New dude on the block

Australian dinghy wear brand Zhik moves into the northern hemisphere

Thursday November 30th 2006, Author: Andy Nicholson, Location: United Kingdom
Tucked away in one of the halls at METS – the trade equipment show, was a new dinghy wear brand to our Northern hemisphere eyes.

Zhik (pronounced ‘zike’) is coming into its third season on the market and heralds from Sydney and is the brainchild of passionate Australian Laser sailor Brian Conolly. He, like many in the business, has left his rather technical desk job which he says can be summed up as: “Coming up with digital signal processing for audio processors and licensing signal processing algorithms to consumer electronics companies” to create a new niche brand in his familiar sailing world.

Zhik is targeted at what Conolly calls “the fast wet athlete” and is refreshing in its Southern hemisphere approach to dinghy sailing with several standout products in its range.

In a brusque sort of Aussie way Conolly sums up his view of the current wetsuit marketplace: “In sailing there are definitely laggards when it comes to materials in wetsuits and we have put a lot of effort into designing materials for sailors – not just grabbing surf wear type style products. What we have done is look at the problems from first principles rather than just try to use other traditional materials that are out there.”

The suits come in two core materials – the Superwarm and the Microfleece and are based around sailing in cold water, or sailing in warm water, irrespective of the season. The Superwarm is a four layer material with a nylon outer, super stretch neoprene, a reflective titanium layer and next to the skin a micro fleece thermal layer. The Microfleece drops the titanium layer and all up is just 1.8mm thick.

“The water actually works in your favour when it is warm,” comments Conolly, “both in summer and winter. In summer is a cooling effect and in winter it is a warming effect. So the Microfleece suits are used in Sydney for example where it is warm pretty much all year round. The idea with our suits is that we don’t have any arms on them, we instead layer up the tops as appropriate to the wind conditions and for the climate.”

A comprehensive range of suits match every type of sailing. There are Hiker shorts, Hiker pants, 3/4 Hikers, and Superwarm Skiff Hikers, plus Shorts, Pants, Spring Suit, Skiff Suit and Superwarm Skiff suit (left). For the hiking range there is an extensive range of hiking pad options to customise the suit to fit your size and style of sailing. Many of the suits also feature a ‘loo rip’ for those between races comfort breaks.

All the suits are armless and the clothing system is designed for you to mix and match what you want to wear on top for the particular conditions of the day. Four tops are available increasing in warmth, which can also be combined together: Spandex, Hydrophobic Fleece, Titanium and Superwarm.

Sticking out like a stubbed big toe in the entire Zhik line up is barefoot boot – which could only really have been brought to the market by a company from down under.

“Back in the southern hemisphere, rather than the northern hemisphere there are quite a lot of sailors that don’t like to wear boots at all – but they still need some sort of protection,” says Conolly of the toeless wonder. “So we have people who sail, who still want some protection and to use the hiking strap with some grip and have support – but they don’t want to wear boots. The Barefoot boot is amazingly comfortable – you have the Zhik grip on the top which marries with the Zhik grip on the specific hiking strap [19 classes are now catered for]. What is also important is that you have this ankle strap at the top of the boot – because when you are hiking in position the tension from the top of the boot to the toe has to be quite strong and it acts as an extra tendon, which means you can relax your foot more.”

Though this product may well see limited use in the Northern hemisphere – where sailors rarely sail barefoot – it does show a new and exciting approach to dinghy clothing that focuses more on what the sailor wants.

Also catching the eye is the side laced Racing Boot which came about from an unusual request says Conolly: “We had these great big Finn sailors come up to us and say ‘I like your boots and your strap – but your boots are too heavy’!

“So we came up with this idea to take as much weight out of the boot as possible. It is about a third of the weight of some of the other boots.” Because of this weight reduction Zhik had a much more malleable boot, which allowed them to add another innovation. “The side lacing gives you lots of tension points and it can be tailored to lots of different foot shapes. The lace isn’t tied, you just wrap it around the top of the boot and it creates an ankle strap with the Velcro.”

The company has set up a distribution point in the Netherlands and another is shortly to open in Atalanta serving the US market. The Zhik range is also online at “It is very much at the moment your specialist dinghy shop that is stocking us. These are the types of guys that are already well entrenched in the dinghy market and find themselves in the dinghy park, talking to the sailors,” Conolly concludes.

This growing range is an innovative breath of southern-hemisphere-warm-seabreeze in the traditional dinghy wear market. While it may come from the balmy waters of Sydney Harbour, like skiff sailing, it may open our eyes to a very different approach to our sailing up here.

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