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Surfing Wetsuit Review: Xcel Drylock Hooded 5/4
Xcel Drylock 5/4 Wetsuit at a Glance
Fullsuit, Chest Entry, Integrated Hood
Water Temperature Rating
35-45° (F) and Up
Water Resistant, 100% Ultrastretch
Polyfleece Lining & Insulating Airprene
Sealed & Liquid Taped
On any given winter day, I may find myself paddling out into the surf facing water temperatures in the 30's and the air temp well under that. Throw in a steady north wind and maybe some sleet or snow, and you've got yourself a typical day of New England winter surfing. In these unforgiving conditions, staying warm isn't only for comfort but safety. Finding the right gear and the right fit becomes essential to any surfer looking to brave the cold.
Given my aversion to frigid waters (despite my Canadian genes), I had my doubts that I would ever find the right suit to allow me to surf for more than an hour in the depths of winter.
However, this season I made the plunge and purchased the Xcel Drylock Hooded 5/4 wetsuit which I paired with 7 mm booties and 5 mm lobster claws. The result: winter surfing bliss.
And for the record, I did not receive free product in exchange for writing this review. But I never pass up the opportunity to help out my fellow winter surfers, and this product is just too good not to share.
Horizontal Chest Entry System
First and foremost, I won't miss the neck rash or cold water flush that I so often feel in my back zippered suit. The Xcel horizontal chest entry system includes a waterproof zipper, with the zipper flap fully attached at one shoulder and a snap lock on the other. Locking pull cords along the chest entry and the opening of the hood make both areas fully adjustable. Underneath the zipper flap, you'll find overlapping neck panels which allow a little extra give when stepping in and out of your suit.
I admit, making the switch to the chest entry system took some getting used to. The first few times I suited up, it took me a ridiculous amount of time, some cleansing breaths, and little help from friends. Part of this was because I wasn't aware of how much stretch this suit could take, especially through the neck panels which I was skittish about giving a good tug. It still takes a little extra effort compared to your average back zip, but well worth it for warmth and comfort once you're surfing.
From the inside out, the Xcel Drylock 5/4 is built for warmth. The front, back and hood consist of dual layers of bamboo and recycled carbon fibers plus Xcel's patented “Airprene”. Airprene consists of layers of neoprene, the middle one perforated, which helps trap your body heat. The Xcel also uses "QDR" (Quick Drying Fiber) which repels water and adds to the warmth. The rubber used on the chest/back panels and hood is textured for wind resistance. Seals at the ankles and wrists help to prevent flushing. And all seams are blind stitched (meaning the sewing needle does not penetrate the outside of the neoprene), glued and bonded to minimize water entry.
The bottom line is the Xcel Drylock is warm. Really warm. The water temperature rating on the suit is 35-45° (F) and up, and I've put that to the test on the coldest of New England days. On rare occasions, I've even had to pull back the hood to cool off despite being in the dead of winter.
When searching for a winter suit, it's important to find the balance between warmth and flexibility. The Xcel Drylock is made with 100% ultrastretch neoprene, which is lightweight without compromising durability. Its minimal seams and panels also add to the flexibility, along with the contoured elbows and knees. Considering the freedom of movement I feel when wearing this suit, it's hard to imagine I'm in 5 mm of neoprene.
The Thermocarbon lining used in the Xcel Drylock 5/4 is constructed from bamboo-charcoal fibers and recycled fibers from broken-down plastics. Xcel also uses limestone (rather than oil based products) as it's base component for both its neoprene and glues, sourced from a manufacturer who relies on hydroelectricity. The waste-heat from the limestone conversion is further used to power local aqua farming. And did I mention Xcel's Hawaii headquarters is solar-powered?
Suggestions for Care
Like any wetsuit, some care is required. I recently purchased wetsuit shampoo, which guards against bacteria growth and helps to avoid that smell (the punchy neoprene smell...you know the one). I add a capful to a rubber tub of freshwater and soak my suit for about 15 minutes before rinsing. With or without shampoo, rinsing with freshwater is required after every use.
Avoid drying in direct sunlight as it breaks down the neoprene and seams. No surprise, drying winter suits takes a little extra time due to the thickness of the neoprene. I usually let mine dry overnight, then turn it inside out to assure that both the interior and exterior dry thoroughly.
The Bottom Line
Sure, it's a big investment ($489.95/mens, $479.95/womens), although you may be lucky like me and score a deal at the end of the season for closer to $350 or even less for an older model. But I'm totally sold on the Xcel Drylock Hooded 5/4, as it strikes the perfect balance between warmth, durability, and flexibility. It's no wonder that the Xcel Drylock was named wetsuit of the year by the Surf Industry Manufacturers Association (SIMA).
Here in New England, having the right winter gear can mean the difference between a 6 month season and a 12 month season. If you're looking to extend your season, the Xcel Drylock 5/4 hooded suit will keep you toasty on the coldest of days. Happy surfing!
You can see the full lineup of Xcel's products at http://www.xcelwetsuits.com/