The Xcel Wetsuit Test

The Xcel Wetsuit Review

Patrick Langdon-Dark tests the Xcel Comp and Drylock wetsuits

Regular Surfdome customers will know of our affection for Xcel Wetsuits. The brand’s stern dedication to the task of keeping surfers warm and limber is reflected in what is arguably the finest wetsuit range around.

But don’t just take our word for it. Take the word of Ben Mondy and his floppy-fringed, high-performance Welsh companion, who recently sampled and reviewed two staples of the Xcel Wetsuit range, the Drylock and the Comp, on location in Portugal and the Azores.

Xcel Drylock wetsuit's semi-dry zipper
The Xcel Drylock… it’s a beast. Photo: Miguel Rezende

The Comp, short for Competition, sits in the middle of the Xcel range, its name a nod to the flex and performance attributes that are this wetsuit’s defining features. (No, you don’t have to be a seasoned competitor to wear one.) Then there’s the Drylock, Xcel’s premier model. There’s a clue in the name here, too: the Drylock keeps cold, unpleasant water effectively locked out. Obviously some water is allowed to get in – that’s a how a wetsuit works, silly – but in such tiny amounts that it’s instantly assimilated to the thin layer of heated water between skin and wetsuit. Ben and Pat explain.

Words by Ben Mondy

“From the rocks, it looked big. Solid six-to-eight feet. Once I was out there, it was bigger than big. It was huge.”

That was Welshman Patrick Langdon-Dark, the UK’s highest-ranked surfer on a recent session at a rare mysto wave on the island of Sao Miguel in the Azores. The goofyfooter was on hand in the Azores to compete in a European QS event. However, a deep Atlantic low pressure had parked itself on top of the volcanic archipelago that lies around 1000 miles west of Lisbon.

Pat Langdon-Dark Xcel Comp wetsuit test
Mondy’s “floppy-fringed, high-performance Welsh companion” and the UK’s highest-ranked surfer, Patrick Langdon-Dark. Photo:  Miguel Rezende

With the contest site beachbreak being battered by 15-foot waves and howling onshore wind, the event was cancelled. That gave PLD the time to freesurf and give us his thoughts on the Comp 3/2mm and the Drylock 4/3mm.

Xcel Comp Review

Pat was wearing the standard Comp, not to be confused with the Comp X, a similar model with a few high-end upgrades.

“The week before the comp was sunny, with fun waves,” said Pat. “I surfed at least twice a day, every day, and wore the Comp wetsuit each time.”

The water temp was around 18 degrees and the air temperature hovered around 20, which approximates to summer, maybe autumn conditions on mainland Europe and in the UK. The Azores’ beachbreaks he surfed were shifty, rip bowl affairs that usually involved a fair amount of paddling.

“If anything, the Comp was just a shade too warm,” said Pat, “but it’s so flexible and lightweight, that there was no need to worry about rubbering down.”

The Comp’s flex comes from having a single large panel on the front and back that allows for a maximum range of motion. Fewer seams equal more stretch. Additionally, the wetsuit’s Nanoprene Lite Japanese Limestone is stretchy, lightweight, and durable. It’s also lined with plush Thermo Lite Infrared materials – essentially a pared-down version of the Celliant lining, more on which in a moment – between the chest and knee to supply the core with extra warmth.

The Comp’s flex comes from having a single large panel on the front and back that allows for a maximum range of motion

“I’d wear this wetsuit at home in Wales, through summer and into autumn,” said Surfdome’s test pilot. “It acts more like a 4/3.”

Shop Xcel Comp wetsuits at Surfdome
Shop all Comp and Comp X styles

Xcel Drylock Review

The Drylock is the warmer wetsuit, hence the higher price tag. We were testing a 4mm Drylock, true, but thickness aside, this suit is clearly designed with harsher conditions in mind. The cold-water defences are sturdier, the heat-retaining features slightly more advanced.

We tested the 4/3 a week or so before in Portugal, where Pat had been competing in a Challenger Series event, and where the water was a good four degrees colder. It passed the test with flying colours. In truth the water temperature could have dropped another four degrees without troubling the Drylock. It’s about 9 degrees in Cornwall during winter, and while many 4mm suits would struggle, the Drylock has been holding up fine (though you’ll probably want a hood to go with it).

One reason for the additional warmth is its thermal lining, known as Celliant Black, which is not only slightly thicker than the Comp’s lining but composed of “smarter”, harder-working fibres. It covers almost the whole of the inside of the suit.

Celliant, an Xcel exclusive, is a patented blend of thermo-reactive minerals that have been ground down to a micron-level powder, then infused into the core of the fibre used in the lining. The increased warmth allows a reduction in the fibre width, and therefore weight.

Pat explained some of the finer technical details: “I’ve no idea how that Celliant Lining tech works, but it sure kept me toasty.”

4mm of rubber was overkill in the Azores. Still, the arrival of some raw, unruly Atlantic power would give us a chance to see how the Drylock and its various barriers to entry respond to large quantities of angry water.

When the storm swell arrived, Patrick travelled around to the remote, east coast of Sao Miguel. Here majestic cliffs were cut by deep rainforest ravines as waterfalls emptied into the sea. Hairpin roads wound down vertically to remote fishing shacks and empty coves. The howling westerly wind was dead offshore, grooming the huge swells that wrapped around the isolated boulder-lined points.

Despite several swimming pools of Atlantic being dumped from a great height on our brave Welsh hero, he didn’t have to deal with any of it going in places where it shouldn’t.

“The jump-off from the rocks was horrendous, and within ten minutes, a 10-foot, six-wave clean-up set mowed us all down,” said Langdon-Dark, now wearing the Drylock. “On the wetsuit front, I didn’t get any water flushing down the neck, or up into the arms. I was getting thrashed around, pulled from pillar to post, but the wetsuit was fine. It was the lack of oxygen that was the main issue,” he laughed.

Like the Comp, the Drylock has a slick “glide skin” collar that prevents flushing through the neck. Elsewhere, the defences are even more robust. A semi-dry zipper, with a magnetic seal and extra insulation along the zip, all but eliminates water ingress through this often-vulnerable area. Then there are Drylock wrist seals, featuring a tapered cuff shape unique to Xcel; and Nexskin ankle seals, which use internal liquid neoprene strips to cut out the flush factor.

That’s why despite several swimming pools of Atlantic being dumped from a great height on our brave Welsh hero, he didn’t have to deal with any of it going in places where it shouldn’t.

“The Drylock was super warm, but again it’s not restrictive,” concluded Langdon-Dark. “This wetsuit could take some serious cold water, acting almost like a 5/4, and handle most European locations during winter. The bottom line is both wetsuits were warm, comfortable, light, and had plenty of flex. And you can’t ask for much more than that in a wetsuit.”

Wedging wave breaks off the Azorean island of Sao Miguel. Photo by Jorge Masurel
A classic “you should have been here last week” situation. This Azorean wedge hit the island of Sao Miguel just outside our wetsuit test waiting period. Photo: Laurent Masurel
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