I love surfing in nothing but boardshorts. In tropical water, under a clear blue, and liberated from the restricting confines of a wetsuit, it's as close to surfing naked as decency (and a really bad sunburn) allows. But sometimes it's nice to wear a little more. That's why, for my recent trip to Fiji, I brought along O'Neill's Super Freak Tropical Split Toe Boot and the Gooru long-sleeve top.
It didn't take long for me to appreciate the booties. While I generally prefer riding barefoot in warm water, I was particularly fond of my footwear when, a few hours into my first session, my leash snapped at Wilkes Pass, a reef break a few miles off of Fiji's main island, Viti Levu. My board ended up floating in six inches of water over a sharp reef. The six-foot, four-inch board was unscathed, and after I retrieved itthanks to the bootiesso were my feet. The two-millimeter-thick soles allowed me to stagger over jagged, glass-sharp coral with relative ease; it wasn't pretty, but it wasn't painful, either, and when I got back to the boat all I needed was another leash, instead of a first-aid kit.
So when other surfers shun the bootie, claiming they don't like the feel, my reply is "And that festering reef gash on your foot feels better, does it?" Ultimately, if you're surfing good, shallow reef breaks for an extended period of time without booties, you're going to cut your feet up, perhaps even badly enough to keep you out of the water when the waves start cranking.
Aside from its tire-tough sole, the bootie's split toe offers a little more grip to compensate for the natural feel I gladly had sacrificed by slipping them on. A double velcro strap system kept the shoes on my feet, but for some reason, with the Super Freak, O'Neill decided to abandon the heel toggle tie it incorporates on its other reef footwear. And so I plead: Bring back the toggle tie! When duck-diving bigger sets I often felt like the waves were pulling the booties off my feet, and paddling through double-overhead sets, the last thing I want to think about is a loose bootie.
But my feet didn't get all the fashion. Even though winter water temps in Fiji hover at 78 degrees, sometimes early-morning sessions can get a bit cold, especially if that perfect offshore wind is holding up mind-bending barrels. On chilly mornings, I pulled on O'Neill's 1.5-millimeter neoprene Gooru top. While no one likes rubber in the tropics, this top is flexible enough to warrant trading a little bit of comfort for extra warmth. O'Neill has introduced a slim but spacey pocket on the sidelarge enough to carry keys, a small tube of sunscreen or half a bar of waxand has kept its waist-loop design, so I could tie my boardshorts to the bottom of the shirt to keep it from rolling up my chest after a big wipeout. Super Freak Tropical Split Toe Boot, $45; Gooru long-sleeve top, $75; www.oneill.com