Trying On The World’s Best Neoprene In A Tasmanian Changeroom
Watch: Wintermission—Stab, and SurfStitch’s exhaustive wetsuit field test.
What is it about the colder months, that lends themselves towards vibrantly-coloured swell charts and arrows from favourable wind directions?
While trunks and warm water are generally a surfer’s most preferred combo, a cozy second-skin, and four-to-six feet of crisp groundswell beats a scantily-clad slip into short period windswell, any day of the year.
However, choosing the right neoprene companion to get you through the darker months can be a complicated affair.
Neoprene interior design is a real thing.
What was once a simple market of fluoro and flatlock numbers now involves a myriad of brands with aggressive and opaque names for their bespoke blend of nylon, elastane, poly-whatever.
Second only to a new stick, suits are the most taxed and oft-trashed item on a surfer’s list of hardware requirements.
Of course brands are all going to tell you their suits are the warmest, lightest and most elastic on the market. But what you need is an honest third party to help in your decision making, to make sense of all those tech terms and inform your purchase.
Meet Benny Reed, one third of our surf team and one third of a rock band you might've heard of. Turns out playing guitar and singing for Skegss isn't all that he's about, as you'll see.
Stab and SurfStitch plucked three non brand-loyal surfers from the balmy ponds of Northern New South Wales and Queensland, and flew them someplace cold (by Australian standards), to try ten of the latest in fine neoprene from the world’s best suit tailors – of course, getting a few waves in the process.
Think of it as a snapshot of modern day neoprene. A thorough examination of seams, zips, entry systems, and various materials that’ll keep a human bod at or near to 37 degrees centigrade in cold climates, while still being flexible enough to allow them to get to their feet, or stick a blow-tail, should the opportunity present itself.
Each morning the travel bag emptied like a toy box, spilling neoprene and cold water accessories across the carpark. Our test subjects sifted through, trying to remember what had and hadn't yet been worn.
Our venue? Tasmania’s south east.
Rich in wildlife, untouched forestry, mixed beachies and iconic rock shelfs. Conditions were hardly world class during our four days in Van Diemen’s Land, but there was a wedge, a groovy cave, and various sand stretches open for us to perform our polyamorous rubber studies.
While we sought to find waves that suited the various craft we had on hand, Mitch Crews and his DHD knife wore this back beach wedge best, while Ben's twin and Jack's singles thrived over a more stable canvas. Mr Crews wears the Adelio Connor 3/2.
Who’d we bring?
Well, to get a balance of test subjects we stuck Mitch Crews on a plane from Coolangatta—he had high performance covered. Single fin smooth-operator and Alex Knost's shaper-partner, Jack Lynch, also made the voyage from Byron Bay with high lines and sweeping turns in mind.
Lastly we added a wildcard.Heard of the band Skegss? You should’ve. Ben Reed fronts the three piece, who’ve been traversing their way up the charts for the last handful of years, selling out bigger and bigger gigs as they go. Skegss hold a special place in Stab’s heart (Bassist, Toby Cregan has been a long time Stab family member) and we were keen to have Benny zip himself into a few suits, unleash his Ozzie Wright-esque bag of tricks and give us some honest commentary from outside the industry bubble.
Meet our test subjects: Mitch Crews, Jack Lynch and Skegss frontman, Ben Reed.
Now this ain’t Stab In The Dark; Wintermission’s hardly a controlled experiment or blind test. The boys knew what they were stretching over their heads each morning, and yes, there were long-held biases.
Yes, Benny can surf – and it was refreshing to have a goofy onboard for the study. Ben wears the Billabong Revolution 3/2.
The crew will be the first to admit their lack of acting prowess, which is to say their comments were candid and sincere.
We stuck a lens and microphone on them, while they dressed and undressed, making sense of Furnace Carbon-this and Hyperflex Dry Lock-that.
Nick Green, our local guide and lensman knew how to find his moment. Each session, he'd disappear up a slippery goat trail, into the bushes or lay prone in the damp Tasmanian sand, seeing things that the rest of us couldn't.
You’ll agree: fancy lingo means diddly when things dip below sixteen drips. Either it does its job or it doesn’t.
While Jordy, Dane and Jules were hunting for the world’s most high performance piece of fibreglass, Wintermission’s cast—Mitch Crews, Jack Lynch and Ben Reed —were rating comfort, warmth, stretch, weight, and the ever important Bang For Buck.
The inventory checklist for each shoot: Firewood, esky, Cascade Draught and a boardbag full of the world's best rubber. Mitch wears the Billabong Revolution 3/2.
Everyone values different attributes in a steamer. Maybe it doesn’t get too cold where you live? Maybe you like the cut or feel of Quik’s neoprene, the soft-touch of Billabong’s lining, or you’re a John John apostle who insists on a )( and a pair of stripes when you enter the ocean.
Or, perhaps you’re new to the game, and can’t justify spending the extra dough on bells and high-performance whistles?
Mr Crews negotiates the reverberation and finds an opportunity to test the performance characteristics of the Adelio Connor.
There isn’t a fresh suit that doesn’t have that crisp, inviting feel about it and it was hard not to drool tugging ten spanking new skins out of our transport bag. Each one had that immediately identifiable new steamer smell. They begged to be worn.
However, the fact remains, all suits are created un-equally, and for Wintermission we sought to explore the idiosyncrasies of them all.
Straight out of the 22 degree waters of Byron Bay and into the frigid Southern Ocean, Jack Lynch never complained once of the shivers, a testament to the quality of rubber we had on hand. Jack wears Patagonia's Yulex R2 3.5/3.