Gear Guide '22: New Rubbers
It's been a few minutes since I've posted a legitimate review in this blog... and I've discovered some gear that I think is worth sharing. I do the trial and error, you reap the benefits. So the next few blogs I drop will review some new gear. By new I mean purchased within 12 calendar months. Per usual, I won't be killing anyone's products, I'll just be showing you some stuff that I think works well in the Northeast, and for surf traveling in the tropics. I don't receive any kickbacks or discounts from brands or manufacturers, I'm simply trying to save you some hassle by passing on what I learn from my surfing experiences. Let's start with winter wetsuits...
5/4 Rip Curl Hooded Flashbomb - MSRP $500-600. Chest Zip & HeatSeeker Zip-Free. Both of these suit models provide superior warmth and comfort. All Flashbomb series wetsuits are slightly on the heavier side compared to other brands. This little bit of extra weight is due to the inside "flash lining", but it's honestly not enough to make a difference. The comfort provided by Rip Curl's superior inside lining material is unmatched by all other wetsuits on the market. I recommend all Flashbomb wetsuits in the series, without hesitation. The one drawback to both of these suits is the entry system itself. In their chest zip models, Rip Curl utilizes a zipper system that needs to be latched and zipped by the wearer. This connecting point can be difficult in a less-stretchy 5/4 suit, and getting the zipper gears lined up is often a frustrating experience. Which is why I was excited for the zip-free HeatSeeker. But if I'm being totally honest, the HeatSeeker zip-free does get a little flushed if your duck-dive is angled too much... cold water has rippled in on me more than once. But in the end, I still find the Flashbomb to be the best balance between comfort and warmth. I've worn them in the coldest of conditions, way below freezing air temps, and water in the upper 30's. Stock is low on all of the Flashbomb series wetsuits, so don't delay if you're in the market. There might not be any more available before next winter. I believe the zip-free HeatSeekers may already be sold out on the manufacturer website, so check your local surf shop stock or head over to Watersports Outlet for some past year models... they might be 2020 and 2021 suits, but they're brand new.
5/4 Billabong Hooded Furnace Comp - MSRP $500. Chest Zip. I bought this suit because I was so impressed with the Billabong Furnace booties, that I wanted to see if the softness and warmth carried over into their full suits. I actually got mine on sale for $379, so search around before paying the full price on the manufacturer's website (example: CleanlineSurf has an XXL right now for $379). But this suit performs well in harsh winter conditions. I've worn it with air temps in the teens and water in the low 40's. No problems. There is a little bit of leg flushing when I turn and paddle for waves, water ripples in if you plunge your leg too hard, so I'm just more careful to avid that movement, no biggie. I've got skinny legs and ankles, so I wouldn't call this a defect in the suit. But other suits do better with the seal on the arms and legs when it comes to my skinny appendages. The best part about this suit is it feels really soft and buttery, inside and out. The inside "graphene" lining is very comfortable on the skin, dries quickly, and seems to play a role in the wetsuit's warmth characteristics. I only bought this suit to use on sunny days when air and water is above 40, but I've used it in stormy overcast conditions with lots of wind and it's performed admirably. This is a warm suit that is extremely comfortable. It also seems to be in stock on most websites. Pair it with the boots, you'll be soft and warm!
5/4 Rip Curl Hooded Dawn Patrol - MSRP $279. Chest Zip. This is a solid suit at an entry-level price. While the Dawn Patrol doesn't have the newest and best features like Rip Curl's warmest model, the Flashbomb, I still think it works as well as a brand new, top-of-the-line wetsuit did a decade ago. How does it compare to a premium cold-water suit? The Dawn Patrol's hood is thinner, has no "flash lining", with the arms, shoulders, and chest areas covered in just straight E4 neoprene... but this also keeps it a lot more stretchy than other suits. I just got a new hooded Dawn Patrol gifted to me for my birthday, and I've used it in freezing conditions a couple of times without issue. It is in fact NOT built to be as warm as other wetsuit models (it's built to be more stretchy) but it does an admirable job at keeping the cold out due to the compressive nature of the high quality neoprene. There's a little more water getting in through the ankles and wrists, which can be uncomfortable on really cold days, and a heavy wind can penetrate the upper torso causing a chill. Goddamn wind. But the 2021 Dawn Patrol does have flash lining on the chest, back, and thigh panels which makes it a lot more comfortable, and considerably warmer than its competitor's bargain suits. This little flash lining touch, coupled with E5 taping throughout, is what I think makes this suit much more than just a cold morning suit for the pacific coast. This suit works just fine in the Northeast, on the milder winter days. I choose the Dawn Patrol in the winter time when the sun is out, and either the water or air is on the warmer side... which happens often enough to warrant owning this suit model. If I were younger, with a tighter budget, and this was the only winter wetsuit that I could afford, then I'd use it all winter without flinching. So I wouldn't hesitate. If you need bargain rubber from a solid manufacturer, you can't go wrong with a Dawn Patrol from Rip Curl.
4/3 Dakine Hooded Cyclone - MSRP $440. Zip-Free. This suit is so choice. I've had a dozen 4/3's since moving to the Northeast more than a decade ago. I get a lot of usage out of a hooded 4/3 where I live. While cold water persists into March, April, and May the air temps can be quite comfortable, especially in the latter. I try to switch out of my 5/4's as soon as nature will allow it. So a good 4/3 can help make that transition earlier. Also, as things start to get chilly again later in the year, I sometimes take my 4/3 well into December, and even early January and February if air and water is hanging in the mid 40s or higher. So this is an important wetsuit range for my stock and I'm a tough customer when it comes to the models that brands put forth. With that lens and filter, I decided to try a suit line that was relatively new to warm wetsuits, Dakine. And I was not disappointed. This is a high-end wetsuit. From the comfortable inner lining to the stretchy panels with stitching in the right places, everything about this wetsuit is luxury. On top of that, it's super warm and does an incredible job of keeping water out. My hair is usually completely dry when I take off this suit. I think the limestone-based neoprene is just so light and elastic that the suit does an excellent job with compression and suction without feeling like it's squeezing you out. This suit is premium, on the level of Isurus, Xcel, and other limestone-based manufacturers. I can use this suit in milder winter conditions, especially if the sun is out and wind is not blowing. One of the better features on this suit are the ankle and wrist entries, they seal much better than even the premium suits from the major brands. There really isn't any unwarranted flushing in the hooded 4/3 Cyclone. They may be an island image-based company, in Hawaii where the ocean is never under 70 degrees, but Dakine has figured out how to make a kick-ass winter wetsuit that will work in some pretty chilly waters. There seems to be plenty of stock. Go get one.
5mm Billabong Furnace Comp Booties - Split Toe. These boots are only sized in S, M, L, XL and you're going to have to search to find them now. They were actually a suspicious option last year when 5mm size 12 boots were sold out everywhere in all shops and on the internet. So I took a chance on the XL's since Billabong was one of the only wetsuit bootie manufacturer's with supply. I'm so glad that I did. These are my go-to boots for everything outside of the scary cold. They have no hard rubber on them anywhere, no hard rubber sneaker style bottoms, just simple neoprene booties with some textured bottoms for grip. But these boots suction so good, let very little water in, and they are so so soft... it's like walking on clouds (if I had to guess what walking on clouds is like). On top of that, these boots were cheap at under $50. I saw them for $37.99 on Wetsuit Outlet back in October, so I bought two more pairs and threw them in a drawer to last me for the next few years. The manufacturer's website is sold out of the 5mm sizes, but there are some 3mm sizes remaining for $65. I would grab a pair of the 3mm booties for spring, but I just think there are better options at that price point. Besides, if it's warm enough to take the 5mm boots off, then maybe it's just time to man up and go barefoot.
5mm Rip Curl Flashbomb Gloves - MSRP $50. These 5 finger gloves are all I need for the coldest conditions that New England can throw at me. Why use a claw or a mitten style glove when you can have your fingers? I don't get it. You can keep that claw mitten shit for yourself. These are solid gloves for 50 bucks. They'll last 2-3 seasons easy if you don't pull them off by the fingers, like an idiot.
NEXT UP, FINS...