We're all guilty of putting people and brands into boxes, but sometimes function does trump fashion. (Photo: Nick Pont)
Comfortably Awkward: A Wetsuit Experience
Can you pair a high performance suit with a low performance craft? Absolutely!
I'd driven so far the Spotify playlist had wandered into a place of its own. Five hours northbound to trade Sydney's single-turn rides with sand bottom pointbreaks. My go-to swell forecast app had made a bold call, 'epic' for the entire weekend – enough motivation to push through the aches and pains of the long drive. Plus, the water would be warmer, even if only a degree up from home.
The utility Chilli shortboard was accompanied with a diamond tail quad and a Neal Purchase Duo – the strange design you sometimes catch Chippa throwing around (appearing above). It's no performance board, though Mr Wilson can make it appear so. It was a reasonably rounded quiver, capable of entertaining in most conditions, for me anyway. I'm neither a purist soul archer nor performance warrior. I mean, I can get myself above the lip occasionally, but it doesn't look fantastic. I prefer smooth surfing. Riding a thruster in lifeless surf defines torture to me (and those watching).
Kokomo hits the stereo, the van swings into the carpark. There's nine foot planks, horrendous Chinese mini mals, jazzy looking twins and the individuals you can envisage attached to them. The point is chipping off soft walls, perhaps head height if you’re patient. It’s sunny and well populated.
Admittedly, I prefer the scene over a stacked lineup of carbon mesh, aggressive rails and the latest tech from whatever shaper. However the alt crowd, while passive in nature, can have a judgemental shade. Eyes flick over the Duo as it's unsheathed. A nod of approval from the guy with the resin tint, confusion from the fluoro supergrom's father.
I reach in for the dripping 3/2 full suit I’d worn hours before for a pit-stop rinse. It’s cold, heavy and unappealing. Post Jack O'Neill society's first-world problem. In the back, still in plastic, was a short arm steamer. I’d been neglecting to wear it. Partly because it was still July, but more shallowly, because of its appearance.
The two mil is a vibrant shade of navy, all over. But it's the racing stripes that first freaked me out. The same you’ll see dashed across the upper thighs of John Florence, Julian Wilson and the rest of Hurley’s performance family – a family I feel I didn't belong to. My friends and I prefer to hit incognito mode in the water. Perhaps it's the mediocrity of our abilities. Minimal suits like Axxe, Need Essentials are our usual preferences. Though, this thing felt so incredibly lightweight and the day so warm, it was time to give it a spin.
Hurley and Nike are the best at the tech game, I thought. There's going to be a lot of paddling, so, even if I felt uneasy coupling a high performance wetsuit with low performance board, at least I'll be comfortable. I was right.
The suit's tag boasted of strategically placed seams. No threading under the arms, across the shoulder blades or on the inner leg. The flexibility factor was actually impressive, the 'Exoflex' material of the Advantage Plus was absurdly light.
A few hours later, my wingman was exhausted. I wasn't. At one point I'd even beaten a longboarder in a paddle battle. Was it placebo? Or the transition back from a full suit? I'm not entirely sure, but I felt great wrapped inside. Perhaps it had all been in my head. If function trumped fashion, why should I feel awkward taking highlines in a suit designed for max performance?
Weird thing is I kept catching myself stroking the stripes between waves. They have a gooey quality. I wonder if John would agree?