May 16, 2010 - Final Update - Issue resolved.
First the good news. I contacted Quiksilver warranty services via email and heard back from them within two hours. The service rep Paul, worked quickly (pun intended) and professionally. Within four days I had a free and fully warranted new battery. Now the bad news...it wouldn't take a charge. That made for three batteries in total that just did not work. Bottom line: the batteries are not ready for prime time.
But...more good news. Paul again worked quickly and professionally, contacting Freeline store manager Tara Mel, and arranged for a complete reimbursement of costs for the vest. Tara contacted me directly by phone and told me to bring in the vest and they would refund all my money. Two things: Quiksilver did a great job, and dealing with Freeline was once again (as always) an extremely positive experience.
I still think the heated vest is a great idea. When it worked, it worked really well and I would like to have another one. But they have to get the battery issue solved. I'll take another look at this product next Winter with the hope that they will have come up with a bombproof energy source that will hold up over the long run.
April 30, 2010 - UPDATE #1 - Two defective batteries in six months.
The first battery would not take a charge after two months. It performed well up until that time. The retailer, Freeline Surf Shop Santa Cruz CA promptly gave me a new battery to replace the defective unit. The new battery worked for about four months before completely malfunctioning. The rest of the vest has held up well. When the heated vest works, it's great. The problem is the batteries.
(NOTE: Freeline offered to give me another battery but I declined, preferring to deal with Quiksilver directly. This isn't Freeline's problem. With warming temps I won't really need the vest. But this does underscore my recommendation to purchase this product through a retail shop, not online.)
I currently (4-30-2010) have an email in to Quiksilver warranty services, awaiting their instructions. I suspect that the batteries on this unit, were just not ready for prime time. In my review below I mentioned the "issue" with the activation switch/button. I would not be surprised if the first generation technology for the power supply wasn't fully vetted. That's why the first run was "limited" production, and the vests were difficult to get.
I'll update again as I find out more. Until then, Caveat Emptor!
About the reviewer (me): I get cold really easily, therefore all the heat I can get (within reason) I'll take. I'm 62 years old, 5'9" at 150 lbs. Very little body fat, therefore not much natural insulation.
I started my research by reading the review on Surfline, and then calling Freeline to see if they had the vest in stock. John had the vest but didn't know much about them except to say that there had been a lot of interest in the product. He told me that Peter, who was working that afternoon, had worked on the prototype R&D for Quiksilver, and that he could answer my questions.
Long story short...I met with Peter and Jamie Mitchell (who was in town for the Nelscott Reef contest and Peter's tow partner, and also worked on the vest prototype) and they gave me all the basic info on the vest. I tried on my size and fired it up. It felt great and I bought one on the spot. The following is my review after wearing the vest five times in various surf and weather conditions from small surf in sunny weather to several early morning, large wave, cold offshore wind sessions.
The Surfline Quiksilver vest review was a good one, which surprised me a bit. I agree with just about everything their reviewer said.
I'll start by playing off Surfline's final paragraph: "Is it worth $200? That's your call. But yes, this vest definitely works. While I don't think it'd be enough to make your 3/2 equal in warmth to, say, a 4/3 and booties, it certainly keeps you warmer. And that could potentially extend your winter session, or convince you to paddle out on a really cold day."
Here's what the vest is NOT: 1) A replacement for anything in your current cold water ensemble (including rash guard, insulated undergarments, etc.) or especially boots, or hood of preference or gloves. 2) A replacement for a heavier wetsuit...i.e. don't expect to be as warm in a 4/3 as you are in your 5/4 if that's what you usually wear.
Here's what the vest IS: A nice addition (or augmentation) to your current cold water ensemble that adds an element of toasty warmth and probably will keep you out in the water more comfortably for a little longer than if you didn't have one.
Bottom line: This vest makes surfing in cold water a little more tolerable, and will make you more comfortable.
That being said here's what I experienced. The vest has two settings: high (about 129 degrees F) and low (about 113). High is HOT! I haven't surfed in water cold enough to warrant keeping the battery setting on high for more than a few minutes. (Water temps here in NorCal in Santa Cruz around in the mid-50's currently.)
I have two wetsuits: an O'Neill Mutant 4/3, and an O'Neill Mutant 5/4/3. I usually break out the 5/4 when the water temps stay consistently in the 55 degrees and less range. Above 55 degrees and I'm in the 4/3. I use these two wetsuits all year round. As a side note, normally I'd be wearing my 5/4 most of the time now, but have stayed in the 4/3 to "test" the vest. So far so good, I haven't been cold except for the following.
My shoulders and top of my chest got cold when I wore the vest only, and chose not to wear my insulated (fleece) Mysterioso short sleeve shirt. The vest is light but durable polypropylene and on it's own offers little in the way of insulation against the cold. This was remedied when I put the Mysterioso shirt back into my ensemble. No more cold shoulders or chest.
The theory behind the heating elements (pads) placement is as stated in the Surfline review...the elements are over the kidneys which are supposedly close enough to the surface of the skin that blood circulating through the kidneys will be warmed and therefore warm the entire body. I'm really not sure about that claim.
The heat feels like a nice comfortable heating pad placed on the lower back. (Unless their pee circulates up, the peeing in the wetsuit analogy wasn't very accurate.) The heat feels good on the lower back and would probably help to keep those muscles loose in cold water. This alone could extend your surfing time which leads me to the demographic this wetsuit fits.
I've got several friends who bought the vest real quick. So of the people I know who have the vests (all of whom like the vest), all three are over 50 years old. So I'm thinking this is definitely an "old guy" item. Kids don't get cold do they?
Overall I like this vest because I like almost anything that works to keep me a little warmer on those cold water, overcast or freezing cold offshore winds days. Although it's not a replacement for your current ensemble, it has kept me in my 4/3 a little longer than if I didn't have the vest. But DON'T think for a second you can surf barefoot or without your hood in cold water if that's what you wear now. And you probably won't be able to wear a thinner wetsuit during the colder times of the years just because you have the heated vest.
In terms of cost I think there is a limited market for the vest and it probably did cost a few dollars to develop. It appears to be well made and well thought out. The charging unit, the battery and the fittings are solid and sturdy. The vest should last a long time if you take care of it...which goes for just about anything. (Click here for the Quiksilver website.)
A few caveats: 1) Dimensionally the battery 4.5" X (about) 2" X 7/8" thick. It fits in a snug pocket on the right side of the vest, and rests just above the hip bone. It bulges out a little on the side of the wetsuit and if you're looking for it, you can see it. Wearing it caused me no discomfort what-so-ever. I can carry my wide (23") little 5-11 mini-Simmons on my right side no problem. The vest absolutely does not interfere with surfing or paddling. But like wearing anything hard and fairly large like the battery, falling on it, or having it jammed into your side would not be pleasant. It could definitely cause an injury that would not occur had the battery not been in place. I think the chances of injury from the battery are somewhat remote but...ya takes your chances however slight.
2) The three position button on the battery allows for: Press Once-High (one vibration); Press Twice-Low (two vibrations); Press and Hold-Off (a series of six (6) quick vibrations). I found the vibrations somewhat difficult to detect, perhaps due to a lack of sensitivity in my skin at the waist. Therefore I hold the battery steady with one hand, and press the button with the other hand, specifically to feel the vibrations.
Once the battery is on, turning it off by accident is almost impossible. However, an accidental changing of the power setting (especially from low to high) has happened to me several times. So I've had to go through the heat mode cycle to see what the setting is...again. While the hold for off feature is excellent, an update or upgrade would be a slight detente or wait (press and hold for one-half second for example) to change heat from high to low and vice versa.
The battery is lithium-ion, the type used in most modern laptop computers. They are durable and long lasting but there are a few rules one should follow or be aware of. Generally those rules can be found HERE. (Scroll down to the bottom of the page for the short list of guidelines.)
This is a good product that hasn't been over-hyped (yet) in terms of what it will do. I like it, and I would buy it again as is.