Love them or hate them, booties are like the necessary evil when it comes to year-round surfing in New Zealand. Solite reckons its Custom 3mm heat-moldable booties have taken winter surfing to a whole new level.
We bought a pair to find our for ourselves. But before we get into the review it’s important to point out that we sit on the “hate them” side of the bootie love affair ledger. It seems like for most surf companies booties have been more of an afterthought. Generally, they’re clunky, clumsy and make foot placement more a game of roulette. Where my hooves are going to land is anyone’s guess in conventional booties – at least those that can survive a Dunedin winter.
So that was our starting point with our new Solite Custom 3mm sneakers.
Immediately you realise that these are no ordinary booties. They set us back $119 – which was between $30-40 more than some of their competitors. The virtues of heat-molding these to my feet (and a pair of free socks) was enough to convince me to splash out the extra dosh.
Fitment is a tricky one. You want these as tight as you can get them so the heat molding can do its thing and mold around your foot shape, but getting your ankle through the silicone cuff band is some kind of contortionist act in itself. With the socks on, it’s a little easier.
The knitted “heat booster” socks are something of a key addition. They used to be optional extras, but are included with every pair now. They definitely boost the warmth factor, make the booties way more comfortable and make it easier to slip in and out of them. Unfortunately, they have a habit of getting lost, lurking in the bottom of my wet bucket for longer than they should, or getting separated in the laundry cycle. The booties without them are still good, but that last 10 percent comfort and warmth … well, you miss it.
The heat-molding process is actually very simple; Fill a jug with water, boil it, pour some in the booties, wait a few minutes, tip it out (apparently no burn reports so far at Solite, but you don’t want to skip that step), then a flush of cold water and jam your foot in (with the sock on) as quickly as you can. Do one at a time and stand around in them for the next 20 minutes or until the temperature returns to ambient. You can even remold them, by repeating the process, if you decide to have your bunions cut off.
One other very notable element to the Solite Custom 3mm booties is their weight. They’re super light and way less than half the weight of some of the conventional booties with the Michelin-tyre like tread. We love the lightweight of these and the fact it doesn’t feel like you’re dragging a pair of soggy slippers across the deckgrip each time you pop up. The lightweight sole, which features four extremely grippy, flexible 1mm vulcanised rubber pads is where the weight savings have been made. The feel is without parallel the best bootie on the market as a result. But there is a trade-off and it comes in durability. If you’re a surfer who lives within a moderate walking distance of the beach then you’ll wear through these soles in no time. Even extended periods of rock-hopping will take their toll. It’s an interesting trade-off – if you’d rather not wear booties, then these might change your mind. If you can afford to replace them each season (and we’re on track to get a whole season out of ours), then the comfort and feel of the board underfoot may just be worth it.
The uppers are beautifully made with neoprene that is glued, blind-stitched, taped and welded to the lower. They’re pretty much water tight thanks to the build quality and the cuff seal, that is designed to prevent bootie flushes. We haven’t experienced any after about three months of use.
They also have a well-anchored pull loop that you’ll be grateful for if you leave your socks at home. Ours have a few marks where it is pulling at the rubber, but nothing structural at this point. The split toe is easy to get into and doesn’t inhibit dexterity or feel like you have a wad of wax between your toes. The socks also share the split toe design – that seemed odd at first, but it makes perfect sense.
The Solite Custom 3mm booties use a quick-dry lining that is comfortable as well. That’s appreciated, because being able to dry gear between surfs is a real bonus in the winter months.
Overall, we’re very impressed with these booties. Yes, they’re hard to get on without socks, the socks are easy to lose and the soles are going to get chewed to bits if you’re running 1km down the pavement to surf three times a day. But think how many times you’ve been surfing and your thick-soled booties have ruined a surf? For us that’s too many times to quibble about the extra price tag of the Solites. The surfing experience each time we paddle out is worth more to us than that.
Solite also offers a 3mm Custom Pro that features an arch strap ($139), a 6mm Custom Pro ($149) and an 8mm Custom Fire ($199).