Inside the Winter Wetsuit

Getting Out of It is Another Story
Could it be? The suits have minds of their own?

You have paddled out and now sit on your surfboard waiting for waves, the sun low in the sky despite the noon hour. The air temperature is 35 degrees Fahrenheit, the ocean about the same. Your mind wanders. You’re here only by virtue of the warmth your wetsuit provides through the science of its advanced neoprene. 

You think that until now there has never been a type of apparel that actually wants you, that can’t live without you, that desires you with such clinging — no, call it what it is — with such passion as you step into it, stretching the neck hole and climbing down in. And, then you feel it pulling you deeper into its legs and arms, hands and feet, ever deeper, a backward metamorphosis until you become larval.

You have surrendered to the suit’s muscular rubber. A second skin, for sure, but it feels like the science has been advanced to the point that the suit — could it be? — has a will of its own.

Ha! Such a foolish thought. And yet you know what’s coming at the end of the surf session. Enough silliness, here comes a wave.

A nice ride. A crisp head-high left. You paddle back out and turn your bare face to the sun.

The air is so cold the ocean is steaming, losing whatever is left over from the Gulf Stream. You’re cozy in your wetsuit. You silently extol its virtues. Then again, it’s possible isn’t it? Beings with artificial intelligence have always been portrayed with lots of wires, shiny stainless steel bones, but it could be simpler than that, more insidious. Maybe Xcell, O’Neill, Patagonia, and the other wetsuit makers are afraid to admit the truth: that they have lost control of the science, that the suits now have minds of their own, a will to keep us warm that’s been molded into them just as the will to herd or to hunt has been bred into dogs.

You start to panic, knowing and fearing what you must face when you paddle back to shore. Are the suit’s tiny capillaries taking root in your arms and legs? Is that the cause of the itch, the not-unpleasant itch, you’re feeling?

Easy, easy does it. You’re warm, the wind is offshore, and only a few other surfers are in the line-up. You exchange pleasantries with them, share waves, but now you notice what looks to be worry on their pinched faces as they peer out of their tight wetsuit hoods. They look as though they’re seeing the world disappear the way a dog or a baby pig sees it just before the boa constrictor closes its mouth. They look swallowed.  

Uh-oh, Dalton’s paddling in. Peter says he’s got to go to work after one more wave. Charlotte looks cold. Soon you’ll be alone. It’s winter. No one hangs at the beach at this time of year, and your wife is not at home. You’ll be alone, well not really alone.

You are one with your wetsuit and must now begin the humiliating pleading that few surfers will admit to: Please let me out.

You catch one more wave and paddle to shore. The wind is blowing hard. You start the truck and turn up the heat. You stand outside with the door open and succeed in pulling the hood off – easy.

You steel yourself. Now you have to climb out through the suit’s neck, but its shoulders are strong. You stretch the neck and succeed in exposing one shoulder, but the extra tension renders that arm helpless.

“Please let me go,” you whine. You use the freer arm to pull the suit’s torso down. A wrinkle of loose material forms at the waist, but the small victory only succeeds in angering the suit. Now you’re pissed off too, but experience has taught you that cursing only backfires.

A few more tugs at the suit’s torso and you succeed in freeing your other shoulder, but now both arms are pinned.

You’re in the French Foreign Legion. You’ve been captured and are being led to the wall to be shot. 

You pull the suit’s left wrist. It reacts by swallowing your hand. Both arms are pinned to your sides and your left hand is consumed. You begin to bite the air and stamp your feet. You hear laughter and think it’s the sadistic suit, but it’s a little girl who has been watching the one-sided battle. You beg her to help, but she thinks you’re weird and runs away.

The suit is diabolical. Every appendage has become a Chinese handcuff. The harder you struggle, the tighter they get. You’re exhausted. You promise never to pee in the suit again. The suit knows that’s a lie.

You fall on your knees facing the sea, the cold inquisitor. You are Sir Thomas More at the block, Jonah within a form-fitted whale, a madman howling at his straitjacket, a pod-person whose body has been snatched and prepared for the takeover. Crows begin to replace gulls on the beach around you.

You’re getting cold with head and shoulders bared. The wetsuit promises to keep you warm. Suggests that you come back in out of the cold, cover your shoulders again, replace the hood. No, let me go, you silently plead. And then, aloud to your suit:

“I promise we’ll go surfing tomorrow.”

“Oh, hey, that sounds great. I’m stoked.” Your friend has come up behind you. He missed the surf session.

“Here, let me give you a hand.” He pulls the suit’s shoulders down and frees your arms. You’ve been disgorged, reborn, a butterfly escaped from its chrysalis, but you stifle your ecstasy in the interest of cool.

“How were the waves?” he asks, knowing full well — as you tug at one of the suit’s arms to free your hand — that waves were only the tip of winter-surfing’s iceberg.

“Great,” you say. “The waves were awesome.”

James Katsipis Photo