Fall is kind of my prime time for picking up a new wetsuit. You see, I have a tendency to really squeeze every last wave out of my suits, so once I have one suit it’s welcomed into a rotation of about 2-3 others that I’ll keep for as long as three years. Last winter the Pacific Ocean stayed warm enough that I made it comfortably through the cold season with a short sleeve two-mil (yes, a short sleeve two-mil all winter) and one 3/2 full suit. Needless to say, both of those suits now have awesomely designed speed holes in the shoulders thanks to my ability to drag them through a full year past their life expectancy. Now back to my original point. It’s fall, combo swells are calling me to the ocean a little more frequently, and I’m inevitably growing more and more eager for full on winter Northwest after Northwest. That means I’m due to replace my speed hole enhanced suits with something that won’t make me look like a homeless person.
Needless to say when Xterra Surf offered to send me a fresh suit for the winter I was a tad excited to have something new. Without picking out anything specific I just gave them my size, said thank you, and expected a new 4/3 to show up at my door. But the suit that arrived wasn’t a 4/3. It wasn’t even a 3/2. It was a 2/2 full suit with all the frills as if to say “We know winter is coming but you won’t need any more rubber than this.” Challenge accepted. It turns out Xterra made the Blacks 2/2 back zip specifically to replace your 3/2. Less rubber, less weight, and more flexibility are awesome. So I was on board with that. However, I’m not on board with the idea of replacing the freezing effect of those strategically placed, massive holes in the shoulders of my last suits. And if this winter doesn’t stay as warm as last winter I don’t want to miss that extra millimeter or two keeping my man bits warm. So I figured I should learn just how and why I’m not going to miss that extra millimeter this winter.
First off, they’ve built in a fancy micro fleece that you see on many high end wetsuits. The fleece on the inside of the suit covers most of the torso on both the front and back, as well as over the shoulders with an extra panel that fits like a tank top inside of your suit. The idea is that the fleece radiates your body’s natural heat, and a warm chest and back is going to help the rest of you stay toasty too. I thought the extra panel might feel a bit bulky around the back, but it’s actually a comfortable and cozy fit that doesn’t feel any different from a “normal” suit. Second up is the X-MAX seam seal, a liquid seam seal on both the inside and outside of the suit covering up double-blind stitching throughout the panels. Oh so dry! I forgot what it was like to not have water flushing through my arms every duck dive. Flexibility without sacrificing warmth accomplished. I was pleasantly surprised in my first go out with the new suit. The water hasn’t picked up its expected bit of fall/winter bite just yet, but based on fit and paying attention to how much water isn’t freely flushing in and out of my suit I can confidently say I’ll be fine in a 2/2 through the entire winter.
If I had any qualms with the Blacks full zip at all it’d have to be getting in and out of the suit with it’s extra fleece panel that has to be pulled over the shoulders. If you imagine squeezing yourself into a no zip entry then still having to get your arms into the actual suit itself, that’s what I’m still adjusting to with this. It might just be an unfamiliar extra step, but I also understand the function of having the added warmth through a fleece panel that covers more torso area than other suits even attempt. It’s worth it when the pay off is surfing with less neoprene. Because less neoprene equals more flexibility, and more flexibility equals a hell of a lot more energy for paddling. And lord knows in an El Nino year my noodle arms (and my car heater) are going to be getting plenty of use.
Editor’s Note: This #RADGEAR is powered by our good friends at XTERRA SURF.