Tested: Quiksilver Mens Highline Pro 1mm Zipperless Steamer Wetsuit
The world’s most expensive wetsuit
Ironically enough, last CW wetsuit depth test opened with the bold statement that it was hard to spend $1000 on any surfing accessory. Well, it just got a tiny bit easier.
The Quiksilver Highline Pro was the star of the show at Quik’s recent CT in France. If you watched the WSL coverage, you saw it every 20 minutes or so in ad breaks, flashed by the company’s A-team, winner Jeremy Flores among them. Looking on, I thought, “Nah, nobody’s actually made a 1mm full suit for public release. Have they?”
See this is possibly the last big step awaiting a surfer’s wetsuit, a Holy Grail if you will: The body suit. Something so thin you almost don’t know you have it on, yet still able to offer some level of protection and not fall to pieces in a light breeze. I knew it could be done; hell, back in the ancient 1980s it had been done, by my good ol’ wetsuit sponsor Piping Hot, then owned by Torquay legend Rod Brooks, who used to stitch 1/2mm combo steamers for his team members on request. And I don’t think I am betraying a rubberware trade secret if I tell you quite a few of the big name wetsuit companies supply their pros with suits cut from rubber considerably thinner than the normally advertised materials.
Less rubber, surf better. Fact.
But 1mm? All over? For SALE? Who would dare? The only place in the world I knew you could get such a thing done was in Japan, where it’s still possible to walk into some surf shops and order a custom cut suit of the finest neoprene ever made, from whatever thicknesses you desire. For a price. Usually around $1200.
Then a black box looking very sci-fi and with only the smallest quantity of ID was delivered to my door, and there it was.
The Highline Pro is dauntingly simple. The few touches are very high style indeed. There’s a little orange flash down the wrist end of one sleeve with three tiny Quik logos stamped on it. The other logos are only a little bigger, and black, so they vanish on the body of the suit.
Other than that, straight out of the box, it sits there in your hand, sleeves and legs held open by little air-puffed plastic bags, and weighing about as much as your average long sleeved vest.
Construction-wise, everything is ultra-minimised. Only one seam is stitched — the outer edge of the entry system, which has to encase the lanyard tightening thingy. All the others are glue-welded and exterior taped with very thin flexible silicon banding, and there’s not a whole lot of that comparatively, since the suit has so few actual panels. (Nine in fact, while typical 3/2 full suits have up to 18.) Wrist cuffs are shaped inward and taped to prevent leakage, but the ankle cuffs are left open and unrestricted, presumably to release water, and maybe also to let the suit flex easily while going on and coming off. Knee wear protection is also minimal, with thin panels of tough silicon separated to allow for full flexibility in the joint.
The suit comes with a zip-free entry cut one of two ways, for either a natural-foot or a goofy. The theory being, mostly if you fall during a ride, you fall front shoulder first, so if you don’t want a full suit flush through the open side of the entry, then put the entry on the other side. For me, a natural, it meant an opening on the right side — opposite to every other suit I’ve ever used. It doesn’t sound much, but it very much added to the sense of this being a very different wettie.
The entry actually has a tiny tricky moment — the opening flap on the closed side of the entry is not secured all the way around, clearly so the suit can flex the way it’s meant to. It means you can easily stick your arm through the gap on the way to the sleeve. You don’t want to do this, but it’s pretty easy to avoid. Just make sure you slip your arm under the flap. The suit then pops on the same as any other zip-free.
Except then you’re in it, and you realise it’s NOT any other zip-free. It doesn’t feel like any other full suit at all.
I have to admit I was a tiny bit psyched out by the Highline Pro. Like, bloody hell, this has a price tag bigger than most surfboards I own. So maybe I was thinking to put it in its place when I decided to trial it first up in a full on iron person training session.
Yep, a real super clubbie epic, swim board ski run transitions, over 90 minutes of intense effort. Way harsher than anything you’ll do just surfing. Water was cool-ish, around 17 degrees, no wind.
My excuse was, well, if this thing is really as flexy as it looks, it should be able to handle such a thing, but maybe I just wanted to torture it a bit, because try that stuff in a normal suit and it will end in tears all round.
I got a couple of things out of this 90 minutes. One was that yes, you can sweat in a 1mm wetsuit. The second was that the suit is such a snug fit, it really resists water ingress. You’ll find a full suit out real quick on this score when you bodysurf. Under bodysurfing pressure, most suits will open up somewhere and let water in, resulting in the suit “ballooning” and you getting a heavy cold water flush through. The Highline Pro got through the bodysurfing test with virtually no flush, I think through the combination of minimised seams, tight wrist closures, and the lack of zipper; I ended up with maybe a cupful of water running through the suit and draining rapidly out through the looser ankle cuffs.
I didn’t really notice a third thing till later. Any other suit I’ve tried this iron bullshit in, it’s really hurt me later, a lot of muscle soreness thanks to fighting the suit’s inherent resistance to movement. The fact that I felt normal afterward should have twigged me to the suit’s special properties.
This all grew clearer over the next week as I surfed a range of wave sizes and conditions, from reefs up to 6’ to 3’ rip bowl beachies, with and without wind.
The neoprene and very slightly plushed interior lining in the Highline Pro is insane. It’s not boardshort freedom but it’s bloody close. It allows all kind of movement while staying close and surprisingly warm. I felt a tiny bit more pressure on the left shoulder while paddling, which is typical of the closed side of a zip-free or chest zip suit, but the movement on that side was still freer than any other suit I own. In duckdives it retained its low levels of water ingress, which I further realised is key to the design of a super-thin suit — it’s one way to reduce dependence on the rubber. Less water flush, less need for the body to re-heat the water contained in the suit, which in this suit, is a very small amount — if you take the weight variation from dry to wet as gospel, the Highline Pro carries about 300ml of water in it at any one time, whereas the typical good quality 3/2 will hold about 550ml.
I watched closely for signs of wear. The rubber’s extraordinary quality and thinness naturally causes you a bit of wariness on this score, like surely it will rip through or some such? Maybe it will over time, but a week’s fairly hard surfing did not damage the Highline Pro in the slightest. The inner lining did not puff up, the seam taping stayed intact, and the few internal points where seams join at an angle didn’t seem even a little bit strained or tested. The suit did pick up a bit of wax staining here and here, but they all do that.
If the Highline Pro has an Achilles heel, it’s probably wind. The combination of external nylon and super thin rubber exposes you to wind chill, which occurs within a few minutes of sitting out the back in a breeze over 10 knots. I did this in a cooler southerly one day and found I had to move regularly around the lineup between set waves just to keep that chill at bay. It’s more of an issue than water temp, which varied spring-style between 17 and 19 degrees but which never felt like it bothered the suit much.
Otherwise, my God. I’ve wanted someone to dare to make a suit like this for decades. It gets out of the way and lets you surf the way you want. You could wear it comfortably most of the year, even as sun protection in summer, without feeling compromised in any way. The price tag seems mental but someone’s got to start somewhere with this stuff.
(We’ll check back in six months to let you know how this suit responds to wear and tear over time.)
Name: Mens Highline Pro 1mm Zipperless Regular Foot Steamer Wetsuit
Hand-blown Japanese neoprene
Fine-weave nylon outer layer
Slight plush nylon inner
Minimised nine-panel construction
Glue/welded seams with super-thin silicon exterior taping, some support internal spot taping
Zip-free one-shoulder entry (custom to stance)
Weight: 670g dry, 950g wet
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