Tuesday, January 06, 2009

How Much For That Hole In The Wetsuit?

Funny how there is absolutely zero unbiased information available about ANY surfing related product.

Ever thought about that?

I mean, surf gear is not cheap. It's not Formula One racing, but it's not soccer either. The average board is $500 and the average wetsuit is probably $250+. Toss in leashes, traction pads, wax, board bags, racks, and you can easily plunk down a cool grand before you've even touched saltwater.

It's especially weird when you realize you can read professional, unbiased reviews of tennis rackets, running shoes, golf clubs, crampons, movies, tacos, wine, even toys. There are literally dozens of websites and magazine that scrutinize, evaluate, and rate every six dollar Star Wars action figure that Hasbro spits out every month.

So why is surfing exempt? Why do we, as surfers, plunk down hundreds, if not thousands of dollars, every year on expensive, high performance sporting goods with nothing more than a "It's killer, bro" from a zit-faced 17 year-old surf shop employee who's probably flunking social studies?

It's fucking retarded. WE'RE retarded. I'M retarded.

To either prove my point or to fight back against it, or both, I bought an O'Neill PsychoFreak yesterday. On the off chance you didn't commit last Fall's Surfer Magazine "2008 Wetsuit Guide" (AKA a 22 page advertorial written by the wetsuit companies themselves) to memory, the PsychoFreak is the mainstream surf industry's first $500+ wetsuit.

Psycho Freaky Expensive
Why is it $500?

Well, it's full of holes. Literally. Some R&D genius at O'Neill decided that if you took neoprene rubber and carved a bazillion little divots in it, you'd have a wetsuit with a bazillion little air pockets sandwiched inside. Or as they call it, "Air Insulated XDS Neoprene". The air pockets, in turn, make the wetsuit lighter and warmer.

A Bazillion Pockets Of Warmth

Okay. I guess. Sounds, um, sort of plausible. I think. Maybe.

But I was intrigued. I couldn't get it out of my head. It was either the most brilliant innovation in 50 years of wetsuit design, or the biggest marketing gimmick since the same company released the first $300+ wetsuit back in the late 80's, the short-lived "Animal", which primarily consisted of their highest end wetsuit at the time with a bunch of Darth Vader panels glued on.

Luke, I Am, Like, Your Father, Bro

Now, I did not actually spend $500 on my holy wetsuit. Thanks to the economy, Jack's Surfboards is having a 30% off sale on all wetsuits, so I successfully got my bad self all freaky and psycho-y for the bargain price of $350...about the cost of a decent higher end suit. A pittance, really, for the honor of becoming the first David Horowitz of the surfing world.

But let's cut to the chase: is the PsychoFreak warmer and lighter than O'Neill's next most expensive suit, the Psycho II? And if so, is it a buck fifty warmer and lighter?

(And before I answer that, just savor for a minute the sad fact that NO ONE has asked this question before. There are FIVE mainstream surf magazines in America alone.)

The short answer is, big surprise, no.

It's a great suit, don't get me wrong. O'Neill, to their credit, make fantastic wetsuits. They're incredibly warm and flexible and they don't disintegrate into wet toilet paper after six months like Rip Curls (another media-ignored topic we'll address later).

Yes, the PsychoFreak 3.5 is a tad lighter than my Psycho II 2/3. And it might be like one degree warmer.

But is the PsychoFreak suited for "frigid" conditions as their website claims? Are holes in the rubber really another "Revolution Courtesy of Area 52?" (Area 52 being O'Neill's not-so-humble euphemism for 6 guys in a shop carving up neoprene swatches.) Is it a wetsuit "ready for the harshest of conditions?" And is it worth five HUNDRED recession era American dollars?

Kind of. No. Kind of. Definitely not.

And sadly, you heard it here first.

The Colonel says, "I am not an Animal."