State-of-the-Art Heated Wetsuit Warms the Chill
Nothing Burns like the Cold
By Tim Ryan
Hawaii with its year-round water temps of 74-degrees-plus isn’t the best place to review a heated wetsuit top.
So this is a “pre review” review with the cold-water “real review” coming next week when my surfing companion, Steve, and I plunge into the chilly waters of San Francisco’s Ocean Beach, Santa Cruz and Big Sur.
Yes, I’m already expecting major shrinking with that first duck dive.
This review focuses on the Thermalution Surf Series top’s ease of use, flexibility, and, of course, warmth factor. I had to try out the Thermalution before we arrived in California so I at least knew how to use it and what to expect.
(What I am not writing while still in Hawaii is a review of the Patagonia merino wool-lined full wetsuit R4. That review will come next week.)
But here’s the bottom line: Using the Thermalution top is a snap and it works exactly as advertised!
The Lycra-like top – but thicker – is called ThermalTek®, a non-metallic heating wire technology that generates heat and warms up the blood. The wiring, laced along two sections of the back, is both light weight, durable and and flexible since surfers move around so much.
The Thermalution is a base layer to be worn under the wetsuit because then it’s more effective in heating the skin.
My testing ground was Kewalo Basin near Waikiki where a small south swell was running. I also brought with me a super thin, long-sleeve Lycra top I would wear over the Thermalution to keep the micro temperature controller (see below) from moving around.The top slips on as easy as a T-shirt.
To turn on the waterproof micro controller (above) you push and hold a sliding button for two-three seconds. It first shows a green light and starts the temperature on low. Push once more to change to medium temperature with an orange light indication and once more to change to high with a red light indication. To turn the undersuit off, simply push and hold button for 2 seconds. The button slides easily.
The heating “grid” is powered by two removable lithium batteries (see below), one on each side of the wetsuit’s outside that fit into sealable rectangular spaces. The batteries are two 7.4-volt lithium polymer batteries – 4x2x0.5 inches – the same type in mobile phone or mp3 players. The Thermalution has three temp settings: 110 to 141 degrees. Maximum usage time is 150 minutes on low.
I turned on the control to the highest temp, 140 degrees – wimp that I am even in the tropics – hopped on my board and paddled out. Within a minute I could feel the back heat up; an overall heat and not spotty. It felt like the sun shining on a bare back.
A hundred yards into my paddle l could feel a very warm back but not a burning. I turned the top to low then submerged myself several times, which had little affect on cooling the warming but did flush out the water under the top. I switched temperatures several times, and the Thermalution worked with no glitches.
Paddling was a breeze. The suit didn’t bunch up, snag or feel bulky. Brisk paddling for waves wasn’t inhibited by the Thermalution. It didn’t even ride up when I wiped out.
The top generates heat instead of only being able to reduce heat loss like a regular wet suit. Wearing the undersuit beneath your wetsuit distributes the heat through the whole body by the water already inside your wetsuit. So when you duck dive and some water leaks into your wetsuit, gravity pulls the new water over the already warmed water, which drips around your waist then over your legs.
As one gets older it seems like ocean water feels colder. I live in Hawaii because I don’t like cold anything. And if I’m going to be in the ocean I have to be comfortably warm.
When I started surfing in 1962 there were no wetsuits except those made for divers. And boy did they make the most painful underarm rash because they weren’t made for lots of movement, and they’re thick and stiff.
My first Wetsuit was an O’Neil Short John, $20. It looked like rubberized shorts and a tank top, but we thought it made us toasty. Then came the wetsuit jacket, Long John, full suit, full suit with hood, and booties.
Even back then we fantasized about a future with heated wetsuits for those super cold California days. Those wetsuits are here. No, they’re not inexpensive, but ask yourself what price you pay for warmth if it can give you longer time surfing? The Thermalution top should make anyone’s surfing more productive and certainly more comfortable under a full suit. You won’t be disappointed.