13 September 2012

Wetsuit Review Roundup

I'm beginning to think all wetsuits are semi-disposable. Although a few buddies have told me theirs lasted a year and a half or more, at around the one year mark, mine all seem to start failing to perform their primary purpose of keeping me warm in the cold waters of NorCal. I typically surf twice a week, not a lot but not a little. And I rinse the suit in fresh water after use, hanging it to dry out of the sun with the midsection over a wide plastic hanger.

Here's my take on the wetsuits I've used over the years, plus one I'd like to have.

4/3 Xcel Infiniti X-Zip, size 4, purchased November '11
I had high hopes for my Xcel since a friend told me her suit lasted two years. But after 10 months of keeping me warm and partly dry, I had to send it in for repairs. I was starting to shiver in the warmish (55°F/13°C) summer NorCal ocean, because some of the suit's seams were cracked and splitting, and the neck and leg openings were frayed. Xcel's door-to-door time on the repair was pretty good at 11 days, most of it in shipping since they were done the day after they received it. However, I would have preferred that they kept it a bit longer and actually fixed all of the problems instead of just some of them. I'm still having a bit of cold water flushing so it's time to bust out the neoprene cement and start looking for another wetsuit for winter. Durability aside, the Xcel Infiniti doesn't measure up design-wise against the Rip Curl Insulator. The legs are too long, so the suit bunches around my knees. The key pocket is located under the chest-zip flap, instead of Rip Curl's more convenient placement on the side of the leg, although the longer elastic string loop is nice. The chest zip goes awkwardly from right to left and is quite difficult to fasten with gloved hands. I have to start the zipper before I put on a glove, then lock the car and attach the key, stuffing it with some difficulty into the tiny pocket, before closing it all the way. When a sprained wrist made zipping myself impossible, other people enlisted for help had trouble with this zipper. But the biggest omission compared to the Rip Curl Insulator is the lack of an integrated hood. At a comparable cost, it's a glaring lack, and leads to cold-water flushing through the neck opening, not a good thing in the cold of spring upwellings.

4/3 Rip Curl Insulator, size 4, purchased September '10
For features and design, Rip Curl is top of the heap. And it fits the best of any suit I've owned. Sadly, it doesn't last. It kept me warm through the winter and spring, but after a year of twice-weekly use, it was giving me the shivers in summer. The main cause was major flushing through the neck/shoulder area. On close inspection, I found thin spots at the shoulders and an actual small split in the neoprene; I've patched the spots but it's still chilly. Unlike the Xcel, this suit didn't start to fail within the 1-year warranty, so I'm left to my own devices to keep it reasonably together. The Insulator is user friendly, with a zippered key pocket easily accessible on the outside at knee level. On extra-cold days, Rip Curl's design zips in a hood under the chest-zip to secure it firmly within the suit, keeping my hair mostly dry and blocking water flush through the neck opening. All around, it's a nice design, but they forgot about durability. Factory repairs take a long time, over a month after a fin cut through the top layer of neoprene on my thigh, and unfortunately they didn't make the effort to fix any of the other leaky seams.

4/3 and 5/4 Hotline, size 2, purchased '06-'09
B.R.C. (before Rip Curl), I had several Hotline wetsuits. I'd been wearing size 4 O'Neills that were too big for me, so was happy to find Hotline made a suit that fit better without extra length in the arms and legs. I won't go into details on the models, because Hotline has severely sliced their selection of women's suits. They're a local company, and in the past offered good deals and wide selection at their Santa Cruz outlet. They also have fast turnaround on repairs, generally within a week if you drop it off at the store. The last mid-line 4/3 I bought on clearance was only $100, so I couldn't gripe too much when it self-destructed in about a year, despite repairs. (I can complain loudly about the Rip Curl and Xcel discussed above, since both were full price at over $300.) The 5/3 Hotline was a top-of-line hooded wetsuit which is toasty warm although seldom used; I dislike the added bulk and have gotten acclimated to surfing in a 4/3 even through most of the coldest days of winter. Hotline's size 2 seemed to fit me well enough, until I tried the Rip Curl in size 4, which is much better. When I recently pulled the Hotline 4/3 from the depths of the closet as a backup, it felt too small and too short in the legs.

4/3 O'Neill D-Lux, size 2, purchased '07
Sadly, like many of the major surf brands, O'Neill doesn't make good quality, warm wetsuits for petite women. Off the rack, this was too cold even for summer, and I sold it right away.

5/4 O'Neill, size 4, purchased '04
Way back when I moved from Florida to Washington, I bought a hooded 5/4 O'Neill wetsuit to wear while surfing Westport. It was a bit big, but I couldn't find anything that fit better. Fortunately there are a few more choices now.

4/3 Women's Isurus, to be purchased someday
Unfortunately, women's wetsuits are not yet available from Isurus. I've heard very good things about this local Montara-based company, but they only make men's suits. I'd be first in line for a women's and was eagerly awaiting their rumored 2012 debut, but the company recently told me that "unfortunately we will not be coming out with a women's line this year...we have not yet been able to catch up with the demand from our men's line."

So what's my next wetsuit purchase? Honestly, I don't know. None of these suits have been as durable as I'd expect for the retail price, so I'm hoping my mostly-repaired Xcel will hold up a while longer. Meanwhile, since it fits me the best and has nicer features, I'll keep an eye out for a Rip Curl Insulator on clearance.

1 comment:

  1. Heya great thread, I love my size 4 4/3 Xcel x-zip fits me perfect, but found the 4/3 Ripcurl size 4 WAAAAAYYYY too small in the bust, a size 6 just too big... next. I have an 3/2 O'Neill size 4 and it's too big all over. Looking to order a Hotline but unsure on size... trying to get data from Hotline. Why would they only post weight and height... grrr. Seeking a 50 degree water suit right now as my 4/3 Xcel is NOT one.