He may be riding on banana peels, but Clay Pollioni ain't slippin'. Photo: Dan Przygocki
What Are Those!
An honest review of Solite's heat-molded surf booties.
Several weeks ago a video was satirically posted on Stab, featuring this writer’s attempts at surfing the extensively-covered and oft-ridiculed Winter Storm Riley on America’s East Coast. While the comments were deservingly rude and flew in from a variety of angles (roasting my GoPro, criticizing Stab’s over-publicization of the swell, and questioning why I didn’t ride my beloved Holy Grail), I found the criticisms of my banana-plated boots to be the most deserving of the bunch. After all, who wears yellow fucking boots?
A little backstory.
Two days before leaving for New Jersey, I told Tyler Callaway, a fellow UCSD Surf Team coach and 30-year surf industry cat, that I was heading home for the swell of the decade. As it turned out, Tyler has been working with a guy named Jamie Meiselman to create a heat-molded bootie tech for couple years now, and he insisted I take a pair of his Solite 6 mils along for the ride.
The only caveat? They were bright fucking yellow.
“I know they’re a little funny looking, but Jamie really wanted them to stand out,” Tyler explained. “You know, to create some chatter.”
Which, as evidenced by our comment thread, they did ultimately achieve.
As the reader has smartly deduced, I agreed to try the boots, which through their heat-molding tech promised incomparable connection and feel, plus a complete departure from the dreaded “bootie roll”, which occurs when a piece of neoprene catches the surfboard on a pop-up, resulting in the rubber bending in half under the surfers toes. For those who haven’t experienced, this is not a favorable feeling.
Before I knew it Tyler’s tea kettle was whistling and a pot of boiling water was being poured into the banana-skin boots. After waiting five minutes for the rubber to get nice and gooey, he hit them with a quick shot of tap water (so I wouldn’t burn my precious pegs), gave me a pair of the Solite bootie socks, and had me slip my feet into the neoprene. I spent the next 10 minutes walking around his apartment in the booties, allowing them to conform to the shape of my feet.
And just like that, I had my own pair of personalized wetsuit boots.
As you know, I brought these banana peels on my East Coast adventure and put them to the test in frigid, mostly tubing conditions. My experience led me to the following conclusions about Solite’s heat-molded booties.
Heel-to-toe, they hug my foot better than anything I’ve used before, especially for 6 mil boots.
I found them a little too wide for my bony, high-arching feet, and the air cavities that created were not ideal. I also heard similar complaints from other surfers with slender leg-ends. (When I mentioned this to Tyler Callaway, he informed me that Solite would work on developing a tighter version for those of us with dainty feet.)
Grip-wise, they’re comparable to any other boots on the market, which is to say highly satisfactory.
Once back in California, I tried a pair of 3 mil Solite boots which had an additional strap across the top to increase tightness, and as an added bonus they were all black. Width-wise, these fit me much better than than the banana peels and felt very natural when surfing in small conditions, which is when you’re most likely to notice the negative aspects of a boot. While they weren’t quite as flexible as my Xcel ninja booties (aka poured rubber with no separate sole), the Solites hugged my piggies like prized Vienna sausages and what a wonderful feeling that was.
All in all, were they just a little more snug around the bottom and sides, and had they a just teensy bit more flexibility, Solite’s heat-molded booties would be just about ideal. And while the current product is very very good, I feel that future versions of this tech will change the game of cold water surfing.
But you don’t have to just take it from me.
Beyond the plethora of New Jersey pros who have been using the product for years (Jamie Meiselman is from NJ and has used the state’s premier surfers as his beta testers), Peter Mel, WSL commentator and Big Wave Tour competitor, recently tested the Solite boots and liked them so much that he employed them in the most recent BWT event at Nazaré.
Solite’s highest profile endorsement came from King Kelly, who, when visiting New Jersey for a frigid swell last October donned a pair of bright red prototypes, in which he secured the wave of the day.
And as you may have noticed, Body Glove rolled out some Cardi B-inspired red bottom boots last season, which were worn by all BG team members and presumably enjoyed. Body Glove produces these boots re: a licensing agreement with Solite, who smartly secured a patent on their heat-mold tech.
Callaway and Meiselman have been working to license their product to all the world’s major wetsuit-makers but have faced the difficulties of any small company coming up against the surf industrial complex. If their product is truly reolutionary, which I’m inclined to believe it is, Solite’s heat-molded booties will inevitably find their feet in the global surfing marketplace.
If you consider yourself an early adopter, get yours here.