There is a boom in the amount of wetsuit designers and companies out there, it’s a minefield. Gone are the days of 3 or 4 brands to choose from. Everyone has their angle and their ‘features’ and cut. It seems as if there’s a lot more to making a wetsuit than there once was. Or is there?
We thought it time to wade into this newly spawned collective and try to pick apart the nuts and bolts of it. Instead of approaching a well known brand with tons of cash to throw around on ads and sponsored riders we chose a wetsuit brand that we had heard of but not heard of. I will explain.
In a previous life it was not unknown for me to be surfing in the same place as all types of other ‘water dwellers’, spongers, SUP’ers (nothing against either) among those. I noticed there seemed to be identifying brand wetsuits with the aforementioned ‘dwellers’. One of these was ION wetsuits. They seemed to be on the outside of every sponger I met, I kind of thought (wrongly as it turned out) that they made ‘special’ sponger wetsuits. It’s one of those things that just sticks in your mind, so I linked the two.
Fast forward to 3 or 4 months ago and I was meeting a fellow stand up surfer for a wave, I had not clapped eyes on him for about 5 years and he rocked up in this ‘seaweed’ coloured full suit. It looked pretty different, the cut, the way it fitted, enough to make me take notice. It was an ION. I asked him about it and he told me it was the best wetsuit he had ever owned. Either ION had changed things up or they were not just for spongers after all.
After the surf, I had a chance to check the suit out (waiting until he had taken it off) and was pretty surprised at what I saw. I vowed to look into it and contacted the guys at ION. One of the most stoked and nicest humans on the planet (it turns out) is in charge of their wetsuit division in Europe. Bastian is a bit of a river wave legend and is more stoked on lumps of moving water than I can ever remember being, and that is saying something.
To chop this story into a more digestible form, we snagged a wetsuit to test for you guys. With a certain fanfare I give you a full and detailed review of the ION Oynx 4/3 from 2108 in seaweed green.
ION was conceived in 2004 for the wind/kite-surfing market, and since then they have endeavoured to adapt, change and evolve into the multi sport brand they are today. It seemed inevitable then that their wetsuits would end up at the door of the surf community.
They have drawn from their vast experience in all manner of watersports, and all that I have found out about ION, including the way they approach a problem, has given me no reason to believe they could not produce a wetsuit that would be up there with the other ‘established’ brands of the surf specific world.
This, as far as I can tell, is a tale of an ‘underdog’, a new contender who might, just might, give some of the leading brands a run for their money. The proof of the pudding is in the eating as they say, so let’s get down to the nuts and bolts of it.
When the product arrived it came in a hard carton package that looked as though it had been thought about. There was no way thing thing was going to get damaged, ripped or pulled out of shape. A nice touch. There were the usual swing tags attached advertising the ‘features’ that I will get to later.
The colour is a hard one to explain. I would say if you were underwater in a bed of kelp it would be hard to spot you, and maybe that’s the idea. Stealth. There are not a lot of wetties in this colour and I immediately dug (from the verb ‘to dig’) it.
The neoprene felt as good quality, but not silky or smooth, as you might get from a leading Rip Curl suit, there was almost a ‘roughness’ to it which was kind of curious.
The cut of the panels was also very different with some extra pieces of neoprene around the knee and extra stitching there. All the seams are blind-stitched and taped on the inside and there was… no zip. A head entry suit with no zip. While I know they have been around for a while this was to be a first for me testing. I have tried them on in shops but not actually purchased one or even worn one in the water as have been sceptical about them working. After all, what’s wrong with a good old fashioned zip?
There is also no ‘wind-stopping’ material on the chest or the back panel and in the windy country of Portugal I thought this might be an issue for a 4/3. There is some kind of insulating red coloured lining on the inside around the chest and back area that looks like it might boost warmth.
From a completely aesthetic perspective, the logos and feature graphics on the outside are a credit, they are subtle and many but blend into the outside of the suit perfectly. From a distance it looks like a plain suit.
The Features (of which there are a few)
We are not really massive fans of this sort of twaddle here at the Bunker. Simple is good and the time it takes to think up silly names for things just could be better spent on improving the end product. That said, if the ‘feature’ works, has a place in the product and improves something about the suit it deserves to be mentioned.
The Ninja Knee is an extra section of super stretch neoprene that has been added over each knee. The idea is to give extra flex when you bend you legs via the knee joint providing more free feeling.
Aqua Q is a solvent free lamination glue which is used in the joining and taping of the seams. A nice eco touch.
Actifresh Anti Smell Sanitized treatment is a product that covers the suit and claims to keep the suit fresh smelling (looking forward to testing this aspect as I am a smelly human).
Replaceable Draw Cord is what it sounds like, the small string fastener that draws the heat entry ‘envelope’ closed can be replaced, instructions are provided.
Hotstuff lining over the chest, back and leg area is designed to retain warmth while keeping flex at an optimum.
There they are, now as I said we don’t go in for these so much but thought it would be cool to feedback on how and if they made any difference to my surfing and how the suit performed.
Testing – Day One
A few things about my physique that might help to keep a perspective on my feedback and decide how relevant it is for you. We are all built a little differently and some of my issues or hangups may not effect you. I am a wide shouldered, hairy, big footed, shovel handed, smelly person. I don’t really feel the cold as much as most and I don’t look after my wetsuits at all. I have not washed a wetsuit out in about two years and don’t intend to start now. With that in mind, I was looking forward to testing the anti smell feature!
The first day of testing came, and having a relatively wave starved winter and spring, I found myself a little over ‘fighting weight’ and having to squeeze a little bit into the suit. It was an overcast day and the wind was a brisk off-shore and being honest I did not get that ‘snug’ feeling I normally get putting on a suit. I was having doubts about the warmth already.
The wrist and ankle cuffs were a lot tighter than normal which can a problem in some suits as I have large hands and feet, getting them threaded in can be time consuming and leave you becoming cold and frustrated. However, the ONYX slipped on without problem while still being very tight, this was pretty cool and something I can happily say I enjoyed. The neck was super tight but again easy to get on and not so tight that you felt choked. The reason, I discovered, is the cut of the suit and the addition of some extra liquid seams. Very impressive and for someone with large plates of meat (feet) a real plus.
The zipperless head entry system felt very tight when I pulled it over, I felt like it might tear or rip, you know when you close your eyes and just pray. I also could not work out how it would keep the water out. Again I had my reservations. Time to get in the water.
Amazingly, and much to my relieved surprise, there was no flushing at all getting in the water, the suit felt flexible and stretchy, to be honest, I just had an awesome surf and almost forgot I was supposed to be testing and taking notice. I did say almost, the one feature of this suit that stood out from the moment I stood up on my first wave. The Ninja Knee thing. Yes, yes and a whole load more yes. How had someone not thought of this before? It’s hard to explain exactly the whats and hows but it makes you (mainly when popping up) feel so much more… free. The feeling is like being released and uninhibited. I was not expecting it to make a difference and some of you out there will be calling me out I am sure, but to them I say ‘try it’, you will see what I mean.
The warmth I would say was middle of the road, if I sat for a bit I could feel the chill beginning to seep in. Suspicions confirmed so far. I also decided that I would test the ‘no smell’ thing to the max and remembered to relieve myself in the suit before getting out. Don’t say we don’t go the extra mile for you guys.
Ongoing testing for two months
I have now been testing the suit for just over two months, it has been my go to suit and with a couple of exceptions I have used it everyday.
The head entry has held strong, it has not flushed once and I havee just forgotten all about the Ninja Knee thing, as I’ve got used to it. One day as it was a double surf day, I pulled one my other suits out to use for the second session, pulled it on (this is my favourite suit of all time) and noticed something was weird. It felt tight… over the knees. Weird, like I was wearing a kind of ‘knee corset’. I had got used to that ninja thing alright. Really amazing.
The suit was not the warmest, if the wind blew I got cold and I’m not sure of the effectiveness of the ‘Hotstuff’ lining. Maybe this needs some work or the addition of the wind-stopper material. It remained flexible though and the cuffs and neck remained tight.
The most interesting thing I can say is the smell of the suit. I can ‘hand on my heart’ say to you that it smells like new. Like new. I have not washed it once and take my ‘conveniences’ in it whenever possible. Like new. I kid you not.
Things I Liked
Ninja Knee – it worked and it’s hard to explain how, you will just have to try it. If you have ever put a ‘surgical stocking on your knee for any length of time and then taken it off and felt freedom, that’s the closest I can get.
Anti Smell – Simply astounding, no smell at all and that was tested to the max.
Cuffs and neck seals – These are great, the cut of the neoprene and added liquid seams in just right places makes for a sturdy feel without being a pain to get on and off.
Aesthetics – It is an awesome looking suit, subtle and different without being ‘in your face’.
Key storage – firstly it has one and it’s up by the chest entry utilising the old loop and tuck in pocket. I was dubious about this at first but the ‘minimalist’ approach to this important feature works really well.
Things I didn’t like
The warmth – it is not a warm suit for a 4/3, there are no two ways about it. I would put it in the range of a good 3/2, maybe a bit warmer.
The Flex – while this is not strictly a dislike as the suit is stretchy, you can’t help thinking that the extra flexible parts of the suit will (as they do in all ultra flex suits) after time not flex back. This would effect the knees and the head entry system.
Coming in at a cool 319 euros for the ION OYNX 4/3 zipperless head entry, I feel its a little on the expensive side. There are good suits out there for cheaper, but they don’t have the cool and worthy features of this suit though. A tough one and depends what you want out of a suit.
As I have said, I have had no issues at all with this suit as far as durability is concerned. I will keep you guys updated on this and let you know how the suit does with age but after two months of treating terribly it is holding up well.
Uuugghhaa, so with a virtual clearing of the throat our opinion is that for a relative newcomer to the land of surf this suit benefits from a different take on the wetsuit performance. The guys and girls at ION should be proud of the things they have done. They have thrown the dice and come up with a winner in some respects and slightly missing the score on others.
If anything is not in doubt it’s the ingenuity and daring of the design features that impressed us the most. Will they stand the test of time? We can only wait and see.
If we were one of the big boys of the surf world, one of the cornerstones of the old wetsuit market (naming no names) we would be sitting up and taking notice, maybe looking over our shoulder as the ION brand get closer.
Truth be told we had not expected the suit to be this good. They have some issues to work out but when they do… Watch out.
Company: ION Wetsuits
Product: ONYX amp 4/3 zipless head entry
Price : 319 euros
Score : 7.5 / 10
Editiors Note: Bastian and friends at ION got in touch recently to say that their 2019 suit will be coming out in August and it looks like the OYNX will be getting a few upgrades. One of which is the ‘Hot_stuff’ lining wil be replaced by the 'Hot_stuff_2' lining which apparently will make the suit warmer, also the neoprene will be made more flexible and softer feeling. Maybe the big brands should start being worried right about… now.