Good wetsuits are worth their weight in rubber.
They are comfortable, flexible and pleasingly warm, relative to the water your surfing in.
You'll know when you're on to a good wettie because it'll makes you reconsider pissing in it, for fear of tarnishing its unsullied interior.
A bad wettie on the other hand is restrictive and leaky and probably colourful.
You'll definitely piss in it out of spite.
You'll probably only rinse it off only once every 6 months too, because the sooner it turns to rags the better.
I've sampled* both great and terrible wetsuits over the past 18 or so years since I started surfing, beginning with an O'Neill Hammer that, looking back, was probably the offcuts from a much better wetsuit that'd been picked up off the factory floor and stitched together in some capitalistic attempt to turn a profit no matter what.
And yes, it did have zippers on the ankles in case you were wondering.
But thanks to new innovations in wetsuit technology and man's propensity for not wanting to see their genitals shrink in cold water, there are plenty of quality wetsuits out there for consumers to choose from.
The real issue is trying to find a solidly built wettie that looks kinda cool and doesn't also require you to roll your wheelchair bound grandma for the dough.
So, to shine a bit of light on some excellent rubbers and ensure grandma remains trauma free, here's a breakdown of 4 boutique wetsuit brands that are actually pretty sick.
*Remember, you can read reviews about wetsuits on their makers website until the sea cows come home, but those reviews are heavily moderated. I mean, they're not gonna let some nut air his hate for a wetsuit they're peddling online, right? I've surfed in wetties from NEED and ZION and have friends that own NCHE and Adelio suits. They're all good and worth the money you'll pay for them. You've just gotta figure out if you want a plain looking wettie with all the features or something more environmentally conscious to wear.
1. NEED Essentials
Purchase: Online only
Available: Australia, NZ, Europe and the UK
The premise behind NEED Essentials is simple.
Pared-down wetsuits sourced from the same factories that make wetties for major brands are sold 100% online in order to make the final product more affordable for all.
They also forgo things such as branding, packaging, retail mark ups and costly advertising campaigns, which is the reason why most other wetsuits are expensive.
The result is wetsuits, booties, hoodies, boardies and surfwear that is strikingly monotoned, affordable and yet still good quality.
I currently own a 3/2 chest zip short arm from NEED Essentials, a 4/3 chest zip steamer and a pair of 4 mm above ankle booties. I can attest that they perform flawlessly, if not better than most of the major brands.
All of these items also only cost me €368... yeah, crazy hey?
So far they've survived sketchy rock jumps in Chile, solid beachies in Australia and some super suspect brown water in Peru without fraying, stretching or showing any sign of radioactivity.
Needless to say I'm a massive fan, which is why they're number one on the list.
NEED Essentials wetties are also available for women and children. Check out their site here.
Purchase: Online and in-store
Available: North America, Australasia, Japan, Europe, the Middle East
Adelio is a homegrown wetsuit brand that began on the Central Coast, NSW, Australia, and has since conquered large swaths of the surfing world.
The rapid speed in which they've spread comes down to their unique approach to wetsuit design and construction. That is, one that favours individuality and celebrates the fact every surfer is different.
In this respect they also tap into the lifestyle aspect of surfing to create a movement that's down to earth and decidedly cool.
The guys at Adelio are also big on constantly refining their products to ensure their wetties are always getting better. Things like switching out solvent based laminating glue with new water based glue is just one of the ways they eliminate the need to use harmful and volatile compounds.
Adelio's rubbers also feature high grade limestone neoprene, which reduces their carbon footprint during the manufacturing process. Read more about that here.
Oh, did I mention they're also reasonably priced? A standard 3/2 back zip will cost you around €280. Pretty good value when they look and perform as good as they do if you ask me.
Springies, steamers, vests, booties... it's all there. Check everything out online here for more info about Adelio's products.
3. ZION WETSUITS
Purchase: Online, from stockists in South Africa or from their warehouse in Wollongong, Australia
Available: South Africa and Australia only
ZION have got a bit of a cult following back where I grew up... and for good reason.
Hailing from South Africa, ZION's wetties look cool and can hold their own in nearly all temperatures, including close to zero degree water.
In fact, some of the boys that ride for ZION even took a few rubbers up to Iceland and put them through the ringer in waves so cold even Wim Hof would say, "Fuck that's fresh".
I've only ever surfed in a zipperless short arm 3/2 , which was torture trying to get into when I first purchased it, but unless your a full time contortionist it's never gonna be easy slipping into a wettie sans zipper.
After a few sessions the wetsuits ability to stretch did improve. Unfortunately, about 4 months down the track it became a little too loose and water was began to enter around my neck whenever I took a tumble... which was heaps.
According to their site, ZION can cater to waters from 3°C up to 23°C, although if you're wearing a wettie when the water temp hits that warm I'm going to assume you're from the tropics.
One thing I'm not a sucker for is the price, which is nearly comparable to most major surf brands. Although I do suspect this has got something to do with the fact their wetties and wetsuit accessories are built using environmentally friendly materials.
That, I can get around.
ZION WETSUITS break their wetties up into three categories: Warm, Ice and Cold. If you'd like to see what that means, click here.
Purchase: Online or from their stockists
Shipping to: Australia, Indonesia and Europe
Ok, so NCHE isn't exactly a cheap wetsuit brand, but their rubbers are worth the price tag if you like your quality with a side order of style.
They too are a fan of the minimalist aesthetic, much like NEED Essentials. The only difference being that NCHE doesn't shy away from flashing a little branding here and their, albeit very subtly.
Their wetties are watertight and zipless with a silicone seal on the entry closure. I've found that this makes them lighter and less bulky than zipped suits.
NCHE also utilise a renewable plant based internal lining that's made from charcoal and bamboo. Eat your heart out Patagonia, eh?
That being said, a 3/2 steamer will still cost you €320 when ordering online, which is roughly the same as wetsuits of similar quality with similar design features from major brands such as Ripcurl and Billabong.
But, if we're all good children of the earth, then we're willing to pay a little extra for better construction and the use environmentally friendly materials, right?
Of course we are.
Read more about NCHE's steamers, vests and short arms here.
Reckon there's a wetsuit brand I haven't thought? Want to berate me about how gross pissing in a steamer is? Do you own a wettie from one of these brands and have something to add?
Leave a comment and let me know!