Winter came early in New England this year. Cold temperatures and a few inches of snow ended any prospect that Fall temperatures might linger for another few weeks. Early season cold fronts interacted with warmer air from the south and as a result, there was plenty of miserable weather to enjoy. The surf was generally up on the east coast. But I missed most of it.
Once the clock moves forward and the days grow shorter I'm not left with many hours of day light to squeeze in a surf session. My fall work schedule is pretty packed starting every week day morning at 6am and ending around 6pm. I drive nearly 2 hours back and forth during that time, so I treat those commutes like "breaks"... or sometimes use them to do conference calls. Even if I did hustle to catch the last 30-60 mins of daylight at my home surf break, I'm usually exhausted by that point, so surfing isn't really on my radar.
I did manage to paddle out three times in November and December, and in one session I scored some fun rides on the Christenson Bandito. There were several days where there was plenty of swell in Nantasket, but the wind just destroyed it. The windows to surf with good wind and tide conditions had to be taken advantage of or you basically missed it. The wind is the real story of the last two months, at least on my beach. While the South Shore is known for being breezy, the wind speeds for this past November and December were well above average which even further minimized my opportunities.
I recently purchased some new rubber for this winter, and I did promise a review... so, I decided to use the blown-out Nov/Dec surf to test some of my new gear against last year's gear. Here's a review from each day with a breakdown of what I wore and how it impacted my surf session.
Surf Time: 7:30am
Air Temp: 42°F
Wind: NNE 10-15mph
Water Temp: 49-51°F
Surf: Semi Bumpy Lines, Waist+
Board: 9'6 Christenson Bandito
What I wore: It was sunny and the air was still above 40°F so I went with a 2018 Rip Curl 3/2 Flashbomb full suit, 2017 3mm Body Glove Trestles Cap, 2019 4mm Needessentials boots, and no gloves. This is a mid to upper-level setup with last year's Rip Curl Flashbomb model. As far as price goes, total cost was around $450.
Review: OK, so I initially did not wear the cap, but after a few waves rolled over my head I got a brain freeze from the wind that wouldn't go away. So I turned around and went back to the car to find some head coverage. The 3/2 Rip Curl Flashbomb was plenty warm for these conditions and I never felt my core getting cold. My arms and legs felt slightly bare, but once I got going, I barley noticed I was in water that was 10° colder than the manufacturer's suggested temperature range. The fuzzy orange lining is top-of-the-line and I think that's its special ingredient for warmth and comfort. It feels so good. The Flashbomb suit is a bit heavier due to the special lining, but in a 3/2 thickness it's basically a moot point. I wore boots for this trial, and I think that also helped me get away with the thinner suit since I wasn't spending energy pumping blood down to my toes to fight off numbness. The sun being out took the edge off of the cold breeze. I probably would have went 3/4 if it was overcast. I honestly did not need the boots, and could have toughed it out, but I wanted to test a new pair of 4mm split toes from Needessentials. I'm stoked I found these booties, they worked excellent. Nearly water tight, easy in and out, no cheap seams or buckles... and the performance... they felt as good as ANY premium 3mm split-toes from the big manufacturers! More about this company in the Dec 15th review below. As for the Flashbomb full suit, the sheer warmth of this Rip Curl wetsuit line made it possible to go with a slimmer than normal thickness... even the most flexible 4/3 on the market isn't as elastic as the most restrictive 3/2. Oh, and that fuzzy inside, did I mention the fuzzy inside?
Surf Time: 3:00pm
Air Temp: 48°F
Wind: SSE 5-10mph
Water Temp: 43-45°F
Surf: Lumpy Bumpy, Knee to Waist+
Board: 6'1 Lost Round It
What I wore: It was a super foggy afternoon and the air was relatively warm... the water? Not so much. So I chose to wear a premium Xcel Drylock set up... 4/3 full suit, 2mm hood and gloves, with 5mm Round-Toe Boots. This is a high dollar set-up for moderately cold water, and it comes at a price tag somewhere around $650 for the fall 2019 lineup.
Review: The waves had cleaned up from head-high and unmanageable to waist-high and playful. I had been watching it all day and was super hard-up to surf. I really, really, really wanted to ride a shortboard because it was long racy lines with a dumpy closeout section at the end... very similar to the breaks in Ft. Lauderdale during longer period north swells. But I knew I was going to have to do some duck-diving and the potential for getting cold was a real threat. First off, this Drylock setup by Xcel is amazing wetsuit technology and it kept me very warm and comfortable during this session. The Drylock model is near-top in every wetsuit category when it comes to judging criteria. Warmth, check. Flexibility, check. Softness, check. It almost does it all. The one area it could improve on is overall weight. While the Xcel Drylock isn't nearly as heavy as it's Rip Curl Flashbomb competitor, it does have just enough mass to put you near the weight limit for riding your everyday shortboards (that have performance dimensions). If the waves aren't totally "easy" this suit might decrease paddle power and alter your weight distribution just enough to keep you from your typical level of ripping on a shortboard. I honestly struggled to find comfortable paddle placement on my 6'1, and the adjustments I made to compensate for being under-gunned impacted my performance in a big way. Once I caught a wave, I was out of sync, like my vehicle was not responding the way I wanted. No flow yo. I felt like I was riding a board made for a 100-pound grommet. So, overall I'd say use this suit and boots with boards that have slightly higher volumes... or spend the time in the water getting acquainted with your new body weight. For me, winter is usually over by the time I've gotten enough sessions in to get used to high performance shortboarding in heavy rubber. So if I'm just about maximizing winter wave-count and having fun on gutless conditions, then I'd choose this wetsuit every time accompanied with a mid-sized sled.
Surf Time: 8:00am
Air Temp: 36°F
Wind: WSW 15-25mph+
Water Temp: 43-45°F
Surf: Bumpy-faced Waist to Chest
Board: 9'6 Christenson Bandito
What I wore: The surfing conditions were terrible with overcast skies, gusty winds, and brrrrrr cold water. But I wanted to test the limits of a budget-level 4/3 set-up, so I decided to go with my new 2019 Needessentials Hooded 4/3 Ultra Premium Thermal full suit with 6mm boots, and 3mm gloves by HyperFlex. The total cost for this cold water set-up was $325. This is an amazing entry-level price!!!
Review: The waves were super sloppy and the wind was blowing so hard I almost got blow away walking from my car to the water. It was straight-up cold out and the wind made it feel worse. There were no waves forecast for the next weekend and nothing looked promising on the long term forecast, so I reasoned that if I didn't surf today, it might be a while before I get another chance. I motivated the venture by purchasing a brand-new 4/3 hooded wetsuit the week before and I really wanted to compare it to the expensive suit I wore the day before (Xcel Drlock). So that's how this session was born. To be honest, there's no way I should have been wearing such a thin suit, but I was only planning to catch a wave or two and then get out. I figured I could get to my car before any hypothermia set in. Right away when I stepped out of the car I could feel the cold wind piercing through the 3mm arms and legs of my suit. But I charged on. The water was warmer than the air and I got some insulation from the outside temperature once I got in the ocean. The 6mm boots were holding steady and the 4/3 full suit immediately suctioned up against me like a compression support band. The rubber was soft and not too heavy. The hood did a decent job of keeping out water as I punched my way through the shorebreak for about 5 minutes. I got to the outside and sat up. I wasn't cold. No brain freeze. Feet and hands were still warm. No shivers in my core. All of this and I was wearing the most inexpensive gear I could find on the internet! So I scratched into a couple of rollers, and despite the pushback from the offshore winds, I managed a decent line for the day on my second ride. As I turned around to paddle back out I realized what a mess these conditions were. There was nobody around. No one was even outside because the weather was just plain old nasty. I probably looked insane... and you'd be right if you meant INSANELY WARM! I'm not kidding. This budget set-up was doing the job and was making me re-think all the money I've spent on wetsuits the past few years. I didn't catch anymore waves. It just really sucked that bad. When I finally got in and took my wetsuit off I found that I was completely dry around my torso and elbows, like bone dry. No water had gotten in. I was in disbelief. How did I just surf for 30 minutes in the worst rainy, windy, sloppy, choppy, cold conditions and not a drop of water made it to the center of my suit? The flexibility of this suit was decent and the weight was better than average too. This suit was right on par with a premuim brand from a major name. The inner lining wasn't orange and fluffy, but comfortable none the less. So if you're in the market for a new suit and boots, at half the price of everyone else, look no further than Needessentials. No branding, no logos, just straight-up quality and functionality. As for the 20 dollar gloves by HyperFlex, they were decent too. A little wide in the wrists, but I was fine for water in the 40's.
I'm hoping to get another surf in Nantasket before the New Year, but I'm not sure mother nature has anything planned for these remaining days. Stay stoked everybody and have a great Holiday! UPDATE: I bought a Snowboard Jacket from Needessentials... the thing is insanely dry and slick looking! Taking it shredding next week in New Hampshire, stay tuned :)
Been in a Riverdales mood for some reason... I locked-in these two throwbacks on repeat last week