(The Gear Loop) - Anyone thinking of braving UK waves during the winter and spring months needs to invest in some good quality rubber. In fact, surf or bodyboard anywhere in Northern Europe during this time and you’ll have to put up with water temperatures that sit between 6-10 °C. Whatever way you cut it, that’s cold.
Alas, a good modern wetsuit can now keep you in the water longer than ever before, with thick 5mm rubber packing some serious advances in technology that not only ensure it is toasty, but also malleable enough to avoid muscle strains and generally feeling like you’re surfing with chainmail on.
Billabong, Rip Curl, O’Neill, Xcel and Quiksilver are all well established players in the market, but Decathlon has come along with a solid winter suit that looks set to shake things up. The Olaian 5/4mm Wetsuit with Hood 900 (yes, that is the nomenclature) features ultra-stretch neoprene, a chunky stainless steel front zip opening and blind-stitched, glued and taped seams for excellent water tightness and robustness.
In fact, the features list reads like that found on those previously mentioned suits from more recognised names, except this suit costs £249.99/€220, whereas competitor options can cost upwards of £400 for a similar set-up.
After testing it over multiple surf sessions, we rapidly came to the conclusion that if Decathlon sold this for just slightly less, it would be the steal of the century and easily recommendable to fellow wave riders.
Were this suit to come in slightly cheaper, it would be a veritable bargain, but it’s a little too close to the more established names in terms of price to go shouting from the rooftops about. However, the thermal lining technology, the excellent hood and general use of quality materials means it is a savvy buy for those looking for cutting-edge features.
But unfortunately, it’s often a brand game when it comes to looking good in the water and whether the fickle surf fraternity will accept someone rocking a decathlon suit into their ranks is yet to be seen. And that's a shame, because we feel that this suit will not only last a long winter season, it will also keep its user warm, dry and comfortable throughout.
Dakine Cyclone Winter 5/4mm Wetsuit With Hood
Dakine has created an extremely flexible, extremely warm and amazingly zip-free wetsuit with this design, packing it with Hexo_Therm core lining, a FLX_THERMO lining in all other panels and DK_Lite Neoprene in the shoulders and arms.
It’s a clever piece of kit that matches Decathlon’s features, including the built-in hood, but goes above and beyond with elements like a soft chin guard on said hood and an attention to detail when not comes to fit that’s difficult to rival. It is pricey though.
Olaian 5/4mm Wetsuit 900
- Stretchy neoprene for great fit
- Extensive thermal lining
- Reinforced zips and fastenings
- Strange range of sizes
- We wish it was a tiny bit cheaper
- Key stash pocket in uncomfortable location
In the Loop
A quick look at what you can expect from Decathlon's Olaian 5/4mm Wetsuit with Hood 900:
- Stretchy 5mm neoprene in the body, 4mm in the arms and legs
- Large stainless steel zip on chest opening
- Easy entry and exit ankle and wrist cuffs
- Blind-stitched, glued and taped seams
- Built-in hood
- Extensive thermal lining throughout
Olaian 5/4mm Wetsuit with Hood 900 review: fit and features
Decathlon states that as this is a tight product, it’s best to option a size up, but finding the right fitting wetsuit is often much trickier than that, as body shapes and the cut of wetsuits varies wildly. Heeding that advice, we plumped for a large, even though we would nearly always go for a medium - or better still - medium short (MS).
Despite the large sizing, the suit actually fits pretty well, although we’d like to see more options added to size range. For example, the UK Decathlon site offers standard XS to XL, yet also touts MT (medium tall) and LT (large tall), without the shorter options for slightly stumpy folk, like yours truly. Boooo.
Wetsuits also stretch over time, so we’re convinced this large might just become baggy in all the wrong places after a heavy winter season in the sea. So our advice is to go in store and physically try on where you can. It should feel extremely tight at first, that’s normal.
However, the Olaian 5/4mm is incredibly easy to get in and out of, thanks to the quality stretch neoprene used, while the designers have cleverly added "water stopper" wrist and ankle cuffs, which are made from an elasticated polyester material to ensure it's easy to wrap those cuffs around boots and gloves, but more importantly, pull the suit off when extremities are near-frozen solid.
Reinforced grab loops at the back of the suit help ingress and egress further, while the chunky zipper toggle has been designed so that users can get it opened with gloved hands. That said, we found the oversized zip very fiddly to locate and close, even with warm, ungloved hands. Something Decathlon should look to remedy in an update.
The built-in hood is a nice touch though, and it features a peak for keeping out the sun and reducing the amount of water that goes in the eyes when duck-diving. Unlike many other similarly-priced rivals, this hood is also lined with the same, extremely comfortable inner lining that’s found throughout the rest of the suit. It keeps the head really warm and fits great, not flushing or letting in too much water with every wave.
Decathlon claims the lining material has been heavily revised over previous versions so it is now more comfortable against the skin, warmer and faster to dry. All of which we can 100 per cent vouch for.
Finally, there’s a ubiquitous key stash pocket, which we’re not sure how often actually gets used nowadays, considering nearly all car keys feature a battery and hate water. What’s more, it’s located inside the chest closing, which we feel is an odd place, because you end up laying on it whenever prone on a board. It would be far better to have it somewhere in the lower leg department…. like a lot of other companies do.
Olaian 5/4mm Wetsuit with Hood 900 review: performance
The key to getting a comfortable and reliable winter surf suit is finding the magical blend of warmth and comfort, with lots of brands going for much thicker, heavier neoprene in pursuit of warmth but neglecting the fact that this tends to fatigue muscles faster and is generally less comfortable to wear.
Similarly, products that boast ultra-stretchy rubber and other such wonder fabrics can end up feeling great at first, but often give up the ghost far sooner than the buyer would ideally want. Decathlon pitches its suit somewhere in the middle.
Yes, it’s heavier than, say, the Xcel Infiniti X2 suit, which is one of the best out there, but doesn’t boast the same built-in hood technology. But then it’s no bulkier or more cumbersome than Patagonia’s extortionately expensive R5 Yulex range.
Above all else, it feels good when worn and allows plenty of movement in the upper body without rubbing or chafing. Although despite the hood staying nicely out of the way when you don’t need it on, it can also bunch up at the back and rub a bit. The solution is to wear it, which is fine, because it proves really easy to get on and off with gloved hands thanks to the sturdy peak. However, the way it’s glued on - rather than stitched - could cause potential rips and tears at the seams in the future.
The addition of reinforced knees bulks up an often easily damaged area though, while Decathlon’s ankle and wrist cuffs deserve a bit of praise too, because they feel extremely well bolted together and look like they will withstand a decent amount of wrestling in the car park when trying to remove freezing boots.
There’s a distinct lack of water ingress when bobbing around in the sea, which is great, and the suit is fantastically warm. It easily feels like it could handle the depths of January when paired with some quality boots and gloves.
This is a fantastic winter wetsuit from a manufacturer that isn’t typically associated with the bleeding edge of surf technology. Warm, easy to get into and comfortable over long periods of time, it can hold its head high among stiff competition. Let’s face it, surfers are a picky bunch, but if they can look past the badge on the chest, it’s a solid investment for frigid winter surf sessions.