‘You rip it off, rake it across the tarmac, piss in it and then expect to send it back for a refund, nothing comes harder than getting a wetsuit right,’ Tom Kay, Finisterre founder, said about the challenges they faced when making their first wetsuit.
It is for this reason that the Cornish company embarked on an industry first in the shape of their extensive (and no doubt expensive) wetsuit testing programme.
300 people from across the surfing spectrum – butchers to mechanics to doctors have all been filing their thoughts back to the team
As the testing period drew to a close Drift visited the St Agnes HQ to pick up the inside word on what went wrong, what went right and what is going to change.
‘It has been the most difficult thing we have ever had to make, you simply don’t have a closer relationship with any other piece of clothing than a wetsuit.’ Tom told us when looking back over the three-year journey.
‘We wanted guys on the ground to test these products and let us know the truth, not a sponsored rider who may only tell us what we want to hear,’ he added
And tell the truth they did, nearly 300 people from across the surfing spectrum – butchers to mechanics to doctors have all been filing their thoughts back to the team so they can revise the final designs before full production begins.
Common complaints ranged from ankles being too tight (apparently original measurements were based on Tom’s ‘skinny’ ankles) to a hood that was less than perfect thanks to roping rather than an elastic drawing. Some of the more obscure, although possibly no less valid, included the ease of getting into the front loading suit for the older surfer and the fact that the seams were too wide.
In some respects, if you had looked at the design line-up from the start, you may have expected things to go wrong. The brains behind the suit comes from Mat D’Ascoli, who by his own admission doesn’t surf, and hailing from Honolulu, you may consider he isn’t best placed to make a suit suitable for a harsh UK winter. However, within seconds of Mat letting you into his world, it is clear that the partnership is on a railroad for success. Mat is a genuine creator and innovator, and fortunately he comes with the required pedigree too.
His dad was the pioneer who set up Xcel wetsuits in 1982. Initially these were made for the US Navy Seals diving units before the company moved into the surf market. The biggest stipulation of a military contract (apart from the fact that it had to be 100% American) is that everything had to be built to last. And this is exactly the same drive and ethos behind the Finisterre suit. Specifically, this suit has been designed ‘thicker where it needs to be and thinner where is needs to be, helping with warmth and paddling’.
The Nieuwland works suit (named after the Reverend Julius Nieuwland who was a botanist/chemist and whose early work in the 1920s led to the invention of neoprene) has been designed so it can be repaired at home should it get damaged, and it has been built with longevity in mind. When quizzed on expected life expectancy, designer Mat told us that even if used regularly he would expect this suit to last three years, probably longer depending of course on the frequency of your surfing and how well you look after the suit.
Having been fortunate to be involved with the testing programme myself, I can confirm that it is up there as one of the best suits I have worn. Yes it is a struggle to get off your damn ankles, but the design oversights have been heeded and already adjusted, so if you did miss out you can rest assured that these issues will be straightened out before production. In fact, this was the whole point of the journey. Plus, as an added touch, if you did apply for the testing scheme but missed out you can pre-order the finished, amended product with a decent discount.
Prices are expected to start at £360 for the 4mm which is suitable for 9-14° and £390 for the hooded 5mm suit designed for 5-10°. You will be able to pre-order this July and can expect delivery in October.