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Old 05-29-2010
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Neoprene Poker Playing Surface from Sea Vulture Review

Custom Neoprene Poker Playing Surface from Sea Vulture
by ttttubby


Manufacturer: CT Member - Sea Vulture
Retailer(s): Website forthcoming
Average Price: Stock toppers for 4ft and 5ft round tables will retail for $125 but CT members will be offered the discounted price of $95 plus shipping. Customs will be priced on a case by case basis.
Material: 2.5 mil neoprene with nylon cloth on each side (green and black)
Click the image to open in full size.
The story of my progression into the depths of poker obsession will likely be a familiar one to those who frequent the chiptalk forums. It started with the poker boom widely influenced by the ubiquity of televised poker tournaments at the beginning of the new millennium. During this period a number of my friends started hosting home games featuring slugged variations of dice chips, paper cards, and at the peak of elegance cheap cardboard felt covered poker table toppers. Though I wasn't much of a poker player at the time (I think I kept getting invited back for this very reason) I do remember thinking that I loved the atmosphere, the heavy chips and the prospect of lucking into a few extra dollars.

I moved away before I could get really into it, but years later I had the opportunity to get my own game started in my new home town. I went out to Walmart, bought some cheap $20 dice chips (they were official casino weight after all + they came with a free deck of cards) and a roll of felt from the fabric department (for only $7!). This kept me content for all of two of our monthly games, and then I decided I wanted to upgrade our setup a bit. Like many others before me I went to the internet looking for clay chips and eventually found chiptalk.

After a good month of lurking I eventually jumped in head first, got into contact with Joe at Palm Imports (literally called him up) and worked out a deal on some custom PGI compression china clays (see my review here). I loved them and so did my players. But even though I had my chips, I found myself still lurking on the chiptalk website, realizing that I had just purchased a significant upgrade, but the rest of my game needed now to be brought up to par. So I went out and got a setup of Copags, and then the Walgreens deal came around for the Fournier manufactured Bicycle Prestige cards, so I got a couple of setups of those as well. But I soon discovered that the new plastic cards were being hampered significantly by the pilled up felt that I was using. So again I started trolling various forums to see about getting a table topper or maybe even building my own table.

Though Scott Keen's forum has me convinced that I will one day build a table, right now I have neither the time nor the space to do such a project. My first thought was to get some suited speed cloth and some velora to make my own padded surface. My wife (who is a bit of a seamstress) was even going to help me. Once I got the materials however it quickly became obvious that while I might be able to make a nice surface for my own table at home, whatever I made would not work on the tables that my poker buddies had to use. And, since we have a rotating game, I needed something that would be a flexible solution.

My original thought was to go with a poker hoody. I even got in touch with the manufacturer. I was ready to pull the trigger and then I noticed a thread here on CT where the owner of poker hoody tried to pull some shenanigans pretending to be a customer rather than the vendor. In another thread about the poker hoody Sea Vulture indicated that he would soon be releasing a higher quality alternative to the poker hoody. He was working on a prototype (at the time) topper that would fit round tables perfectly, but I needed something that would work with tables that fell within a range of shapes and sizes:
  • My table is a 42" x 60" oval
  • My buddy Matt's table is a 42" x 54" oval
  • My buddy Court's table is a 45" x 57" rectangle... and
  • My buddy Mark's table is a 35"x 60" rectangle
Suffice it to say he had his work cut out for him. I got in touch with him via phone and after soliciting the table sizes, Sea Vulture set to work designing a custom playing surface which was flexible enough to accommodate our game no matter where we played without sacrificing neoprene thickness and quality. His design and attention to detail were excellent, and I am very pleased with the end product. Read on for all the details.
Pros
  • Nylon covered 2.5 mil Neoprene material (great cushion, easy cleanup)
  • Great chip protection during splashed pots. Chips bounce less as the neoprene absorbs the shock of impact.
  • Cards slide like air hockey pucks
  • Fits both rectangles and ovals up to 46" x 66"
Cons
  • Toxic rubber smell (which dissipates after extended use)
  • Custom solution that might be a bit pricey for some players.
  • Needed to figure out a solution to keep the drawstring edges from bunching up.
Price
Apparently Neoprene is not the cheapest of materials. At $95 the standard rounds which Sea Vulture plans to stock might be a bit outside of some people's budgets. That said, the the round toppers that Sea Vulture makes are truly a sight to behold. They include a sown in border piece which does a nice job at replicating a rail and ads to the professionalism and comfort of the product. I was so impressed with the pictures he sent me that I've decided to get a 5ft round table from Sam's Club ($40) to use as a fold away secondary table in conjunction with the round topper that Sea Vulture stocks (review forthcoming). By design, the custom topper that Sea Vulture made for me is very different from his stock rounds, and while he is a reasonable negotiator, I would expect that custom versions of his toppers could get a bit more expensive than the standard versions. That said, it is important to note that for the price you are getting a 2.5-3 mil neoprene surface (compared to the 1 mil neoprene surface used on the poker hoody).
Feel
The 2.5 mil neoprene surface affords excellent protection for my chips and when they splash the pot the thickness of the rubber provides a nice satisfying thud when they hit the table. Also, having a padded playing surface generally allows you to pick up your cards more easily.

Click the image to open in full size.

The nylon cloth is softer than suited speed cloth (by far) but not quite as luxurious as velveteen. It does however seem to be very similar (by way of feel) to the nylon surfaces used on high end tables (rye park etc). The beautiful thing about this cloth is that cards slide on it like they were on an air hockey puck (almost to the degree that they go too fast and too far!)





Stacking
Chips stack no problem on the cloth. The neoprene padding requires a fair amount of pressure to compress, so stacks stay nice and stable.

Click the image to open in full size.
Sound
Like I noted above, the nice thing about having a thicker padding is that there is less likelihood of hearing the table underneath the padding when you splash the pot. The chips hit the table with a barely audible thud.
Looks
The topper looks (to my eyes) fantastic both on the green side and on the black side. One nice design feature of my topper is the inclusion of four bungee drawstrings (one on each end and one on each side) rather than one. This allowed me to tighten the topper down onto my table without unsightly bunching. And by connecting each of the knotted drawstrings underneath the table (via a caribiner) I get not only a nice flat playing surface, but also a sleek table edge.

Click the image to open in full size.

Also the stitching, while nothing special is straight and clean.
Click the image to open in full size.
Originality
The poker hoody was first to the stretch over neoprene topper party, but it seems like Sea Vulture has perfected the concept.
Durability
I've now used this topper only the one time, but it does seem to be very durable. Though my table is oval in shape, some of my players have rectangle tables, for which Sea Vulture is sending me some extra neoprene corner guards to ensure that the integrity of the topper stays intact.
Reviewers Comments
I am extremely happy with this topper and with Sea Vulture's service all along the way. Bottom line, it does what I need it to do. I will note however that when I first received it I was a little worried that it wasn't fitting correctly. The four drawstring design initially seemed (to me) to be a bit of a mistake. Four drawstrings meant that the surface protruded where the material bunched up in four places (but mainly on the longer sides). I called Sea Vulture to get his take on the issue and he did two things. First without any prodding on my part, he offered me my money back if I was in any way unhappy with the product. Second, he brainstormed a simple solution that really could have been a part of the original design given its elegance. The solution was to pull all of the drawstrings together underneath the table to be hooked together. Since the drawstrings had already been knotted at the ends, using a caribiner was the easiest and most elegant solution.

Setting up the topper takes minutes. You just unroll it, cover the table, pull each of the four drawstrings, making sure to tighten the cinch, and then pull the drawstrings together underneath the table to tighten it around the edges. Fasten the drawstrings together with a caribiner and you have a snug flat and sexy poker surface.

Click the image to open in full size.
Click the image to open in full size.
Click the image to open in full size.
Click the image to open in full size.Click the image to open in full size.
Additional Pictures
Here are some pictures of the topper in action
Click the image to open in full size.
Click the image to open in full size.
Click the image to open in full size.

Yeah, he called with this hand.
Click the image to open in full size.


And the hands of the night

Matt with Quad 3s
Click the image to open in full size.

Joel with straight flush
Click the image to open in full size.

Me with a royal flush (I'm not even kidding)
Click the image to open in full size.

UPDATE:
Last Friday night I got a chance to check out my new topper's versatility. My buddy Court hosted the game and his table is a completely non-standard 45" x 57" rectangle. I snapped these pics with my phone (sorry for the sharp decline in quality from the previous set of pictures).

The topper fit the table nice and tight, though there were a few "lumps" on the sides because of the odd placement of the legs on Court's table. That said, the surface laid nice and flat for the whole game, and again received rave reviews from all of the players.

Click the image to open in full size.
Click the image to open in full size.
Click the image to open in full size.

Last edited by ttttubby; 07-22-2010 at 03:58 PM. Reason: Added info about the range of tables it can accomodate.

Old 01-08-2011
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Re: Neoprene Poker Playing Surface from Sea Vulture Review

Hey hey! when did my review make the front page! Woot! I'm feelin mighty special now!
Old 01-08-2011
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Re: Neoprene Poker Playing Surface from Sea Vulture Review

great review. ty.
I've been contemplating buying a piece of neoprene and having a friend (who employs seamstresses and plays in my home game) do the sewing.
A few qs -
you mention a border piece sewn into the stock models. Have you tried this? I've been pondering a stowaway border & looking at your glide vid, it looks neccessary.
did you receive the corner protectors? are they a piece of neoprene sewn into the shape of a corner of a cube? or have you been using the topper regularly without them & feel they're unnecessary?
Old 01-09-2011
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Join Date: Dec 2009
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Re: Neoprene Poker Playing Surface from Sea Vulture Review

Agree. Great review and seems like an awesome product. Couple of quick questions:

1. Love the video of the sliding cards. If both sides are covered in nylon, is there any sliding while it's on top of the table? I'm thinking that on a round wood table, the topper would have a tendency to slide side-to-side.

2. Curious about the 4-drawstring design. Does each drawstring cinch up it's own area, or doe the 2 opposite drawstrings cinch up "across" the table? (hope this makes sense)
Old 01-09-2011
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Re: Neoprene Poker Playing Surface from Sea Vulture Review

Quote:
Originally Posted by albie View Post
great review. ty.
I've been contemplating buying a piece of neoprene and having a friend (who employs seamstresses and plays in my home game) do the sewing.
A few qs -
you mention a border piece sewn into the stock models. Have you tried this? I've been pondering a stowaway border & looking at your glide vid, it looks neccessary.
did you receive the corner protectors? are they a piece of neoprene sewn into the shape of a corner of a cube? or have you been using the topper regularly without them & feel they're unnecessary?
Thanks for the feedback.

The version I reviewed was custom made. The stock ones are round and consist of a thicker neoprene center sown to a more flexible neoprene skirt which fits around a standard size (4-5ft) table. I think the skirt is black in color but I've not received one for review so I don't really know. I'm also not sure if the stitch where the two pieces of neoprene are attached is raised so as to stop cards from flying off the edge, but I would guess that this is indeed part of the design. The whole thing is very similar to the poker hoody though according to sea vulture his product uses a thicker neoprene for the play surface and features higher quality stitching and material generally. But again I've not seen the standard round product. Sea vulture's main business had something to do with making scuba gear which is why he had access to quality nylon covered neoprene. Or at least that's how I remember our conversation. I wrote this review months ago but it only recently made it's way through the review wiki process.

I've not received the neoprene corner guards yet. Truth be told I forgot about them since we've used it primarily on rounded tables. Thanks for the reminder. I shot an email off to sea vulture this afternoon. When we used it on the rectangle table below I put simple washcloths over the corners to protect the neoprene.
Old 01-09-2011
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Re: Neoprene Poker Playing Surface from Sea Vulture Review

Quote:
Originally Posted by xxmorjo View Post
Agree. Great review and seems like an awesome product. Couple of quick questions:

1. Love the video of the sliding cards. If both sides are covered in nylon, is there any sliding while it's on top of the table? I'm thinking that on a round wood table, the topper would have a tendency to slide side-to-side.

2. Curious about the 4-drawstring design. Does each drawstring cinch up it's own area, or doe the 2 opposite drawstrings cinch up "across" the table? (hope this makes sense)
Thanks. The video was pretty easy to make with the standard windows video maker. Once the topper is secured it stays in place pretty well. You can wiggle it a bit if you really try but pretty much once it's set it's set.

The drawstring goes around the border of the topperand cinched up at four points in order to avoid scrunching all of the material at one spot. Sea vulture did this because he wanted to make sure the topper would fit well on several different table sizes and dimensions. The standard topper only has one cinch because it is designed to fit only round tables of a certain size range.
Old 01-09-2011
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Re: Neoprene Poker Playing Surface from Sea Vulture Review

So your question about whether there was a ridge on the stock version to help stop sliding cards got me thinking that I might have a couple of pics of the stock versions in one of the emails I got from sea vulture. Sure enough I found them.

Click the image to open in full size.
Click the image to open in full size.

As you can see it looks like the transition between the play surface and the border is pretty flat so the cards sliding too far might be a problem.
Old 01-28-2011
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Join Date: Sep 2009
Location: South Lyon, MI
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Re: Neoprene Poker Playing Surface from Sea Vulture Review

Nice review. I bet these would work well on the plastic rectangular costco tables everyone (including me) has.
Old 01-28-2011
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Re: Neoprene Poker Playing Surface from Sea Vulture Review

Quote:
Originally Posted by mike32 View Post
Nice review. I bet these would work well on the plastic rectangular costco tables everyone (including me) has.
Actually, the rounds fit those perfect and alot of guys go that route. Easy to store, inexpensive, and a great setup.

I really do hate having these made for square or rectangle tables. The points on the end really wear on the neoprene. However, anyone who does go with a neoprene cover for a rectangle table needs to protect the corners. I always suggest going to Home Depot ad getting some of those Baby Bumper Guards and cutting them to fit the corners, then putting the neoprene cover on. It seems to do the trick.
Old 01-28-2011
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Re: Neoprene Poker Playing Surface from Sea Vulture Review

Actually, I meant that alot of guys buy the 5 ft rounds from Sam's or Costco's, not the rectangle tables. The rounds work perfect.
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