Essential No. 9: The wetsuit

Invented in the West nearly 60 years ago, it’s must-have gear for playing in the Pacific
Peter Fish

Look at them in their black neoprene, the It Couple of the coast, circa 1965.

The man is San Francisco surfer Jack O’Neill, who realized that the Pacific is cold  ― sometimes 30° chillier than the Atlantic at the same latitude. He knew he’d have more fun in the water if he could stay warm.

Today, surf wetsuits are a $115 million per year industry, and O’Neill’s Santa Cruz, California–based company is a major player. With increased interest in sports like surfing and sea kayaking, a growing number of wetsuit wearers aren’t 20-something hotties but actual grown-ups. How should we choose a wetsuit?

O’Neill marketing manager Marc Prefontaine advises, “Go for the full back zipper ― if the suit isn’t easy to get into, you’ll be turned off.” Then, as you look in the mirror, accept the fact that you don’t resemble Keanu Reeves in Point Break or Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft in the second Tomb Raider. Because it’s not how the wetsuit looks in the store that matters. It’s how it makes you feel in the water: sleek, agile, warm, free.

Suit up
Wetsuit prices run from about $75 (for a short-sleeved spring suit) to $500 (for a full suit designed for colder water). For more information on O’Neill Wetsuits, visit oneill.com.

Do you have a new western essential –– a food, drink, place, or experience you can’t live without? Email us: newessentials@sunset.com

Western Essential No. 8: Meyer lemon