Have a 5/4/3 billabong foil steamer. Im going to school in maine right now and it does the job for me here. lots of rubber on my hands, feet and head but the suit itself works well when it is scary cold. really cheap too.
-Pick out a suit online
-Check out the size chart and find a size that matches your dims
-Go to a nearby shop and try it on to verify the fit
-Go online and get the cheapest deals
What will you do when you lose a fin during an epic hurricane swell and said surf shop is out of business due to everyone using the same approach??? I don't think the swell will hang around waiting for FEDEX to deliver your replacement fin.
Without sales the local shops will cease to exist. T-shirts and wax won't pay the bills.
I'm all for capitalism and freedom but the "browse the local store but buy online" approach will eventually have consequences. Hopefully the manufacturers and local surf/skate/ski/bike shops will work out the current situation so that the local shops can still realize a reasonable profit. Someone has to pay for the service, shelf space and square footage they provide.
On second thought...that also means no shops for newbies to buy a board from=less crowds.
Magoo nails it. it is the sign of a (insert french word for shower) to try something on in a shop and then buy it online. Patronize one or two shops in your area. Build a relationship. You will get good service and good pricing. You will get honest advice and the occasional hook-up if you develop a real relationship with the shop. Do not contribute to the WalMartification of surfing.
Also do not cheap out on your winter suit. go to a shop and get the best one available that fits you. the shop will order you one if what you need is not on the shelf.
I meant it for the OP as if he was asking me personally for advice. But I see your point of view about taking business away from the local shops. In my case, I only make that approach whenever I am switching brands to get a feel for their fit, because the same size MT usually fit differently between brands. I just think that if he has access to a shop, he should use it as a tool. I am sure the shop appreciates him actually walking in and maybe picking up fins, wax, leash, or other misc. items while he's browsing wetsuits, rather than not even coming in there at all and going straight to the internet to buy. Who knows, he may find that the wetsuit price at the shop may be cheaper than online.
I am def. not opposed to establishing a relationship with a shop to make sure you can always get a good deal. I know of some that match prices for certain things, and some actually have their own stores online, even the smaller single-owner ones. I myself try to balance out my sources, wetsuits = online, misc items like wax, leash, fins, sunscreens = local shop, boards = shaper... just stuck in my old ways I guess.
I got the new Xcel 5/4/3 Infinity Xzip and love it. Also bodyglove has some nice winter suits for good prices, there is a link to it right at the top of the surf report in the "recommended wetsuit" icon.