Buying a new wetsuit can be a minefield. Do you look for flex over warmth or a mix of both? Do you stick with what you know and trust, or, do you take a stab at something new?
When wetsuit shopping, it's all about durability, flexibility and cost, especially when attempting to cram in as many hours per week in the water as possible. A wetsuit needs to be tough, yet flexi – neoprene apparel that feels like it'll last you a good few seasons (if you're lucky).
Enter VISSLA. Our industry's new(ish) kid emerging as a hub for creators and innovators. The brand launched a few years back as the brainchild of ex-head of Billabong's US operations, Paul Naude – so there's likely to have been some big names in the biz pumping some serious R&D into developing VISSLA products.
Over the past few months, I've been putting the North Seas 5/4/3 hooded full suit through the wringer. And if you want to get straight to the heart of what makes this suit beat; it's a blend of seemingly robust, yet flexible quick drying materials, stretched over a soft-to-the-eye aesthetic, is comfortable and just feels...solid.
And, there's a refreshing lack of jargon to bust. The wetsuit industry is notorious for claims of the latest innovations, wrapped up in some state-of-the-art rhetoric – which sparks that aforementioned minefield. But, looking over the suit, and VISSLA's laid out most of the details in simple terms.
Let's talk about the North Seas' aesthetic. We can be a fussy bunch, surfers – some swear by the casual all black and minimal branding on our rubber, while others want to go full Matty Wilko draped in boob-print. Personally, I'm the former (though admire the latter's chutzpah) and the North Seas' teal cuffs and logo set against the suit's smooth black, has the exact amount of flair to keep me happy.
The simple question most will ask is, will this wetsuit, built for wintry waters, keep me warm? Yes, is the answer, but would you have really expected anything less from modern cold water suits? The North Seas is a high end wetsuit packed with features.
The neoprene used here is VISSLA's V-foam, which feels soft, has a lot of stretch in it and, according to VISSLA, is ''the most lightweight neoprene available''. But what does this mean exactly? As with most lightweight neoprene, the V-foam has air blown into it during the manufacturing process, which ups the thermal level. If you're thinking a less-is-more approach to your rubber is a bit suspect, in my experience, it isn't really the case and usually it'll be the seams that go before the neoprene. Lightweight neoprene has become a staple in higher end suits for good reason.
Cast an eye over the front of the suit, see those seams? The drawback with taped seams is they can make a suit a bit rigid. But what's surprsing about the Power Seams, which is a kind of liquid tape that covers most of the external stitching, while providing added durability, is the suit does retain flexibility with these installed. This works because of the narrowness of the Power Seam.
Their purpose is actually two-fold, one for seam durability and the other as a layer to prevent water getting through the stitching. In two dozen or so surfs, I've yet to notice any splits.
The interior's geared up differently. The seams are masked by a super stretchy tape. Problems I've found with this tape in the past is sometimes, the ends begin to peel away after a couple of months' use, which would mark the death rattle for that suit; the tape comes away, pulls the stitching, and then it's off to be repaired, DIY it, or retire it. The interior tape in the North Seas feels strong. I've pulled this suit as much as possible in every direction – in an attempt to put stress on the internal tape and Power Seams - yet they've held together perfectly.
Which brings us neatly onto getting into the wetsuit. That can be a faffy affair with a chest zip, especially in thicker suits when you pull a lot of rubber over your shoulders. Oh there's all kinds of innovations to help us clamber in and lumber out, sure. And what we have with the North Seas is criss-crossed panels at top of the suit for easier access.
This is, essentially, two flaps at the top of the suit that cross over, one behind the other, allowing for more flex and space in the suit's mouth - and those panels do sit flush against the chest once it's all zipped up. It's easier to get into rather than having a suit with one fixed panel; the two panels can pull wide apart, while not feeling like the neoprene is being stretched too much. The amount of flex around the ankle and wrist seals is ample. Once on though, they feel tight and secure around the limbs.
The suit's interior is insulated by a heat retaining, thermal hollowfibre, that also lines the inside of the attached hood. It's comfortable, without feeling cumbersome. The lining covers the legs, entirely, and up to the waist, the kidneys (important) and the centre of the back up to the shoulder blades.
On the front, it stretches up to around the chest area, just below the zip, leaving the arms free for manoeuvrability. The lining is designed to expel water quickly. I would say, after I've rinsed and hung the suit, which is often the case, though sometimes it remains in a cold, damp bucket in the boot of my car for a few days, the lining's usually dry enough to whip back on in around 20 minutes, sometimes quicker. That's just the lining of course, but as it covers a good 80 per cent of the suit, that isn't bad going at all.
I've found myself at an above average temperature for a winter suit, which is ok, particularly as the water's still a few degrees off the lowest point but the suit has always felt comfortable.
Everything is subjective though, isn't it? What works for me, in terms of warmth and fit, might not be enough for others. But if you can take away a little more info from here about the North Seas suit, then all the better for it. View some of the VISSLA range by going HERE.