I’d like to call myself a surfer. But I don’t think I can use this moniker honestly. For me to actually go surfing, there are many boxes that need to be ticked. The main contenders are wave size (nothing too big), crowds (the fewer people the better), and warmth. You would think then that late spring, summer and early autumn would be ideal – but not in my neck of the woods. These times of the year mean crowds. And I mean massive crowds. In winter, there are no crowds, and the conditions can be perfect. But it can be cold. Or it certainly was in my very old West 5/4. Something needed to change.
I had read about the needessentials wetsuits online, and I had been lucky enough to speak to real life people who owned a need wetsuit. The common factor was that these suits were warm. Plus they came in at a very reasonable price. My only concern was the fact that it isn’t possible to actually try one on before you buy. I don’t like buying clothes without trying them on, or even feeling the fabric, so I never buy them online. However, as I had been fortunate enough to feel the quality of a couple of wetsuits, so I decided to bite the bullet and take the plunge.
Buying the wetsuit
A quick visit to the user-friendly website showed that there were 4 models for women. Two 4/3s and two 3/2s. Nothing warmer. There was an option for a chest zip or back zip for either thickness. I have not been a fan of the chest zip. I know they’re supposed to be warmer and limit flushing, but with my mainstream brand 3/2 chest zip, I didn’t agree. Plus the zip had just broken. But, I was biting the bullet and plunging, so I opted for the 4/3 chest zip.
The next decision was size. I am a little deluded about my size, and I want to be smaller than I am. My 3/2 is a size 8, so initially I thought that would be the best size to order from needessentials. However, I studied the size chart, which is in centimetres, and decided to go for the size 10, based mainly on the height measurement. That was it. I paid and waited.
The suit arrived, well packaged, and on first inspection it looked good. Really good. Inside and out. I was very pleased to see and feel the windproof back panel which was lined with something that felt fluffy and warm. In my excitement I decided to try it on there and then and check the size. While it’s not the stretchiest of neoprene, there was more than enough stretch to wriggle my way into the suit. The sealed cuffs were tight, but not too tight. The neoprene felt like liquid silk against my skin. So far, so good. Then I got to flipping the zip panel over. Holy moly. I had to have help squeezing my head through the hole, and I’m sure I lost a few cms in height from depressing my neck vertebrae, but when I saw the zip, all this was forgotten. The zip was big, chunky and sewn in such a way that all I had to do was pull it across and pop the popper. No faffing around trying to marry up the two sides. No fumbling with cold fingers. I was in love with the suit, and I wanted to try it out under proper conditions. Even the reverse struggle of getting out of the suit didn’t dampen my enthusiasm.
The stars had aligned and the conditions were my kind of perfect. It was test time. On went the suit. Legs. Arms. Head. Oh my goodness, it was still such a tight squeeze. If this continued, I’d need to see a chiropractor. But it was on, quickly zipped up and I was in the water. I was a surfer for over two glorious hours. No, I was a super warm surfer. This suit was magical. First test massive thumbs up. There was minimal flushing, the neck, wrist and ankle cuffs were all tight, but not restrictive. The neoprene was moving with me – so no issues with stretch, and I was amazingly warm. I only got out because I had spaghetti arms. I was buzzing from the surf, plus I still had feeling in my fingers and toes. Getting changed didn’t seem to be as difficult as my first attempt too, I was on cloud nine.
Disclaimer: this first test was conducted when the sun was shining, and there was barely a puff of wind. The back panel acted as I imagine a solar panel might, enhancing my warmth. For the purposes of getting a more balanced idea of the suit I was glued to the forecast sites.
Test number two was more like it. The sun had taken the day off and there was a very light off shore breeze. It was a family surf today, and normally it’s my son who struggles with his wettie. Today it was me, although it was getting easier to pull the panel over my head. A family surf usually means I splash around with the boy, shouting encouragement and pushing him into waves. It also means I am not on a board but fully immersed in the water, and not always moving about. This is usually when I get cold. Not today. I was amazingly warm still, although the water was a chilly (for me) 14oC and despite two or three small flushing incidents. I only began to get cold when the surfing was over and we were hunting though the rock pools. Possibly a wet wetsuit is not the ideal apparel for such an activity. It did mean though that when it was time to get changed I had limited feeling and mobility in my fingers, but this was not a problem with the chunky, thought through zip.
I can honestly say that, since these two successful tests, I have surfed more these past couple of months than I have in the whole of last year! The suit has become much easier to put on and take off, but without losing any of the sealing around the neck. There have been a couple of sessions where I have experienced a small amount of flushing, but this has been when I have been body surfing, so the water pressure and angles are unusual. Sure, it’s not the stretchiest of suits, but I am certainly not the stretchiest of people, and I figure that the neoprene will last longer too. Another plus point is the colour. Or lack of it. It is entirely black. No fancy coloured ‘slimming’ or ‘shaping’ panels that seem to feature on the majority of women’s suits, and again, I think this adds to the longevity of the suit. If I was the type of person who was bothered about wearing last season’s colours, I would be able to relax with my needessentials suit.
Although I had misgivings about buying a wetsuit online, I am impressed. The quality of the suit, the neoprene, the seams, the warm fluffy fleece lining and the zip are all top notch. The size chart was accurate, certainly regarding height. Another worry was that a 4/3 wetsuit wouldn’t be warm enough, but is certainly is for me. However, it is the price which is the icing on the cake. This, in my humble opinion, is a wetsuit that can hold its own against the top of the range mainstream contenders, plus I have faith in its durability. All this for €195. For me, it is a no brainer. Now, back to scanning those forecasts ...