Survey Says: Your Favorite Wetsuit Brand Has Changed In The Past 365 Days  - Stab Mag

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Survey Says: Your Favorite Wetsuit Brand Has Changed In The Past 365 Days 

We asked 7000 surfers about their favorite wetsuit company. Here’s what they said.

// Aug 21, 2023
Words by Brendan Buckley
Reading Time: 4 minutes

The best wetsuit is no wetsuit. 

But, in 1952, Jack O’Neill identified some flaws in that approach. He was living in San Francisco and decided that shivering was not ideal when wrangling OB’s then-tech-bro-free peaks. So, he started experimenting with everything from oil-treated sweaters to suits made of PVC foam. Eventually, a World War II diving vest inspired a neoprene-based surf suit. 

Was it the world’s first? Perhaps. Hugh Bradner and Bob Meistrell (who founded Body Glove) also claim to have invented the wetsuit. “That’s got to be the longest-standing argument in surfing,” Matt Warshaw once told the LA Times


Seventy-one years later, the brand bearing Jack’s surname remains quite popular. Last year, O’Neill ranked second behind Rip Curl when we asked our audience for their preferred wetsuit brand in Stab’s annual survey. This year, they’re in that number-one spot. 

Let’s dig in.  

The brands 

Last year, Rip Curl pulled 18.17% of the vote, and O’Neill had 18.15%. This year, O’Neill’s at 19.30% and Rip Curl’s at 16.52%. 

Does this signify a monumental shift in surfing’s collective consciousness? Nah. But we can still pull some insights out of it. 

Rip Curl’s team was a bit less visible than usual in 2022. Tyler Wright was dealing with an injury and finished her season ranked 8th. Gabriel Medina only surfed three events. Mick’s staying busy while retired, but he’s not standing on podiums. You might think that none of this matters, but brands spend millions of dollars on it mattering when autumn rolls around and you remember how mangled your three-seasons-old suit is. 

Could the rise of Caity Simmers have added a point or two to O’Neill’s tally? She surged up to second in the survey’s favorite surfer category this year, nipping at the heels of the queen. Could be something there. 

Now, let’s look product. Marquee suits come in the form of Rip Curl’s Flashbomb E7 heatseeker and O’Neill’s Blueprint, which sell at USD $519.99 and $569.95, respectively, for a 3/2. How many people are dropping over five-hundy on a suit? Some, for sure — but that doesn’t typically drive a high percentage of sales. Most brands market their top-tier suits to flex their design capabilities. If/when you buy a more affordable option, you’ll likely choose a brand you believe can create a truly premium product.  

Rigorous testing.

A few more things stick out: 

-With Billabong in 3rd place, it will be interesting to see how things play out with ABG. The wrong licensee deal can nuke an entire wetsuit program. 

-2023 marks Need Essential’s 10-year anniversary. Seeing what they’ve done is impressive, especially when other new-ish brands struggle to cross the 5% threshold. 

-As far as I know, Patagonia is the only brand on this list that has fully shifted away from neoprene. 3.18% is pretty good for an attempt at reinventing a category.  

Lastly, shoutout to the 1% of respondents who said “trunks only for me, dawg.” That’s 70 people who apparently deny wetsuits. 


The features 

Comfort is queen. But what, really, is comfort in a wetsuit? 

True story: I once worked for a brand that made wetsuits. I would sit with the design team and provide copy intended to compel you into pulling out your credit card. It was frustratingly hard to escape three words: warm, flexible, light. Is that not comfort? 

Big picture, when evaluating a suit’s design, I think it’s helpful to look at three things: 

Neoprene (or Yulex, In Patagonia’s case): Different formulas exist, which have different densities. “Lighter” and “warmer” are often opposites. You’ve gotta choose one, or choose to optimize neither and go for an all-around good suit. 

Liners: They matter. A ton. Maybe you love that warm, fluffy, fleece-like feel — you might have a different opinion when you get in the water and your suit becomes thrice as heavy. Beyond warmth and weight, liners can be responsible for the quick-drying properties of your suit and its durability. 

Construction: How many individual panels of material make up the wetsuit, and how are they connected? The designer gets this wrong, you get rashed. Conversely, a good design will prioritize movement (especially paddling). Entry-level suits typically feature big panels that have been flatlock stitched together. In a high-level suit, the size, shape, and arrangement of the panels have been deeply considered by a team of designers. They’re glued together, and stitches are hidden in a construction called GBS (glued and blind stitched). Sometimes, they’re not used at all — Rip Curl offers a suit that’s 95% stitch-free. 

Surf apparel. Photo: Beatriz Ryder/WSL

Harass your local surf shop employee with all of this, if you must. Also, if you find a brand with a size that fits your body perfectly and they decide to change this sizing, you’re allowed to send them hate mail — particularly if they haven’t changed it all and you’ve simply gained weight. Note that it should be written with pen and paper and mailed to the HQ. 

One last interesting point: 3.55% of respondents rated sustainability as their top priority. It’s likely not coincidental that 3.18% chose Patagonia as their preferred brand. It is slightly jarring that less than 4% of us care about such a thing. 

Stay wet?

More 2023 Stab reader survey results: surfboards / wetsuits / swimwear / male surfers / female surfers / travel


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