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Gath Surf Convertible

What was the best surf helmet is now just a contender

Fri, 01 Feb 2019
Pros Cons
Made for surfing Thin layer of EVA = minimal protection
Stays on your head with ear covers Even less protection in multiple impacts
Low friction, ABS shell Experienced bucket effect without ear covers

Recommendation: Wouldn’t recommend it. If you can’t achieve a better fit with anything else though, it does perform well. Therefore, it’s usable - just replace it often. For a little bit better protection due to its thicker layer of foam try the{” “} Gath Gedi .

Order directly from Gath or Check the price on Amazon.

Review

Safety-wise: not great. Surf performance-wise: one of the best available — if that means anything. Ask yourself, does that really mean anything? You’re wearing a helmet. You want safety. You’re not wearing a helmet because it looks good or because it’s more comfortable than not wearing one. Or because it makes you feel impenetrable.

To really explain what this helmet lacks, safety-wise, I would have to include a little video. You would see how it’s a flimsy piece of plastic that stretches and moves. Does that sound like something that’s going to absorb impact? Because between that flimsy piece of plastic (a very thin layer of ABS - the same material most helmet companies use for outer shells) and your head is about a quarter inch of what they refer to as a molded, closed-cell foam liner. Otherwise known as EVA.

EVA is nothing special. It’s been around for a long time. I’m sure there was a good reason for helmet companies to use it in their liners, but in this helmet, there’s simply not enough of it to provide any meaningful protection. A quarter inch (6.25mm) as measured by independent parties will absorb very little impact. Meanwhile, it will offer little to no protection when it comes to multiple impacts. As the foam crumbles and deforms after the first impact. Check out the wear and tear on my Gath Surf Convertible, which I’ve experienced some low energy impacts in.

The cell walls inside EVA can burst during and after impact, making subsequent impacts even less protective than the first one.

You’re a skeptic. You’re reading my words thinking that I just had a concussion, am stressed out and critical of the only company that has made a surfing-specific helmet for more than a decade. You have every right to be. You’ve never heard of me or my surf helmet testing obsession. For you, the skeptic, I have in fact included the video of this helmet, designed and created more than a decade ago. See for yourself:

Now, where this helmet lacks in safety, it makes up for in surfing performance…

Just kidding. I don’t actually mean that…because again…you’re wearing a helmet. You’re looking for some added level of safety over not wearing one at all. It’s the catch-22 of the surfing-helmet world. In any case, if you do choose this helmet, there are some nice qualities to it that have to do with surfing specifically. That is — its ability to stay on your head under water.

The good: it’s a hard hat helmet that actually stays on your head

It stays on better than any other hard hat helmet while you’re getting worked under water. You also don’t experience the bucket effect like you do in the other hard hat helmets I’ve tested like the Bern H20. (Don’t wear those helmets. They’ll give you whiplash or worse). Nice, considering the ABS, low-friction shell may help your head “slide” across reefs if you’re getting dragged (In terms of impact protection though, the theory that a hard shell “spreads” impact is dubious at best. For one, this is a flimsy piece of ABS, and two, keep in mind that any, in-mold, EPS bike or ski/snowboard helmet does not have a hard shell, yet, they all pass testing procedures and certification).

It’s able to stay on your head because of its unique hybrid, hard hat/soft-shell design. The forehead piece is sort of this tightened, soft, and stretchable piece of EVA that helps keep the helmet fastened to your head.

It also causes a unique shape in the hard hat portion of the helmet.

The funny thing about the Gath Surf Convertible performance-wise is that there is a striking difference between having the ear covers on and having them off. Having them on gave the helmet extraordinary powers to stay on my head. It didn’t move at all while getting worked under 8 foot sets. Having the covers off? No such thing. I was feeling the helmet move all the time. And it would constantly move backwards when coming up from duck dives. I would have to move my helmet back into position after each one. It appears the ear covers help to fasten the helmet to your head just as much, or more, than the soft, stretchable forehead piece even if the helmet fits tightly - like mine does.

The helmet’s ability to stay on your head is also aided by the fact that it’s ultra light. The company claims it’s the lightest hard hat helmet out there. Only 270–305g, depending on the size. That’s the weight without the ear covers though. The ear covers add another 60g, so in actuality we’re talking about a similar weight to any in-mold EPS bike helmet. A weight that’s not much lighter than the NP Surf helmet.

Conclusion

When finding the right helmet for you, especially when it’s a hard hat helmet, fit is obviously important. The Gath fits heads that are oblong. Interestingly, that is my head shape, and it was my go-to helmet in big surf until I had two successive concussions. But I say, was, because it was, until I got obsessed with helmets and started buying a bunch of them to inspect their technologies (surfing helmets, bike helmets, ski and snowboard helmets, etc.). Through these inspections I’ve come to realize that the Gath Surf Convertible is an expensive, outdated product designed to stay on your head and be durable… And it does a good job at that. But it simply no longer competes in terms of offering a meaningful level of protection.

A lot of people would probably say that, well, surf helmets should really just save your life when you smack your head on a reef and prevent the knock out that would lead to a drowning. I was in the same camp. And that is why I used to wear this helmet. But after checking out some other possibilities and researching various different foam technologies, I am no longer in this camp and I will no longer trust the Gath Surf convertible when it comes to impact protection — even when it comes to believing that it may prevent the situation described above. After reading this, seeing the pictures I’ve included, and the video, and comparing it to the other surf helmet possibilities out there, will you?

Fun fact: this helmet was designed and created in the late 80’s. It hasn’t changed since.

To end on a positive note though, if Gath updated their foam technology, or simply used a new, non-Newtonian foam, like D3O or CELL FLEX IMPAX, I would probably be back in this camp. The thing to keep in mind though is that the thickness of the foams and the technologies themselves are not the only things that contribute to impact mitigation. Force is also distributed horizontally, so considering Gath’s helmet liner is made up of a bunch of small pieces of EVA (which is also something that contributes to this helmet’s ineffectiveness btw), the company would need to completely rethink the liner in order to provide truly good impact protection.

Order directly from Gath or Check the price on Amazon.

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