It’s to his advantage to be anonymous, figure out the dynamic in the water, and not encourage any paddle battles.

        So yeah, there’s a correlation, but not a causation!

      • barryd

        The yellow jerseys prevail even more often.

        Can we say “causation fallacy”?

        I think the same thing applies to random surfers, too. The guys who have the most to gain by drawing attention to themselves (the real rippers) are more likely to wear bright colors. Someone who really rips gets respect in (most) lineups. The guys who want to stay anonymous at a new spot, and get to know the dynamic in the water without inviting paddle battles, probably don’t wear the brightest colors. But the bright-color guys don’t rip BECAUSE of the colors.

  • surfaggro

    The spot that I surf is very localized. Almost all the locals wear black wetsuits. When people show up wearing bright suits, they are immediately targets for getting hassled – first because it’s obvious they aren’t from there and second because of how obnoxious they are being. Prob best to stick to black at spots that are localized. Unless you are in Santa Cruz, because many of the locals there wear bright garbage in the lineup.

    • Brain Lab

      It’s understandable, we see people trying to attract attention to themselves all day long. Besides, there is a kind of selflessness, a oneness with the ocean that facilitates the best rides.

  • Kooks McGee

    Except when the water is sub 40, and the air is sub 30 and you want every last bit of solar radiation hitting you to be converted to thermal energy.

  • Rui Manique Marques

    how do you explain Real Madrid’s stats in soccer? Or Kansas City Chiefs “outstanding” stats in 2012 (2 W-14 L)? And I can’t recall Kelly ever using a red wetsuit. I have seen him use white and black. But ok.

    • local

      Cloudbreak 2013 kelly wore a red sleeveless wetsuit. I chose to surf restaurants that day bc cloudbreak was off its keg

      • Brain Lab

        It really was

  • surfer chick

    I’ll stick with black. It’ll soak up more heat from the sun while I’m freezing my butt off sitting in the lineup

  • seldom seen smith

    Dudes wetsuit color, and how you look in the lineup, is so important. I rock a bright orange suit and I shred every session. Furthermore my silver helmet gives me the ability to generate tons of down the line speed.

    • Brain Lab

      My water wings facilitate massive air.., the likes of which have never been seen on this Earth ….. So far I have only done this at a secluded cove so as not to draw attention to myself.

    • Roy Stuart
    • Valhalla Jones

      I prefer just a basic black wetsuite cuz it doesn’t show stains from my hair gel and spray tan. Board shorts as outer garment provides all the color I need to attract the hindus.

      • seldom seen smith

        Ya know, that’s one thing that was left out of this piece…the boardies over suite option, also, they neglected to mention how much properly gelled hair and spray tan will increase your ability to boost.

    • Valhalla Jones


  • Deano

    You need to get Matt Wilkinson’s take on all this. Wilko has done extensive testing of colourful wetsuits at the elite level!

  • southernether

    I just got a purple one!

  • Scott

    I’m from Florida and a Bucs fan. We have red jerseys and went 4-12

  • CherBoiii

    You’re missing a hugely obvious conclusion that supports wearing of black wetsuits to increase performance. If you respect the all-black look and those rippers who rock it (Dane, Bobby for instance…), you could very well feel like you’re ripping harder than if you were in some funky bright giddup. Not all pros wear the gaudy shit, and not everyone looks up to that style…

  • mdreebin

    When pros compete they wear colored jerseys. The color of the wetsuit above the waist won’t matter. Also, wear a colorful wetsuit and others see you easier and might not snake you – on the other hand, if you wear a colorful wetsuit and YOU snake someone they will remember you more easily and won’t forget…

  • I cant believe orange

    you seriously wear an orange wetsuit AND a silver helmet??? really!

    • seldom seen smith

      Yes, #4lyfe.

  • Julia Allan

    This is
    a great product! I found some more information on this website:

  • Peter

    I get a wetsuit every year from my employer (I’m a surf guide / instructor). It was always black and suddenly I get a blue one. At that moment, I rather would have liked to have a black one, but it pushed me because I thought I have to perform better if I wear such a suit. So I gave it always a 10 % more….. what was mentioned about localized spots is true … you don’t really want to have anything else than a black suit to stay under the radar. But, I surf everyday and everybody knows me already … so not a real problem there. My customers can see me better in the crowd, which in this case is a bonus.

  • giacomo

    What about the All Blacks?

  • pedro

    sometimes my wetsuit gives me tickle dick that helps me pop faster

  • 2cynical

    What a coincidence: Magazine publishes this pseudo-scientific piece about colored wetsuits the same month it publishes its wetsuit buyers’ guide with colored wetsuits

  • Spizzle

    Red attracts sharks

  • Paul

    You would want a black wetsuit as that is greatest emissivity you can achieve. Is. Absorbing heat not reflecting it.

  • Todd Walker

    I’m a mediocre surfer so I just want to stay warm in the Jersey Shore water. Just purchased my 1st new wetsuit from quiksilver in 20 years. Love it and it’s black so I’m pretty agressive on my Belmar homebreak. Lol.

    • seldom seen smith


  • trestlessurfer

    I just hate black wetsuits. everyone can wear a colorful board short but can’t wear a different than black wetsuit. We all look like seals seating on outside like a shark bait. I remember in the 80’s all the wetsuits and the surf culture full of colors. Like snowboarding, lot’s of colors and no one cares. Surfing it is a form of expression, your surf express yourself. why not add your favorite color to it. I personally like blue. I have 3 wetsuits, my favorite is the one white, blue and gray. It is funny to see how people look at you she you get at the outside because you wear a different color than black in surfing. To be honest I don’t a shit what anyone will think about me. I’m there for surfing and have fun. What you think doesn’t matter. Rock the colors and have fun in the water. Surfing it is way too much fun to stick only to black.

    • barryd

      My snowboard jacket is black, too.

  • John Vickoren

    I’m rocking a red and blue with white stsrs I feel like Captain America out there

  • Erika Nilsson

    It makes sense because, evolutionarily speaking, when would you have seen red? It would most likely have been when you saw blood, and your brain has been hardwired to elevate your senses when it detects a lot of red. So, building off that, teams that wear red most likely experience this more often, so they get better because they are starting off already on alert.

  • Ralf

    Black is stylish, it also absorbs any heat there is and heat is all that matters in a winter wetsuit. Orange, sure, I’m dutch so I like orange, has to be the right kind of orange though. Like the deeper orange color, the brighter and/or neon one is for garbage men 😉

  • João Paulo

    tatanka shit

  • jesse guthrie

    wetsuit are for girls

  • constipation

    Yea because I have to make sure I look good in my trendy wetsuit. FUCKING SHIT. You obviously have no idea what surfing is all about or maybe you so blinded by all you quicksilver getup. hope that pretty wetsuit looks good when you bust ass.

  • seldom seen smith

    Oh, and to the editor, the proper spelling is wetsuite.

  • Failing is My finest move

    I have a hurley fusion 302 and that thing looks dope. Grenn, orange, and black.

  • Thom Locke

    I see everyone prefers black wetsuits but I wonder if it attracts sharks to bite more often. You appear to a shark as a seal. That’s their favorite food source. Has research been done in the aspect of surfing?