2017 Surfersvillage Wetsuit Guide
We tested and reviewed features on The Stan, The Vapor, The Victor, The RB2 and The Red Cell
Surfersvillage Global Surf News, 8 December, 2017 - Wetsuits have evolved to the point where the average surfer can be a connoisseur about the suits they choose. Do you like inner taped seams (more flex) or outer taped seams (more aquaphobic). How about entry systems, slant zip, back zip or zipperless? Plush, fluffy interior or smooth nylon? It's good to learn what features work for those traits you value in a suit, i.e. stretch, longevity, warmth, style.
This season we look at five suits and their tech features. The suits are the Body Glove Red Cell, the Buell RB2, the Saint Jacques Stan and Victor models and the Vapor zipperless suit by Body Glove. Each of the wetsuits have very different features and constructions. This article is designed for the consumer to check in on the suits we reviewed and gain knowledge about what suit might work best for their needs.
Body Glove's 3/2 Vapor zipperless fullsuit
Are zipperless wetsuits any good? Well, it depends on how you define “good.” For the most part a zipperless entry system allows more flexibility through the chest than traditional anchored-front-zip systems. The advantage is that the soft, stretchy neoprene is allowed to be soft, stretchy neoprene unencumbered by a static, glued-in-place heavy duty zipper. So, yes. If you define "good" as more flexible.
However it’s not as simple as zipper = good and zip-free = good, you need to consider how the zipperless entry is designed. It’s like there’s a little ecosystem going on there with just the right balance of all the right components. Let’s have a look…
Many zippered designs on the market are unobtrusive and quite flexible. Typically if a zip design uses more neoprene material (remember neoprene will stretch, zippers will not) surrounding the zip closure in a free-floating waterproof membrane, then the flexibility performance characteristics will be quite similar to a zipperless entry system. The performance difference in flexibility between these top-shelf zip-entry suits and zip-free entry is minimal.
For this review we take a look at the features of the Buell RB2 4/3. A full wetsuit test and performance evaluation will follow in a few weeks.
In the most basic of constructs, neoprene is just synthetic rubber with little gas bubbles blown into it. By blowing more or fewer bubbles into the neoprene one can control how flexible the neoprene is and also how much flex it has. More gas injected into the suit means a lighter, stretchier but ultimately less insulative and sometimes weaker neoprene. Less gas and fewer bubbles in the neoprene means it's heavier and more insulative and stronger.
Each brand uses their own secret recipe for what they value in performance. Buell uses what they call stretchy Ninja Neoprene and line the outer shell using Ultraspan flex-fabric. The interior lining is a soft & fuzzy “Recycler” fabric.
Standard wetsuit seams tend to be triple glued and blind stitched. After this preliminary seam construction suits can apply tape to the interior or the exterior or both. Each taping method has it's advantages. Interior tape (if done right) allows more flexibility typically because wetsuit makers can use a thinner, stretchier material. Outer seam tape creates a better water barrier but requires a stronger material, and therefore is not as pliable as the inner tape.
Interior tape often has difficulty sitting flush against the fluffy lining of a suit. Any gap between tape and seam allows water to enter the seam. On the RB2 design Buell went with quadruple glued and blind stitched seam construction followed with power-lite "Sizzle" outer seam seal - a liquid rubber applied to all the outer seams.
The Victor: Outside the box wetsuit style meets coldwater function
So many wetsuits today look like art department rejects from the Tron movies (remember Kelly’s white-with-black tape World Title number 11 wetsuit?). Despite current wetsuit tech all being very close to equal at the mid-to-high end price range of suits, several makers want to extoll their tech accomplishments with over-the-top spacesuit designs. That’s why it was refreshing unboxing the Victor 4/3 cold water wetsuit from French wetsuit maker Saint Jacques.
The suit is the antithesis in design of compression-taped future wear that we see on the World Tour. In fact, Saint Jacques bill themselves as a new brand who push style and fashion to the underwater world not as “prete a porter” but instead “wet a porter.” And while it’d be easy to dismiss the line as hipster chic with no function, the suits they make are constructed with the latest, high-end performance materials.
The Stan: The Stan by Saint Jacques hits new frontier in wetties
Each cold season wetsuit makers are overly excited about color options for their line. We see this in the bright oranges, greens and yellows that turn up on the shop suits that many surfers will ultimately shy away from when it comes time to purchase a new suit. But for some reason wetsuit makers keep banging out bright coloured options. Why? Well, in the wetsuit-making process it’s relatively easy to make a suit design stand out from the pack by simply adding a brightly colored panel here and there.
But none of the wetsuit makers has ever really figured out that to make a wetsuit look good, stylish and stand out in the lineup, that sometimes those screen printed designs work just as well. Sometimes better. It’s like the industry has turned a blind eye to the fact many surfers would prefer a patterned option to a day-glow one.
And cue Saint Jacques, a brand out of Mediterranean France that is creating stylish, innovative performance wetsuits by using a deep sublimation technology to pattern their suits to look more like clothing.
For this review we tested their 4/3 mm Stan model, a deep blue neoprene full suit with red and white stripe pattern adoring the arms and torso. It’s a unique design done as a performance model winter suit with full high-end stretch neoprene and minimal seam restriction.
Supertech: Body Glove Red Cell slant zip fullsuit 2mm
At its most basic, the Red Cell infrared insulation is a polyester resin material that redirects heat from your body, back into your skin and muscles.
Infrared performance and recovery sportswear is big business. There is an algae bloom of sporting clothes using this tech for pro athletes as well as average Joes and Janes with claims are that muscles are looser and energised from the material during strenuous periods.
You can’t see infrared light, but your body can absorb its heat. Products using infrared redirecting materials work on the principle that generated body heat which would normally exit and disappear is tapped for it’s infrared radiation. The infrared heat and light is then directed back into your body with the help of these space age materials (NASA even used infrared to grow plants in space).
Once this newly trapped vibrant energy gets directed back to the body, it’s more readily absorbed into muscles and deep tissues than standard heat. So the theory goes. Unfortunately there’s not a lot of science to point to what is the most effective combination and construction of these new materials when insulating wetsuits. Most of the research has been in the private sector and Sports Illustrated profiled UK sports brand Kymira about the tech this year.