Tested: The O'Neill PSYCHOFREAK Zen Zip 3/2 Wettie
By Nick Carroll
An elite wetsuit with a zip-up back!? Can this actually be?
I gotta say it up front, I am a chest zip convert. Actually I’m a zip-free devotee. In the past two years, as well-engineered zip-free 3/2s have appeared on the scene, I haven’t seen much reason to wear anything else – except when venturing into waters and airs too cold for a 3/2. I don’t struggle with shoulder flexibility, so for me, slipping in and out of such suits isn’t the issue it’s becoming for many of us over 40.
The only non-chest-entry suit I’ve had in the past seven or eight years was an O’Neill of this very kind, equipped with what O’s head designer, Santa Cruz’s John Hunter, called a ZEN zip. In John’s lingo, ZEN stands for Zipperless Entry Neck. It felt good to me at the time, but also a bit loose, with a sense of rubber being bunched under the zip. After years of the chestie, I was keen to see how a 2018 version felt.
Super sturdy wetsuit. There’s more 3mm rubber in this suit than in its chest zip specialty relative the Psycho One, and there’s double up silicon beading — inside and out — along the majority of seams, so the effect is almost of a suit that could stand up by itself, though it’s still quite light. Some single-sided neoprene around the kidneys, which I always take as a hint that you’re meant to wear the suit in cold weather, beyond Sydney cold anyway. The rubber is beautiful but it hides its magic in this suit until you put it on. Every cuff is tight and firmly silicon-taped. The ZEN zip itself is just as I recall from previous encounters, but maybe just a bit more honed. The zip flaps are sewn on top of the underlying suit’s skin and pulls shut above that skin, thus reducing or pretty much eliminating the tug of a closed zip on movement through the shoulders and back. There’s a lot of Velcro in the neck closure, about which I am sceptical — Velcro rashing on the neck is a special back-zip nightmare, and I don’t wanna go there again.
Going on first time
Tight and clean. The silicon on the ankle cuff is a bit resistant and I had to work a tiny bit to pop it over the right ankle, which still carries metal in it from an old break and thus is slightly larger than the left side. But you kinda expect that resistance in a new suit. Hilariously I slid into the top half a bit wrong — I’m so used to doing the double arm shrug of a zipperless suit that I did it here, which on this suit results in the back flap getting stuck halfway up. Had to shake it loose before I could pull it over my head and secure. The zip is short and super easy to handle; even the stiffest old bastard could use it with ease, and there’s none of the bunching I’d remembered from years back. The Velcro wasn’t the hassle I’d feared, there’s so much cushion Velcro built into the neck that you can easily find a way of attaching the scratchy hook Velcro so it’s nowhere near your skin.
Insane fit. I am a classic Medium, 5’8” and 76 kilos with a solid upper body build, and this suit sat perfectly flush all the way around on repeated uses. No bunching or wrinkling anywhere. The rubber is a three layer combo they call TB3 and despite the flush fit and the heavily siliconed seams, it flexed more than adequately and felt like a better fit with repeated wearing. I swam in it over 500m, an even better flex test than paddling, and felt only a small hindrance. Paddling over 200m, easy. Longer paddling might wear on you a tiny bit more than a pure zipperless but it wouldn’t be a big gap.
Because of the acute fit, the suit does not leak much at all. It definitely leaks less than any 3/2 chest zip I own. The back flap seals the neck off, and water getting inside the zip is squeezed out through a drainage hole at the zip base. I dived and bodysurfed, trying to force flushing to occur, and it stayed pretty minimal. Early in any suit’s life it will tend to wick water off the outside nylon layer of the neoprene, and the TB3 stuff is no exception, but it also seemed to wick off water when I flexed the arms a little, interesting. I did the before-and-after weight test and while most 3/2s pick up and retain between 500 and 700 ml of water during use, this was more like 400ml, very much at the low end. This tells you it’s bloody efficient.
Any suit that’s fit and sealed like this is gonna be warm as toast, and for what I used it in, normal autumn Sydney conditions with a bit of wind here and there, this suit wasn’t even having to try. It might be the warmest 3/2 I’ve used, up there with an XCel Dry-Lock I’ve had for four years and save for July SW gales. I’d happily take it to J-Bay in 16-degree water, it wouldn’t bat an eyelid. It has a tightly wound fleece inner lining on most of the body and legs which feels as if it’d kick in around that sort of water temp.
Wear & tear
I dunno yet. The suit shows no sign of strain after a week, but it shouldn’t, should it, hell no. I’ll be surprised if I manage to hurt it through a full winter. Depending on how the silicon seams hold up, and on the level of care you took (regular freshwater rinses etc), it feels strong enough to last several winters of regular use. I’ll give it a hiding in the right conditions, hopefully including a J-Bay sojourn and a couple of NSW South Coast trips, and report back on it in four months.
I have a lot of respect for O’Neill as a company, like Rip Curl they have been anchored through the generations by the need to make good core surf equipment and they truly believe in their own code of producing solid warm hard-wearing wetties. I guess that’s what Santa Cruz gets you, if your rubber sucks in Santa Cruz then you don’t surf. This is an extraordinarily high quality suit and it’s priced accordingly; at $629.00 it’s the top of any 3/2 range, anywhere. It’s also one of very few wetsuits I’d kinda put on a par with a good surfboard — something you’ll be able to call on when it’s really needed, something that in the right circumstances, might just make your year.
Name: PSYCHOFREAK Zen Zip 3/2mm Wetsuit
Price: $649.99 RRP
TB3 Neoprene w/ TB-AIR Firewall
Super Seam Weld
TB-Air Firewall Smoothskin
Code Red Urethane Coated Zipper
Super Seal Cuffs
Super Seam Weld
With a short, sharp banger of a clip!
With a short, sharp banger of a clip!
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