Cover image: Noah Lane putting the suit through some frosty paces. Shot by: Chris McClean
Finisterre, a company known for ethical threads are dropping a full-spec winter suit. Built from the ground up with a focus on durability, this is one rubber suit we’ve watched evolve from ground zero through a rigorous testing programme and now into production.
Only available in black the Nieuwland 5 (hooded 5mm) and Nieuwland 4 ( 4mm non-hooded) have come about through feedback from 102 testers. If you are one of those signed up for the programme (and thousands applied) then you already know this and will have been busy feeding back to Mat D'Ascoli and Tom Kay, Finisterre’s founder.
For Tom the tester programme was the most exciting element of building a wetsuit. "Working with a load of regular surfers from all around the UK and Ireland, we got direct insights into what they needed from a suit," he explains. "In some cases we were getting reports after each surf, so yes I think it’s worked really well, and was the first of its kind. The feedback was pretty consistent and from it we made some changes which have ultimately led to a better end product."
Preorder your suit here for a drop in late October.
Mat, who designed the suit, is the son of Ed D'Ascoli (the founder of Xcel) and grew up in a wetsuit factory. So what was it that brought this scion of neoprene royalty into partnership with a Cornish clothing company?
Tom was the only person crazy enough to say yes to such a venture.
“It simply came to one premise,” recalls Mat D'Ascoli. "The fact that we are making a wetsuit for one purpose – cold water. And also the fact that everyone told me, including my dad, that it can't be done because we would be going up against every established maker who had departments dedicated to manufacturing wetsuits. Also Tom was the only person crazy enough to say yes to such a venture, so in all honesty, it was fate.”
"It has been the one product missing from our line for some time," said Tom of his rationale behind producing the suit. "We wanted to build on the brand’s heritage of quality and innovation, building a suit from the ground up with our own take on design, as well as looking at the different set of environmental conditions we get over here."
And wetsuits are a crowded market, one in which marketing teams reinvent the wheel each and every season. Nearly every manufacturer produces great suits these days with failures coming down to a dodgy seam choice or choosing uber-stretchy rubber with a limited shelf life.
“I have to admit that it was tough designing against other brands,” Mat said of the process. “But after a few meetings on what Finisterre's customer base represented, it was very apparent that we would be designing a wetsuit based upon direct consumer interaction. Meaning, I wouldn't be listening to company sponsored surfers who were given wetsuits for free and at most, surfed twice a year in a wetsuit no thicker than a 4:3.”
This suit is the result of the unique user testing programme. Thousands applied to be involved and those who were successful have been feeding back through the Atlantic winter.
That direct interaction with testers led to the most intense four months of my life.
“That direct interaction with testers led to the most intense four months of my life,” remembers Mat. “The pages of comments and surveys conducted yielded some of the most interesting and important pieces we needed to move the wetsuit through production.
“In those four months we essentially redesigned the wetsuits (5mm and 4mm) top-to-bottom with the inclusion of a refit of the zipper panel. Between the manufacturer and Finisterre, it was a rollercoaster of emotion dealing with both sides. But I believe the defining piece of what people will see in this new production is a suit that took into account every comment that was made. No comment was overlooked and we've built this to their specifications.”
One of the major wins with this suit is its longevity. Finisterre haven’t set about producing a disposable item. However there’s an inevitable trade-off in wetsuit manufacturing between performance and durability. Mat D'Ascoli used his decades of manufacturing experience across the wetsuit spectrum to produce something which takes a little from both worlds – the aim being to produce a durable and repairable item.
People tend to forget that the wetsuit is prolonging your life in the most inhospitable environments and they are doing it as a recreation.
“Taking bits of dive and military application, we've put in neoprene that tends to age better than some others,” says Mat. “The actual make up is confidential, but any person who has their old wetsuit on hand can compare where we made the difference. We've simply brought the Finisterre mantra of quality into the wetsuit offering.”
"A wetsuit is one of the most challenging products to make," Tom Kay agrees. "Suits have to fit like a glove, be warm, not rub and allow you to surf without getting tired. Despite all that goes into these design variables, most people treat their's badly, ripping them off on the tarmac, leaving them in the sun and peeing in them. So yes it’s a challenge."
“People tend to forget that the wetsuit is prolonging your life in the most inhospitable environments and they are doing it as a recreation. No one actually needs to wear wetsuits or be in the water for that matter. But we tried to create something that balances both durability and flexibility and can be worn through multiple seasons with the right care."
This is year one. Listening to feedback, the next set of suits will include a female range. In choosing to only launch with a male line they copped a bit of flack. It’s the internet after all….
“The big item we will be offering next is a women's line in both 5mm and 4mm models,” Tom tells us. “Heavy focus will be on fit, more so than the men's line. I've read the multiple messages of dismay (and sometimes hate) on why we didn't have an offering for women this current season. It is safe to say that we're concentrating every effort into getting our fit correct.
“No longer will women have to try on wetsuits that are horrendously too long in the arms and legs or have to worry whether their suit is a 'European or Australian cut'. Frankly, I had never heard of this until I went to a wetsuit meeting in Europe and had a great laugh. Not a single woman in the room with guys 'anticipating' what woman needed.
“Mind you, all of them were single and didn't have a clue what cup size actually meant, nor did they understand that you can't use cup size in measuring wetsuits. (For general information, you never use a woman's cup size as the wetsuit isn't "cupping" anything. You use the bust circumference as a unit of measurement.) But we are different, and we will listen to every Finisterre woman out there.”
While the Finisterre suits won't be dropping until late October, you can preorder yours here.