O'Neill Mutant 6-5-4 Boot, $68
Over here on the East Coast, we call it "clubfoot."
It's really a misnomer, considering the actual clubfoot is a recognized medical condition where the feet appear to be rotated internally at the ankle. It's a pretty freaky defect, but fortunately, it can be treated. The surf term isn't anything quite as serious. It's basically the state where your foot gets numb during a winter session.
It's happened to all of us. It can result from a few holes in last season's boots, impeded circulation to the foot, boots being too thin, or simply trying to squeeze another hour into a session in when the water's 37 degrees.
And suddenly, as the hard offshore wind holds up that perfect five-foot peak, you get to your feet for the critical drop. And then as you lean into the face for your bottom turn, you realize that you can't feel the board. Your legs betray you and all the effort you've put into this if for naught, as you miss the section and straighten out toward the beach. And instead of backdooring a barrel or burying the rail, you're thinking about how you're going to get blood back to those dogs.
And it's for that reason that a good pair of boots is essential. You need boots that's keep the tootsies warm, but a bulky pair of seven mils isn't going to do much for your performance. You want something that you can still dig into the wax.
In December, I left the North Shore after the Pipe Masters and returned to New Jersey for two swells that pretty much rocked our coastline. It was bigger than most of the time I was in Hawaii, but that's because the North Pacific was taking a little nap. But when you consider the Mid Atlantic combined air and water temp, the fact that we rarely see that size swell, the ferocity of heaving shorebreak, and the rubber handicap, it was pretty intimidating. I was tickled to have a brand new pair of O'Neill 6-5-4 Mutants to wear as I mostly dodged the man-eaters and tried not to get pummeled.
"I was in Hawaii for two weeks, and got barreled one day. I came home and spent more time getting barreled in two days than the two weeks I was gone. Home is funny like that," says Brett Barley of the Outer Banks of the same swell.
"You can spend all your time traveling and searching for good barreling waves, and then get the best ones in your backyard."
And Barley was happy to have his tootsies warm.
"Those Mutants are my go-to boots for the winter. They're thick enough to keep your feet warm when the waters in the 40s, but having the thinner soles makes them feel a lot less bulky. Easily my favorite booties O'Neill makes."
This year, O'Neill retooled their Mutant boot for a very functional part of the 2013 collection, made to be warm and perform. The warmth comes from O'Neill's Firewall insulation, a light material that wicks away moisture. You know when you have a surf boot that wicks away moisture, you're getting pretty technical. That implies that very little cold water ever enters the boot besides the bit that slowly seeps in and is warmed by the body.
One thing you are sure to notice about this year's Mutant is the lack of a shin strap. I've always been a fan of being able to adjust a strap, but when you go too tight, you actually slow circulation to the foot and get colder fast.
You might also not the internal split toe. This isn't a new feature, but it's clutch. Round toe boots are generally warmer. When you leave that one little piggy out by itself, all the toes get cold faster. I personally have turned the "trip toe" fall to an art form. The split helps to keep the boot from slipping off when kicking into a wave. The ability to clench those toes and move the big guy somewhat independently provides a lot more control. There's also something to be said for the multi-density rubber sole. It provides thick 6-mil rubber where you need it, but eases back to four-mil where you actually want to feel something. Every seam is hit with the new Superseal closure, glued and blindstitched.
Zach Humphreys of Margate, New Jersey not longer rides for O'Neill. He's an Oakley man now, head to toe. But happy as he is with his new family, Oakley doesn't make wetsuit boots.
"I still wear the O'Neills," he admitted, "I really like how comfortable they are. And you know your feet will be warm on the coldest days."
Humphreys had some solid barrels and late drops on the December swells. And our toes were all warm enough to last until sunset.