With winter swells and dropping water temperature due to arrive in Central California by mid-autumn, I found myself in need of a new wetsuit for the season. A recent purchase of what I assumed to be a top-of-the line wetsuit transformed into a saga of undulating emotions and, more importantly, warmth.
Of course I wasn't blindsided by this need, I knew all summer a new suit was in the cards, but procrastination persevered until October when I purchased a brand-spanking-new XCEL Drylock 4'3.
I'd been partial to O'Neill suits in the past, but after hearing XCEL's praises sung by many friends in the water and out, I decided to sack up and drop the $460 plus tax to see what I was missing in the form of Drylock technology: I was not disappointed. Initially.
Although the suit was much more of a struggle to get in and out of compared to the back-zippered O'Neills I'm used to, the effort at the car paid off tremendously in the water.
The neck-entry flap and neoprene panels beneath are ingeniously engineered to prevent any sort of flushing that previously punctuated my sessions in the O'Neill. Pre-bent joints, a slender cut, and tapered wrist and ankle seals improved comfort and tightened already-impressive water security.
Drylock is indeed an apt product name. The suit was warm. Too warm even, especially on scuba trips in pre-winter sunshine. I actually found myself scooping water down the neck just to cool off a bit. Now I understood why my buddies wouldn't shut up about their XCELs. I was in love with one myself. But the honeymoon was not to last. It took a few sessions before I noticed the stitched seams on my right forearm coming undone. I was alarmed to say the least.
Sure, the seam was glued beneath the stitch and taped on the inside so I wasn't overly concerned about leakage, but jeez, the thing has cost me $500 bucks out the door! There's no way seams should be coming out after a week of use.
Maybe I had simply bought the dud on the rack like an idiot. I was confused and hurt. I took the suit back to the store and showed the manager. Thankfully he was more than accommodating and helped me send it back to XCEL for treatment.
I pulled the old O'Neill from my closet, and we reacquainted ourselves. It was like nothing had changed (except now I knew the superior warmth of XCEL.) XCEL got the suit back to me in about two weeks. The forearm seam had been restitched and I replaced the O'Neill again. But my mistrust wasn't so easily forgotten.
I took to checking and rechecking every inch of the stitching after use. It only took another week or so before I found thread unraveling on the shoulder and the thigh. I was furious. Cliches swirled in my mind: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice...I couldn't finish the sentence.
Even though the suit was warm and fit oh-so-well, I felt played. I consulted with my friends who had recommended XCEL. One said he'd noticed something similar but just cut the thread and tied it off. It obviously didn't bother him on his scuba trips as much it irked me. Is this what $500 buys you nowadays? I sent back the suit with a polite but unmistakably toned letter detailing my misadventures.
"The suit works well and fits great," I wrote. "But the quality is beyond questionable if its seams can't stay stitched. I was prepared to disown XCEL forever - just act like the whole thing never happened.
Great Service and Upgrade
I asked for a refund if they couldn't guarantee my suit wouldn't come undone after a single season. Secretly, I hoped they'd admit defeat and compensate me for my loses. But when a large box arrived at my door I knew it wasn't an oversized check and a lot of packing peanuts.
Inside wasn't the suit that I had cradled my body so lovingly yet treated me with such disrespect. Instead, I found a different suit, a different model - an XCEL Drylock Power Seam 4/3 This Power Seam is a step above the regular Drylock I had purchased, although I hadn't seen one for sale at the store. On XCEL's website I found the Power Seam cost about fifty dollars more than its cheaper brother. It's pretty much the same suit, except the seams are glued, stitched, and taped inside and out.
The tape prevents any seams from coming undone (at least keeps them hidden from sight), and generally reversed all the negativity surrounding my original purchase.
I just wish I had found this one before before all that hassle. It also wouldn't have been too sweet if I didn't have a back-up suit to use while the Drylock was at the shop!
There is no relationship like the one between a man and his wetsuit. XCEL's Drylock has almost everything a surfer could want - great fit, excellent warmth, quick-drying material, etc. But the one thing it lacked ended up being a major detraction - integrity in its stitching. Something I'd imaged came standard on a $460 product.
Do I recommend XCEL's wetsuits? Yes. But only if you can get one with taped seams such as the XCEL Drylock Power Seam, or you'll need to be prepared to commit to the dogged pursuit of justice for your money spent.