Nate Tyler and the art of air. Photo: Perry Gershkow
Check Out This Bay Area-Born, Japanese-Made Neoprene
Don't call it a start-up, Feral wetsuits are making low-pro, hi-tech, 100% Yamamoto steamers at a reasonable price.
In the Age of Direct-To-Consumer, digital accessibility has opened up the surf market to small upstart brands, able to fund and execute their own Social media campaigns, drive eyeballs to their ware, etc.
While softgood brands slinging graphic tees and heritage menswear might not have gotten their hooks as deep in the hard-to-please core surf consumers as they'd like—surfers becoming culturally less and less label whores each year—hardgood brands like Need Essentials, True, and now Bay Area fledgling neoprene venture, Feral have grabbed surfer's attention with their minimalist, utilitarian, fair-priced approach.
According to Feral, the goal's to "offer an honest wetsuit at an honest price to every surfer, anywhere. We can provide wetsuits of unmatched quality and value because we do away with expensive retail markups by selling our wetsuits directly to you. We don’t have a pro surf team or slick marketing agency to pay. We’re just two surfers making the kind of wetsuits we’d always wanted to buy."
While they don't have a pro team, we'd seen everyone from Trevor Gordon to Oliver Kurtz to Dane Reynolds rocking early models as the brand was launching, surfers without mainstream wetsuit sponsors who wanted to try out some quality product that wouldn't conflict with their sponsors.
"Trevor is the only guy who really "rides" for us," Feral co-founder Alex Salz says. "Mitch [Coleborne] and Nate just really like them, and Volcom is cool with us giving them suits; I printed some Volcom logos on some of them to keep them happy."
Mitch Coleborne rocking a Feral Suit somewhere in California last year. According to the brand, the suits are 100 percent #39 Yamamoto Japanese rubber — the highest grade neoprene available. It’s not just water impermeable; it’s also light, warm, flexible, and durable."
Started in 2015, Alex and Buzz have busied themselves the last two years improving the suits' durability, flexibility, etc, while drawing in customers with a transparent, no-bullshit approach to their process, materials, etc. The suits feature a seven-panel construction, almost half the number of seams and neoprene cuts of the standard suit. The seams are glued and blindstitched, then taped in high-stress areas with Yamamoto SCS tape, 0.5-mm neoprene tape with a smooth, gold finish.
They're even transparent about why they use Limestone-based neoprene, oft lauded as an environmentally friendly alternative to standard, petroleum based rubber, which it's argued requires just as much environmentally taxing processes converting the limestone into quality neoprene as it would to just make the damn thing out of good, old-fashion evil neoprene. However, Limestone rubber is often considered a more durable alternative, as well.
According to Feral, "How much less environmental impact limestone-based rubber has over petroleum-based rubber is still unclear, but a longer-lasting wetsuit is good for your bank account and carbon footprint alike."
And goddamn the suits are warm, snug, flattering and lovely. Light? As a feather. Soft? Buttery. Flexible? Like wearing nothing at all. Without any supplemental fuzzy fleece, the simple, 100% neoprene construction was as warm and soft on the skin as any soggy, fleece-lined steamer I've worn, and they're significantly lighter when wet.
"Yeah, [fuzzy linings] keep you warmer, especially if you’re wearing a low-grade-rubber wetsuit. But a 0.5-mm-thick lining adds the equivalent warmth of a 0.1-mm-thick layer of neoprene, with substantial additional weight. And most are made of polypropylene, which traps and absorbs a bunch of water."
At a time when the small biz is making a comeback in a big way, you can read more about Alex and Buzz's approach, here.
"My high school buddy, Buzz and I literally do every damn thing ourselves," Alex says. "Product design, website design, shipping, customer service, marketing, taxes, financial stuff, etc. And we do it without one day spent working in the surf industry."
Santa Barbara's Trevor Gordon feeling warm in California's bright and oft bitter-cold North. Photo by Miles Jackler.