12 Must-Have Surfing and Safety Equipment for Panama Waves

When doing watersports like surfing around Panama, it’s crucial to keep yourself safe. You need to have the right equipment that will help you survive the different breaks out there. Whether you’re chilling in Santa Catalina or riding the Silverbacks in Bocas Del Toro, you need to keep safe.

The average surfer only needs a surfboard and a person willing to ride to function. Even then, it’s crucial to have safety equipment like a floating vest, inflatable vest, and a wetsuit. You would also want quad fins for your board, surfing bag, surf wax, and surf leash. You would also want to have personal protection like earplugs and sunscreen too.

If you’re going to run around Panama surfing, invest in the equipment you need. Not only can they give you superior competitive performance, but they also keep you alive.

Surfing Safe In Panama

Panamanian waters are some of the fiercest in the world, depending on where you are. There are many superb reef breaks and natural beach breaks, and many are world-class. Some surf spots, like Silverbacks and Playa Bluff, have some swells that can compete with Hawaii’s biggest.

Securing yourself to safety is vital, considering many of Panama’s breaks are dangerous if you’re not ready. These breaks will have dangerous bottoms, including sharp rocks, gravel, and corals. Seabeds will also have jagged terrain most of the time, which can leave you with cuts.

The biggest danger of surfing, however, is drowning. Many surfers can hit their heads on their boards, or the waves can concuss them with enough force. When this happens, drowning is a real possibility.

Marine animals are also a real danger if you go in deep enough waters in Panama. Sharks are a common sight in the oceans of Panama, together with others like stingray and jellyfish. If you’re not careful, you can get a wipeout and find yourself in the presence of such animals.

With this in mind, having the best surfing equipment can be a matter of life or death. There are 12 crucial types of equipment you need to surf safely in Panama. They are:

  • Surfboard
  • Wetsuit
  • Impact Vests
  • Inflatable Vests with CO2 canisters
  • Surf Boots
  • Surfing Helmet
  • Surf leash
  • Surfing bag
  • Quad Fins
  • Earplugs
  • Sunscreen
  • Surf wax or traction pad

These dozen or so equipment for surfers are must-haves that will help you get out of the water alive and in one piece. Let’s give them a look.

1. Surfboard

The surfboard is an essential part of your surfing equipment. Without it, you’re likely swimming, not surfing! You might think that you can get any surfboard out there, and beginners are ok to do so. If you’re looking to get some competitive edge from your board, you need to watch a few stats.

Many people will focus a lot on the volume of the surfboard. Board volume refers to the weight of the surfboard itself, going lighter as you gain more skill. Beginners start at 100% of their weight inboard volume, while pro surfers go around 35% of their weight.

Volume is not the end-all, be-all of surfboards, however. You want to consider other factors, including your rocker, outline, glassing, and even its rail. These details are valuable if you want to keep the best performance without sacrificing safety.

2. Wetsuit

The wetsuit is another must-have if you’re going out in the ocean and play with big waves. This neoprene garment provides many advantages, including reducing body heat loss. Every type of use has a different wetsuit to fulfill your needs.

When picking a wetsuit, consider the level of thickness that you need. There are two main wetsuit types, which is spring and a full suit. Among these, there are three varying levels of thickness, measured in millimeters. They are:

  • 2mm
  • 3/2mm
  • 4/3mm

For the sizing, the first number refers to the thickness of the body. The second number is the thickness around the limbs. Otherwise, a single number signifies a uniform thickness across the suit.

Other factors to consider for your wetsuit includes the type of material you need. There’s also wearing wetsuit sealed vs. unsealed, and the zipper-type. You will also want to consider if you want it with or without a hood.

An ideal wetsuit uses a liquid taped seal on the seams, using a chest zipper. This will improve the water tightness and give you better flexibility around the back of the suit. Make sure to find a suit with exacting dimensions to your body.

You want a wetsuit that gives you a good balance between flexibility and comfort. It needs to stick to your skin better to keep you warmer for longer, but not too tight. You don’t want your wetsuit to restrict your blood flow, which will have the opposite effect.

3. Impact Vests

This part is where we get a little bit more focused on safety. Impact vests are there to protect you from hard falls and big waves when you’re surfing. This sounds like overkill, but when you’re going over 15 mph (24 km/h), water can be painful.

The surface tension of water when riding big waves can be as hard as a solid floor at certain speeds. By using an impact vest, you reduce the chances of injury. Some impact vests offer some levels of flotation, but you want something comfortable and light instead.

When buying your impact vest, you need to be comfortable with the fit. It needs to be tight on your body to prevent any movement if you experience any crashes. Since you will wear this over your wetsuit, consider the level of flexibility that you will have once you wear both.

With an impact vest, you would also want to consider if you want buoyancy with your vest. Any vest below 50 Newtons (50N) will be thin. It will give you extra freedom of movement when surfing in Panama. If you have a separate inflatable vest, then you don’t need extra buoyancy.

If you’re trying to save money, invest in an impact vest with a buoyancy rating of 50N. It will cost more than a vest with a lower buoyancy rating, but you don’t need to buy a separate inflatable vest.

4. Inflatable Vests with CO2 canisters

Inflatable vests are different from impact vests, which focus more on flotation instead of impact protection. These tend to inflate when you pull a string, similar to the ones in airplanes. With that in mind, you want to make sure that you always keep it full of gas.

When traveling around Panama, keep a couple of extra canisters of carbon dioxide (CO2). These will help inflate the vest and help you float when you need it.

Make sure to check your inflatable vest for any punctures and damages before you surf. Check your carbon dioxide cartridges to make sure that you have enough for the ride. Some models of the inflatable vest can also have an oral inflation tube, in case your carbon dioxide fails.

The ideal inflatable vest is a manually inflate vest, with superb materials quality. It will give you the same flexibility and superior floatation. A proper vest can increase your chances of survival if you hit a three-wave hold-down or even a wipeout.

Note that inflatable vests do not have designs that help them withstand extreme impact. This is the reason that many pro surfers combine their impact vest and their inflatable vest when surfing.

5. Surfing Booties

Surfing booties are crucial equipment if you plan on surfing in Panama. Booties will help keep sharp rocks away from your skin and soles, which can lacerate the skin. It also lets you walk underwater even in gravel, preventing small animals from stinging you.

When it comes to surfing booties, buy the exact size to your feet to keep it snug and avoid flopping. You want to find something thinner if you’re surfing in Panama. We suggest around 3mm (0.118-inch) for summer surfing and 5mm (0.196-inch) for rainy seasons.

Another consideration is if you want to use the traditional round toe booties or the split toe ones. The advantage of a split toe booty comes from the natural feel of your feet. It gives you added comfort without cramping your toes into a tight space.

If you’re looking for extra warmth, round toe booties are the right pick. Because their design is that of a traditional sneaker, the feel is more familiar and you get as much insulation. You also don’t get your toes forced apart, which can be excruciating when the fit isn’t right.

6. Surfing Helmet

Many professionals who retire in Panama swear by the protection that a surfing helmet gives. It doesn’t look too cool, but it offers your head a way to reduce concussions if you wipe out. It can also reduce the chances of getting cuts in your head if you hit your board or the seabed.

Buy surfing helmets that have colors that stand out, especially for emergency rescue purposes. Find one with reflective stickers to help rescuers find you underwater. Make sure you have nothing but a perfect fit.

You would also want to make sure that you buy surfing specific helmets. Many surfers use helmets not designed for use in water, which can have a problem in materials. You want superior drainage and water-resistant construction on the product itself.

The construction should provide superior impact protection, spreading the force around the shell. Inside, you want it to be comfortable, using foam liners or special materials. These should have a design that allows for superior shock absorption at its core.

7. Surf Leash

One of the most important pieces of your surf equipment is your surf leash. The leash tethers you to your surfboard, preventing the board from going away. This surf leash will also let you ride your board on your way back to the beach.

A standard rule of thumb for the surf leash is to be as long as the board itself. If you have a 6-foot (1.83 m), the leash needs to be the same length. You also need to consider the construction of your entire surfboard leash.

Some surfers also want to round up by at least one foot (30.48 cm) if it’s available. Why? This technique allows them to be as far away as possible from the board in a wipeout. The problem is that this increases your board’s kill radius, making it a danger to other surfers.

For example, you want your leash to have a double wrap-around, preferably strong Velcro. This setup makes it easy to remove but still keep a secure fit around your ankle. You also want a swivel feature at the attachment point, between the cuff and cord. This feature prevents any tangles from forming.

Consider the attachment point that is comfortable for you too. Ankle leashes are the most common and are the most comfortable options. The con comes from having it too low, which gives the leash a higher chance of entanglement.

Calf and knee attachments, on the other hand, allow for far less entanglement. Their higher profile makes the surfer more wary of its location around the board. The problem is that it can hinder mobility to some people, especially because the knee is a crucial joint.

8. Surfing Bag

The surfing bag is a no muss, no fuss way to carry your board around. While it’s cool to hand carry your board, this is not feasible all the time. You would also want to carry your entire gear without too many trips back to your car.

Invest in the quality of your surf bag. A good surfing bag can cost you upwards to $600 if you’re looking to be competitive. Even then, this will last you for quite a while, so it should be worth it.

9. Surfing Fins

Finding the right surfing fins is crucial in improving your speed and maneuverability in the water. There are at least six fin configurations, with the 3-fin being the most common. You want to take into account the different styles and fin dimensions for your needs.

When picking your fins, consider what you value more. The single fin setup is the most traditional setup but offers a limited turning radius. This is ideal if you surf straight and fast, giving you more stability but less mobility.

The twin fin will make your board more maneuverable but are better for shortboards. They will feel skatey, which is not an ideal choice if you plan on riding a big wave. They will give you longer turns, which can be a problem on short rides.

The tri-fin is the newest common configuration across different surfers. The fins have a toe-in, offering better performance from the added stability and control. They are perfect for beginners to pros, creating a superb middle ground.

Quad fins are a great setup, giving you extra speed when surfing. The quad fin can get more lift and faster speed with the lack of middle fin. It’s unbeatable for those big swells and drive-through turns.

Five fin configs are not there to make you surf with five fins. These surfboards give you the freedom to swap around different configurations. It can help you figure out what is the right type of configuration that works for your skill level.

10. Earplugs

When you stay in water for too long, the cold can start affecting the inside of your ear. Low temperatures can make your ear canal develop bony growths called exostosis. This condition is the surfer’s ear, and it can be a problem.

This is why if you’re trying to do a lot of surfing in Panama, invest in good quality earplugs. It will keep the water away from your ears and reducing the drops in temperature for your canal. The issue can start at the mid-30s to late 40s, so it can be a problem if you don’t use earplugs.

11. Sunscreen

You’ll be spending an inordinate amount of time on the beach, so you’ll likely be under the sun for hours on end. If this is the case, make sure to always bring sunscreen with you. Skin protection can prevent sunburns and reduce the chances of skin cancer.

Pick a sunscreen with the right SPF. SPF 30 blocks around 97% of UVB rays for two hours, so this is ideal. Going higher than SPF 30 will give you diminishing returns.

12. Surfboard Wax

Last but not least is the surf wax. If your surfboard doesn’t have traction pads, surfboard wax can reduce any slippage. It adds texture to your board, letting it adhere to your soles or booties better.

Surfboard wax is ultra-cheap; you can buy it anywhere. It doesn’t have to be anything special, but you need to rub it with methodical precision.


If you plan on going out and surf around Panama, safety is the top priority. Making sure you have the right surfing and safety equipment can help you conquer the waves in the isthmus. It’s only a matter of knowing what to bring.

When going around in Panama, bring all your essentials. Choosing the right surfboard, surf wax, wetsuit, and even sunscreen can be the difference. They’re the thin line between you and a watery grave, so be ready.

Matt Romero

I’m Matthew Romero, one of the guys behind PanamaLifeInsider.com I am incredibly passionate about Panama, its beautiful territory, and all the incredible opportunities which offer to people coming here from all over the world both either visiting and settling. In this blog, I decided to share my passion with you!

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