Summer is here (almost!) and it’s time to hit the water. Whether you’re surfing, skiing or hanging out on the tube, you want to make sure you’ve got SOME kind of floatation vest if you’re behind the boat.
Water wings and inflatable unicorns don’t count! By law in Canada, you need to carry a Canadian Coast Guard Approved PFD in your boat, but don’t necessarily need to be wearing it. This is where the comp vest comes in. Designed with max comfort and style in mind, the comp (or wake) vest is a great way to give yourself some floatation behind the boat if you choose to not wear a PFD.
This is a good time to talk about swimming ability and comfort in the water.
A comp vest does not take the place of an approved PFD - they’re built completely differently for different purposes. PFD’s have more floatation in the front than the back, so they may assist in rolling you over in the water. A comp vest will not do this - if you’re on your back, you’ll stay on your back. If you’re face down, you’ll likely stay face down. If you can’t swim (well or at all), aren’t comfortable in the water, or don’t have a good crew of spotters, you should not be wearing a comp vest. A PFD is a much better (and safer) choice.
However, many people DO choose to wear comp vests for surfing, skiing, etc, if they’re comfortable in the water. Comp vests come in a ton of styles, sizes and colours - there’s bound to be one that appeals to you! The key (beyond a great look) is for it to fit properly.
One of the main benefits to a comp vest is the stretchy material they’re made from - this allows you to have lots of mobility when you’re riding or skiing.
Because the vest stretches SO much, you want to make sure you choose a size that is snug when you try it on before hitting the water. When it’s dry, the zipper shouldn’t quite meet - you should have to pull it together to get it to zip. If the zipper touches without pulling it together and it zips up very easily, it’s probably one size too big. Most people are used to the bulkier tight fit of a PFD, so sometimes opt to go with a “comfortable” fit. The downside to this is the vest will stretch out quite a bit once it’s wet and will either ride up around your shoulders, or possibly even pop off over your head if there’s enough give! Obviously not cool when you bail off your surfer in the middle of a busy lake and your comp vest flies off!
Once you’ve picked a vest off the rack that you like the look of, try it on and check out how it fits in these areas:
Length - this is a personal preference. Vests are now fitting a bit longer so you can wear them comfortably with board shorts or a bikini, as well as over a wetsuit. Usually they’ll be a bit longer in the front and back and curve up over your hips. Again, look for a snug fit around the waist. Too loose and it will roll up.
Arm Openings - this is important for slalom skiers and wakeboarders - you want to have lots of movement up and down, as well as side to side to hold the handle properly. You may even want to try it with a handle to make sure you’ve got enough movement.
Chest/Shoulder Comfort - this is where some people want to go for a bigger size. You may not be used to feeling something so snug across your chest and shoulders, but trust me, you want it “almost” tight. Especially through the shoulders, there shouldn’t be any big spaces. Your ski buddy should NOT be able to lift it like they’re giving you a wedgie. If it lifts that much, it’s too big!
Special considerations for ladies!
FINALLY, wake and ski companies have realized that we don’t want shorty short comp vests and they’re building them longer and more comfortable for a women’s unique shape. This includes a bit more room through the chest/bust, and more stretch through the hips. Depending on your size and shape, you may also want to check out the guys’ vests - so many great options for style and fit there too.
While we’re on the topic of style, I want to point out that people USED to hang on to their lifejackets for years! I’m amazed at some of the antiques (or should I say retro?) vests that come out of the front of the boat. However, vests are now more of an accessory - you can have 1, 2, or 5 in your water wardrobe! They’re easy to store since they’re so much lower profile than their predecessors. They’re an affordable way to change up your style year-to-year, and come in a huge selection of patterns, materials and sizes. Whether you channel your inner “business in the front, party in the back” Garth Algar, or you prefer the classic monotone look, there will be a comp vest that’s perfect for you in style, size and fit!
Come down and let our experienced staff help you find the right vest for you this season!