When choosing a wetsuit its fit and tailoring for your body shape is critical. A poor wetsuit that fits your body shape is always going to perform better than a bad fitting high quality wetsuit. So fit is very important. Look for a snugg fit all over your body especially your torso, good length on your arms and legs.
When you try a wetsuit on do a few stretches and squats to see how it follows the contour of your body. If you notice significant room especially on your lower back, in that arch between the top of your bum and your shoulder, then you do not have a good fit. Simply, if your wetsuit doesn't cling closely to your body shape then water will flush in and you will not stay warm.
Another important area to look for good fit is around the neck, where you enter the wetsuit. Obviously you won't want it to choke you but you do need it to be secure as can be to prevent water flushing into your wetsuit when duck diving. There are a variety of neck entry systems that different wetsuit brands will offer, the regular back zip and velcro close over or the front zip offered by Xcel or C-Skins. Most people do need to try on a few wetsuits to get one that fits them perfectly.
There are many different tailoring options on wetsuits. A return to a basic wetsuit design would be the Quiksilver Cell which has loads fewer panels and less seams than a lot of other wetsuits to reduce water intake through the seams. It has also a high level of tailoring with not stitch out of place in the whole wetsuit. Worthy of note, another wetsuit which is also very highly finished is the O'Neill Psycho 2.
Individual wetsuit features
Wetsuit manufacturers try to enhance the experience of surfers by introducing special wetsuit features such as glide-skin material around the neck of the wetsuit to prevent wetsuit rash or chaff without requiring the surfer to put on a rash vest underneath.
Rip Curl introduced the Batwing system a few years back in their wetsuit to keep the surfer extra warm on their most critical part of the body, the torso. This is where the heat is generated and water leakage through the back zip threatens this warmth. So this batwing is an extra layer of thin neoprene that gives extra protection.
How much do you much do you want to spend? There are steamers (also known as fullsuits) on the market to fit all pockets. The brand and thickness of the wetsuit will determine how much it will cost.
Who a brand sponsors will influence your buying decision. Quiksilver for example have sponsored Kelly Slater for the majority of his surfing career and it has been a good relationship for both parties. Quiksilver's dominance in the surf market is largely down to one man, Kelly Slater, who's successful surf career and personal image is so highly marketable to their brand. Australian Brand Billabong has also done extremely well due to the success of home grown talent such as Joel Parkinson. So what surf brand do you want to associate with?