When Jack O’Neill introduced the wetsuit in 1952, he couldn’t have known the impact his new product would have. Jack just wanted to surf longer in San Francisco, where he was living, and where the average water temp was in the mid-50s. But 60 years later, wetsuits have advanced to the point where we can surf water in places like Iceland and Alaska, all the way down to the slushy freezing point. Suits are made by dozens of surf companies and boutique brands specializing in high-quality neoprene, and are even available in environmentally friendly, plant-based rubber for the tree hugging wave rider.
Japan has long been a leader when it comes to technological innovation, and rubber is no exception. Many of the top big-name wetsuit brands have looked to Japan for their rubber, and it’s no wonder why—quality speaks for itself, and the rubber coming out of Japan is as good as it gets. We aren’t talking about “Japanese” rubber that is actually made in China—we mean the real Japanese rubber, made by companies that have been providing surfers, divers, and even the Japanese military with high-quality insulation for over 30 years. If you want to make the best possible wetsuit, you need to take into account warmth, flexibility, and durability, and many brands will sacrifice one aspect in order to facilitate another. But with top-grade rubber you don’t have to make sacrifices. Instead, you can have the best of all worlds.
Straw Hat is a local brand exclusive to Hawaiian South Shore, and for years has built some of the best surf wetsuits in Hawaii, if not the entire Pacific. We work with a Japanese rubber company with a stellar track record for making top of the line wetsuits, and have integrated a number of customizations that we believe make for a better suit. For instance, many wetsuits have rubber that is supple, but few can compete with the Straw Hat rubber, that has that silky smooth feel like it’s an extension of your skin. When wetsuits were first made, it felt like you were wearing armor in the surf. Mobility was extremely limited, and even then the suits weren’t that warm. But these days guys can wear super thick winter suits and still tweak out slob airs with style—and even more so in suits made from the finest Japanese rubber.
But it’s not enough to have good flexibility and warmth. Durability is just as important, which is why we have integrated silicone rubber into our cuffs to prevent over-stretching when getting in and out of your suit. Added elasticity means a better fit, which increases the life of the suit since it’s not getting overstretched when you wear and use it. And the nylon loop we have added to the zipper is sewn in to give it added strength so it won’t pull out when used. This look allows you to tie into your boardshorts string so that your suit stays in place during tumbles.
There are dozens of design elements that make the Straw Hat wetsuit line the best option on the market, but the real test comes from customer feedback. We have had clients come back five years after buying suits, to show us suits that they are still using, and that have no sign of dry rot or cracking in the rubber. Most conventional suits last a season, at best, yet these suits have lasted over five years! When warmth and comfort come in a package that only has to be replaced twice a decade, you know you have a winner.
Hawaii obviously isn’t the coldest surf destination on the planet, but those keiki days when you can surf for nine hours without getting cold are long gone for most of us.