How green is my wetsuit? Review of the new offering from Tiki
Surfersvillage Global Surf News, 9 October, 2016 - Born in 1963, Tiki has been around British surfing for more than 50 years. They started by making surfboards in the early 1960s and soon developed a full range of UK-designed wetsuits.
They’ve evolved over the years in their construction and have found more green wetsuit materials than the early days of rubber. Tiki has ditched the chemical based neoprenes for a new material called Super XTEND Limestone Neoprene.
For this review we tried the Tiki Zepha 4:3 wetsuit in cold Atlantic conditions and took a look at its construction, materials and design features.
In a nutshell: It's a limestone neoprene wetsuit with minimal carbon footprint and high-end interior taped seams. Entry is zip free with minimal seam design along the back and paddling areas allowing for a good deal of flexibility. The suit is similar in design and construction to the Rip Curl Flash Bomb zip free, but with the Tiki interior Dry Lined Core which is very warm and comfortable.
Limestone Neoprene: How do they do it?
When we think of wetsuit neoprene and how it’s made it’s easy to imagine oil being poured into big, dirty vats of black goo that are then processed into thin sheets to become neoprene. (At least in the cartoonish workings of this reviewer's brain.) The sheets are then cut, glued, bent and stitched into wetsuits - quite a process from oil can to wetsuit.
But what if that first process of making the neoprene didn’t involve petroleum, but instead involved dumping rocks into a crusher? Strange, but that’s how limestone neoprene gets made.
First developed by Japanese munfacturer Yamamoto in the 1960s, limestone neoprene has been thrust to the forefront of the green wetsuit debate.
Why? On one hand it’s green because it doesn’t use polluting petro-chemicals. But on the other hand it’s still an energy intensive process used to create a disposable product, wetsuits, which unless upcycled into something cool simply goes into the landfill.
The positives are that the limestone is less toxic to turn into neoprene. The crushed limestone is fed into a furnace, heated to a few thousand degrees and mixed with other chemicals. This reduces the limestone neoprene manufacturer’s dependance on oil and also reduces the amount of polyaromatic hydrocarbons, or PAH released into the atmosphere.
For the Tiki Zepha 4/3 another eco-aspect is the Aqua-A™ lamination glue used in the lamination process which is water-based and solvent free.
The Zepha seams are sealed through a series of processes. First they are glued and stitched then taped on the interior. As far as construction it’s a well-put together suit.
The interior taped seams are very smooth and flat which makes the suit comfortable. The fact that only the interior seams are taped increases the wetsuit flexibility. We noticed minimal water entering through the seams, but some did get in.
For surfers seeking full impermeable seams they should look for a suit with inner taping AND an outer liquid seal taping method as this will keep out all seepage as long as the integrity of both inner and outer tape isn’t comprimised..
Other interesting features include what Tiki calls "wristy cuffs" which looks like the Drylock Wrist seals used on some XCEL wetsuits. Wristy Cuffs have a tapered neoprene cuff along with a line of liquid seal to reduce neoprene fatigue through the high-use areas. This feature worked well as the water entry through the sleeve was nil.
The Dry Lined Core on the interior chest panel is smooth and comfortable against the skin. The Dry Lined Core is a super wincking fabric (yes, it’s fuzzy) that wicks water away from the body and dries rather quickly. The resulting layer of air between body and wetsuit heats more efficiently than body heat working to warm a layer of water between body and wetsuit - cool concept used by most wetsuit makers.
Zipper and entry system:
The zipperless entry was pretty easy to get in and out of and didn’t flush. The pull string on the shoulder closes the entry area. However, be careful not to tighten it too much as that will restrict paddling. For testing sake we left the pull string unsecured and duck-dived a few sets. We found no flushing. There is enough wetsuit material around the entry to sufficiently keep water out.
And finally, the neoprene:
We liked Tiki’s Super XTEND limestone neoprene. It’s flexible, warm and feels solid. Water beaded off the neoprene when waded into the surf and the Dry Lined Core is comfortable. While not as light and airy as some of the neoprenes on the market (where more air and gas is injected into the material-see below) the XTEND has great insulative properties.
Overall it’s a great balance between warmth and flexibility at a reasonable price.
It’s one of the more eco-friendly suits out there because it uses the Super XTEND limestone neoprene and the Aqua-A™ lamination glue for the seams. We liked the zip free technology combined with Tiki’s Wristy Cuffs and limestone neoprene, all of which make the wetsuit solid, warm, waterproof and relatively flexible for a 4/3.
Outer seams could be finished with liquid seal outer tape, but that would change the flexibility and the price of the suit. And if you compare prices with a similar suit, like the Ripcurl Flashbomb, the Tiki Wetsuit is worth the price: £188.95 / 245€
Check out the crash course in wetsuit basics that every consumer should know before venturing into their local surf shop. Below you'll find the information on neoprene, seams and fit, the basics of a good wetsuit.
Closeup of O'Neill's TechnoButter 2
Neoprene is amazing. At its most basic level it’s just synthetic rubber with little gas bubbles blown into it. (There's more to it than this, but we'll keep it simple for now). By blowing more or fewer bubbles into the neoprene one can control things like warmth and flexibility. More gas injected into the suit means a lighter, stretchier but ultimately less insulative and weaker neoprene. Less gas used in making the neoprene means it's heavier and more insulative and stronger. Each major wetsuit brand has its own top-shelf neoprene, which is to say their own secret recipe for what they value in performance.
Rip Curl Flashbomb inside taping along seams
Wetsuit seams at the basic level are glued and blind stitched which, while strong, does allow some water to seep in through pinholes in the stitching. This is the type of seam you’ll find on your not-too-expensive suits or warm-water suits.
The next level up is interior-taped wetsuit seams. This means the suits have flexible tape glued along the inside seams. This type of seam provides a good water barrier and plenty of flexibility and strength.
The top-shelf method for preventing water from seeping through the seams is having interior tape and exterior liquid tape. This pretty much means the suit’s seams are waterproof - at least while the integrity of the inner and outer tape material stays pliable and in tact. The only drawback is that heavy taping can decrease a suit’s flexibility.
Three different types of interior lining on the XCEL Revolt wetsuit
Neoprene interior-lining is the new frontier in performance as companies create innovative ways to insulate the interiors of wetsuits. Previously it was just a nylon polyester stretchy material. Then companies started using textured interior linings for improved insulation. This works on the premise that the body heats air more easily than it does water, so most suits today have some type of ‘fluffy’ interior neoprene for your core areas.
Sadly this is the most overlooked component when purchasing a wetsuit. When we hear complaints from surfers about a particular suit that flushes or wears out prematurely in one place, most times it’s because the suit didn’t fit correctly in the first place. Extra strain placed on seams and materials due to an incorrect fit wear out that suit quicker than a proper-fitting suit. To ensure your hard-earned money is spent well, take the time to try on several suits at your local surf shop and find the best fit.