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Wetsuit Wisdom: BUY the Ho Stevie!


bought this fluorescent gem with lawn mowing money
Accidental Selfie, North Jetty, Fort Pierce, circa 1986

Full suit season is upon us in east central Florida. Ocean temperatures are barely hanging on to the 70's, and there's a nip to the air as the cold fronts lineup and push through the area. I recently experienced 45 degrees the other morning, and I've worn a hoodie to ride my bike multiple times. There hasn't been amazing surf lately, just a few sneaky sessions here and there, a bunch of wind, and overcast skies. But you could easily justify wearing 2 or 3 millimeters of rubber right now, depending on your threshold for what feels cold.


X,Y,Z  Nantasket Beach
25 degrees and sunny in a 5mm, hood, boots, & gloves

By the end of January the water temperatures will drop into the lower 60's here. That's not cold enough for me to wear anything more than a 3/2 in my neighborhood, but some guys to the north wear thicker suits for water in the mid 50's, sometimes even electing to wear boots, hoods, and gloves. In Florida? Really?? That's sounds like crazy talk. Hahaha. Coming from where I've been the past dozen winters, everything here is going to feel like summer!


But I wanted to share some insight about wetsuits as we approach the cold season. If you've ever felt overwhelmed by the seemingly endless options on the market, I'm here to shed some light on the truth about this industry... which is modern wetsuits are more alike than you think, and you really don't have to worry about the brand name. But before I go any farther, it's important that you know some ugly truths about modern wetsuit manufacturing.


JUST THE FACTS MAN...

  • All big brand wetsuits are designed by their branding company, but they're all manufactured overseas using the same materials from the same companies.

  • Small and locally branded wetsuits are also manufactured overseas using those same exact materials, from those same few companies.

  • Sheico and Yamamoto are two larger companies that develop and manufacture the rubbery foam used to make nearly all modern surfing wetsuits, by all the brands.

  • The rubber foam used to make most wetsuits is either petroleum-based or limestone-based, with the latter being more stretchy and more expensive.

  • The Yamamoto company pioneered the use of limestone-based rubbers in watersports, but the Sheico company now also sources limestone foams.

  • Sheico wetsuit factories dominate the industry from a building perspective, but some larger brands like Rip Curl have their own wetsuit building factory (RC is still using Sheico rubbers as source materials). So basically Sheico will sell you the materials, or do the manufacturing, or both.

  • Not all limestone-based wetsuit materials are the same quality and stretch, but manufacturers don't tell you this. They just use the buzz words "limestone" "yamamoto" and "eco freindly" for marketing. For example Yamamoto has several proprietary formulas featuring subtly different characteristics in softness and stretch (#39, #40, #45).

  • Some limestone wetsuits may be stretchier, but the envirnomentally friendly part is debateable. Like petroleum, limestone is a finite resource, and to make wetsuits it needs to be processed... heated in furnaces to make Chlorophene, the main material in a wetsuit

  • Chloroprene in higher concentrations is a known carcinogen, and while the amounts are small in an actual wetsuit (having no impact on a surfer wearing one), one particular facility that MANUFACTURES Chloroprene may have in fact been contribnuting to higher cancer levels within that community. See The Big Sea documentary. All the wetsuit manufacturers know about the potential dangers of Chloroprene but it's unclear what responsibilty they're taking. What is clear is that they all seem to be saying they're moving away from this harmful chemical and more towards plant-based rubbers that have no health risks. Chloroprene is listed in Prop 65 in CA, as a dangerous chemical.

  • Yulex is a company in the USA that makes rubber foams from a plant-based formula sourced from trees. There is no Chloroprene. Yulex is used by Patagonia but the suits are still manufactured overseas by Sheico. Yulex wetsuits represent 3% or less of the market.


JUST MY OPINION MAN...

  • Wetsuits that are stretchier and softer do not necessarily keep you warmer.

  • Wetsuits that are stiffer and less soft are not necessarily more durable.

  • The fuzzy "thermal" inner linings feel amazing against your skin, but they don't really keep you warmer, AND they make the suit a bit heavier.

  • Expensive brand wetsuits look cooler and dry faster, but the newest glue/tape/lining isn't that much better than a budget suit at keeping you warm.

  • Wetsuits don't degrade signifigantly because you leave them in a wet pile in the garage or in the trunk of your car. Most of the wear-n-tear happens from the excessive pulling and stretching of your wetsuit while putting it on and taking it off. So the more careful you are during this process, the longer your suit will last.

  • Wetsuits aren't meant to last more than a year for frequent fliers, and maybe 2 or 3 for the occasional to seldom surfer. Rinsing it out after each use is a good idea to make it smell better, but hardly impacts the longevity. Washing your suit with soap? Yeah, no.

  • Last year's wetsuit model works just as good as the newest model release, so you're wasting $100+ buying the latest and greatest if last year's model is still available in your size. Check for deals at Wetsuit Warehouse, Cleanline, and my favorite Real Watersports!

  • The best budget-friendly suit on the market right now is Ho Stevie Mens Surfing Wetsuit ($200). It's a great price for a new model suit, you get premium features at a bargain.



Modern wetsuits share a common lineage, born from the same materials and rolling off the same assembly lines overseas. So the diversity in performance is negligible. The real differences among them lie in the subtle details of design and fit, which ultimately boils down to personal preference. It's easy to get lost in the sea of marketing hype-- double blind stitching, limestone neoprene, thermal linings, etc... So you'll need to shop around, sift through the marketing nonsense, and decide for yourself which brands are worth your cash.


The details I consider in a 3/2 full wetsuit, and Ho Stevie's got them all...

  • Inner lining. I like the way they feel. But not too fuzzy. I don't really pee in my suits and I don't mind the slightly heavier weight... it's a 3/2 for christsake, it's not heavy by nature.

  • A chest zip that deosn't suck to latch and pull closed. Stevie's is already latched! Bonus!

  • Openings for hands, feet, and neck are tight against the skin, with gripping tape to help avoid flushing (I'm skinny so massive foot and hand holes and too stretchy rubber suck)

  • Drain holes in the chest for when water does get in the neck and chest. (my skinny neck)

  • Ease of putting it on and taking it off. Honestly, the suits that are too stretchy are a real pain in the ass to take off, even at 3/2mm... it's like a damn straight jacket getting that first elbow out, and I'm hopping around like an idiot trying to pull the leg off my foot like mozzarella cheese! So I pass on the super stretchy these days.

  • Styling. Like, do I look cool? I dig the colorful suits from my days surfing in the 80's. And since I'm an old guy now, sporting the ultimate dad-bod, I might as well accentuate it! So I'll still buy the Rip Curls with cool colors once and a while.

  • I prefer zipperless and chest-zips, I haven't worn a back-zip in years, but that's all I wore for nearly three decades in the 80s, 90s, and 00's.

I will also say this... Ho Stevie is not a corporate power brand, it's a smaller operation that is surfer-owned and operated. So if you hate the man, and lean anti-corporate, this brands is worth supporting. Cool kids and gatekeeper types won't go for a Ho Stevie wetsuit because they gotta have the name brands to feel good about themselves. But the bottom line is that all wetsuits made today are going to keep you warm and feel stretchy compared to yesteryear. You honestly can't go wrong. So find one that fits you well, and has the look you want, and don't worry about the rest. Shop last year and older models, consider budget brands like Ho Stevie and save your money. It's a no-brainer, you won't be disappointed, and Stevie will be stoked!


OK, good luck to everyone making choices for new rubber this season. Stay warm out there, and I hope you're surfing where you are!



Other than rinsing it out with the hose, hanging it to dry by the waist, and not in direct sunlight, you really don't need to stress about wetsuit deterioration. They all going to deteriorate with useage. But I've left plenty of them a stinky mess with no rinsing and they worked just fine for that first season! I guess if you want to max out the life a little bit, you can put the effort into the maintenance. But for godssake, don't use soap man!


FULL DISCLOSURE: Stevie sent me a free suit to try out. So take that how you will. I'll gladly pay for Ho Stevie wetsuits in the future... unless of course he's gonna put me on 'da Team! :)







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