A kayaker with a background more prone to drysuits than wetsuits, Lydia donned a Radiant Wetsuit and jumped belly first into testing it out.
Full disclosure: I ordered the NRS Radiant 4/3mm wetsuit with aspirations of going to adult surf camp this spring and perhaps discovering that I had a hidden talent. What if I took surfing lessons and realized I’ve spent all this time kayaking when I’m actually a wicked good surfer, destined for fame and greatness?
We may never know if that greatness lies within because, well, the surf lessons never happened. Here I had this spiffy new wetsuit that I would occasionally put on and dart around my house like a neoprene-clad superhero but, so far, no heroic claims with which to pair it.
Fast forward to mid-June when my friend and prone kayaking pioneer Adam Masters invited my now-husband and me on a Bellyaking adventure on the Pigeon River. For those unfamiliar with Bellyaking, you lie on a full length board and paddle with your hands, much like a surfer paddles out to catch a wave. We’d be spending the day in the water, on and off the Bellyak, and much wetter than I’m accustomed to as a hard boater. Mobility and comfort would be key, as would staying warm on the river, so I needed to choose my gear wisely. What is a cold-natured river chaser with a penchant for superhero ensembles to do?
Enter: the Radiant 4/3mm wetsuit. Fleece lined on the inside, this blend of three and four millimeter neoprene offers thicker, warmer protection around the core with lightened construction around key points of mobility like the knees, chest, and arms. What felt like overkill at the sunny put-in for the Pigeon would prove to be my new best friend. The zipper is on the back of the wetsuit making my ride on the Bellyak comfortable all day long, and the long tag on the zipper itself made it easy for me to put the wetsuit on without any help.
I jumped into the water and onto the Bellyak with reckless abandon. I’ll admit, I’m usually the paddler dodging waves at the end of the day because I’ve gotten cold, but this day I was thrilled to relish in the opportunity to splash around in whitewater without getting cold. As a whitewater kayaker, I don’t often think of wetsuits as having a place in the hard boater’s gear bag, but I gained a new appreciation for connecting with my whitewater environment with gear that kept me both warm and protected while allowing for full immersion.
Since I’m not a Bellyak pro, I proceeded downstream off the Bellyak as often as I did actually on it, and whitewater rivers are made up of, well, rocks, in addition to chilly water. Normally bruising like a peach, I hopped out of the water at the end of the day having been fully protected during any brush against rocks—of which there were many—during my float downstream.
Warm, protected, and ready for immersion, I hung my wetsuit up until my next heroic exploit as a whitewater Bellyaker, SUP’er, or swimmer. The whitewater wetsuit isn’t for everyone, true; may it serve only the daring, the dreamers, and the undercover superheroes—if only ‘til the takeout.