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Tuesday, April 6, 2010
Updated: June 14, 6:37 PM ET
Bad timing, great wetsuit

It certainly makes sense that I should be our go-to guy for neoprene reviews. I mean, Kimball Taylor lives in San Diego and Jake lives in San Clemente. What are they going to review, which company makes the quietest zipper? There aren't too many things I can claim in this part of the world, but when you have seen saltwater freeze on your friends back and arms, you get to learn a little something. And when you wear a 5-mil all winter, trunks all summer, and everything in between, you are qualified to talk rubber.

Sam Boardman was toastly all through the snowy Maine winter in the Psychofreak

Now, obviously this is about the worst time of year to review a coldwater suit, but what is the point of writing about a winter product in October? I'm sure you can take the suit up to Alaska and determine that it's warm and flexible. But I've learned not to review rubber until I see how it holds up over a full season.

How someone in California (Northern or Southern) can attest to a suit made for sub-40 degree water temps is beyond me. And how can you honestly say it's not going to blow a seam after three sessions? With that, I can say that the O'Neill Psychofreak 5.5/4.5-mil is about the best winter suit I have ever owned, and this past season tested your neoprene as much as it tested your character.

The Pyschofreak is nothing new itself. What is new, and what earned this model the 2009 SIMA "Wetsuit of the Year" Award, is the XDS-Air technology. I don't know what that stands for -- Xtra Damn Steamy, maybe?

O'Neill's Psychofreak 5.5/4.5 -- light as air.

The neoprene is designed with air trapping components. By now, most of the wetsuit companies have determined that neoprene isn't the best insulator. Everyone has some other material lining the suit to keep you warm. But wool, titanium, or bamboo aren't as light, obviously, as air.

Liquid Dreams Surf Shop (York and Ogunquit, Maine) owner, Mark Anastas, who has surfed Maine for 33 years and sold wetsuits there for the past 14, is calling it the best suit he's ever seen. And he sells all the major coldwater brands.

"If you figure in the flexibility and warmth, there's no suit out there right now that can touch it. It's high end, but it's durable. I think the extra $100 or so more you pay will be worth it in the long run," says Anastas.

I was skeptical of the half millimeter measurements at first. 5.5 millimeter? How tech are we getting here? If you crash your car doing 55 miles per hour instead of 60, is there any difference? In actuality, you should take every inch (or millimeter) of flexibility you can get in the winter. Basically this suit is as warm as the 6-mil Psycho II, but lighter and even less restrictive.

This suit has the XDS in the chest, back, lower core, arms, shoulders and lower legs, plus all the O'Neill trimmings -- 2X fluid seam weld, and neck seal barrier to prevent flushing. They also added a fluid seam weld at the ankle and wrist to prevent over expansion and seal, out of the water. This keeps you from walking around with watery bell bottoms after a few months, and it works.

The XDS technology makes it pretty lightweight for sneaking into those beachbreak bowls.

You can take my word for this, but some days it wouldn't matter if I was wearing an insulated clown costume. The best suit in the world can't help an average schlub come out of racy backside drainers. But on a jaunt up to New England last month, I spoke to Maine maniac, Sam Boardman. He's got a left up there that he grew up on and learned inside and out. Think of him as Maine's Gerry Lopez. The surf was nonstop there this winter as well, and the XDS has helped him through.

"It's so nice I didn't wear my Pscho II all winter," he admits, "there were days when I surfed and just threw the suit in the back of my truck and went home. I'd take it out the next day, still frozen and put it on, instead of my other suit that was dry. I wondered if the 5.5 was going to be enough in Maine and it totally is."

While he is one of Maine's top surfers, he's not a pro. There's no one paying him to endorse a product.

"I would have gone with an Xcel if it was a better suit. They generally make the best coldwater suits. This beats the best Xcel I ever had," he explains. Boardman cites the warmth, the flex and the ruggedness of the suit. "I've had some suits that didn't last a whole season," he adds.

Sam Boardman calls it the best winter suit he's ever owned.

Some retailers are selling this suit for over $500. Expensive? Yes. But think about the waves you're going to get in those cold, lonely lineups.