Sunday, February 5, 2012

A Cold Snap and the Stink Test

Initiative Surf coach Alex Espir, layered up and dry on the search for winter waves.

Drive, walk, watch, wonder, repeat. Sometimes whole days are spent in this cycle looking for waves when winter storms roll through.

It was -8 degrees celsius one morning this week when I got in my car to go to work. Damned cold. We're having a proper cold snap at the moment and it's coincided with a nice little run of good waves, with the cold easterly winds coming from Russia being straight offshore. It's times like this when I'm glad that my friends at Finisterre make fully functional technical clothing that keep me warm when it's cold and cool when it's hot.

Tom Kay started Finisterre making fleeces and hoodies in his attic in Perranporth. When the business grew into a workshop in St Agnes he brought a university friend of mine called Ernie onboard as the marketing manager and Tom Podolinsky as a technical garment designer. The brand has slowly grown and picked up a shelf-full of awards along the way for it's ethical business practices and environmental conscience. Alongside considering every step of their products life cycles, they also brought back a rare breed of fine fibre British sheep from the edge and used a Land Rover that ran on bio-fuel to get them all down to the beach for a surf. All things considered, they're the sort of company who deserve all of the praise and success that they get.

"Take this and just do what you do, be as hard as you can on it, and let us know how it goes" were Ernie's words to me as he handed me a Brisa synthetic base layer the day before I boarded a train for Morocco last Spring. The Brisa was a new addition to their range, and a controversial one being a synthetic performance base layer rather than their normal preferred material of merino wool. Synthetics are well known for their ability to wick sweat and keep you dry when active, but they're also regarded as being a bit stinky. So I stink tested it: I wore it for a week straight all the way to Morocco by train with all of the stresses, all nighters and running for trains involved in hauling surfboards across a continent, then climbed a mountain in it and made it to the coast. The Brisa's construction is like a double skin, with "pores" on the weave of the outside surface, kind of like human skin. When static the pores are "closed" but when the fabric moves (due to movement of the wearer) the pores are stretched open, allowing sweat to be wicked away. Here are a few select extracts from my product testing journal:

My friend Kyle in a Bise insulation layer, waiting for a train somewhere in France.

"Put brisa back on at 5am after a wash, underneath a Coho and Etobicoke and it's smelling ok. Had my camping knife confiscated and binned by security at St Pancreas (I've had it for 20 years, so upsetting) then spilt milk on the brisa. Not a good morning."

"Hauling a boardbag across Paris in the sunshine made me appreciate it's wicking abilities, plus black hides sweat. Note: Parisian cafe baguettes fit perfectly into the pockets of our Etobicoke and Bise insulation layers."

"8 hours on a "regional" train to Madrid, I did some yoga on the floor of the luggage area and then a night in a cafe bar next to the train station. 5 and a half hours so far of coffee, beer and backgammon, still 3 and a half hours until our (potential) train. The Brisa has now done 24 hours straight since it's last hotel handbasin wash and it smells alright. My eyes feel as though they've had fire spat in them though."

Day 6 of the Brisa stink test; drinking from a mountain stream whilst trekking in the High Atlas Mountains.

"Ferry. Bus. Tangiers. The Brisa has done 39 hours straight. Carry my bag and boadbag all around the crowded streets and alleys of the medina until we find a nice old hotel. We get offered hasish eight times and I have sweat my rig off. The Brisa gets a wash in the sink and the evening off."

We trek for miles up to the "roughage" climbers hut. It was damned hard going, hot and at altitude (up above the snow line) but the Brisa worked absolutely perfectly - kept me warm, kept the sun off and wicked sweat well so I didn't get cold in the wind." Back at the gite the armpits smell but the rest seems ok, hung it up to air.

"Could I wear it as a rashie? Alone with boardies or under a wetsuit? Our surf issues meant that I didn't experiment with either - it's not cold enough to need a rashie under my 3/2 and it's too windy for just boardshorts and a surf-shirt. I wonder what SPF rating the Brisa would have?

Lost down the lanes around the River Severn back in the UK looking for a "secret ledge" that turns the incoming tide into a surf-able river wave.

The Finisterre Landy: ever-ready for wind and tide to align ready for the dash downhill to the beach.

Finisterre have an online sale happening right now and are having a workshop sale next weekend, on Saturday 11th February at The Tubestation on Polzeath, with some big reductions on this past seasons range. It'd be worth your while swinging by if you're in North Cornwall.

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