My Favorite Cold Water Wetsuit For Northern California
I’ve been lucky enough to have had the opportunity to surf in Northern California for almost a decade now, the geographical Nor Cal, not the San Francisco & Santa Cruz Nor Cal. Aside from the surf being much more fickle when compared to our neighbors to the south, the water is freakishly cold all year round, not just in the winter. I’d say the average water temp here is 51 or 52 F, occasionally it even dips to the upper 40s, especially when that north wind gets the upwelling churning good.
I’ve owned quite a few of XCEL wetsuits over the years, and while I’ve tried other brands, I keep coming back to the classic 5/4/3 hooded XCEL. In recent years they’ve started using their bamboo tech in the neoprene and it works pretty good, however the original blend from years past seemed to maybe have 10-20% more lifespan. Either way, at the end of the day this is still the best suit for the money, especially if you’re going to be surfing in 50F water all year round. While the XCEL 5/4/3 will retail about $360 in most shops, sometimes you can find them for under $300 on eBay or sites like WhiskeyMilitia or Seshday. I still love supporting the local shops when I can though, as sometimes you just can’t wait for a new wetsuit in the mail. The Drylock version of the 5/4/3 is pretty nice too, but it’s rare to find them on sale for less than $400. Recently XCEL released a new line of stitchless suits called the Powerseam which retail for ~$530. I haven’t had one yet, and may again opt for the standard 5/4/3, but mine still has a couple of months left in it.
A couple of years ago I even bought a Patagonia R4 to see if that could one up the XCEL, but in all honesty, I still like the XCEL better, especially the Drylock version. While I think the Patagonia will likely outlive any XCEL suit, I just don’t find the Patagonia as comfortable. On some occasions I feel like I have a tiny bit more mobility with the R4, but it’s just not as comfortable as the XCEL suit. For whatever reason, occasionally my skin isn’t a fan of the wool in the Patagonia and can become a bit irritated if I stay out for long sessions, or walk a couple of miles in it. I’m definitely hanging onto it as an extra suit, especially for those cold mornings when my XCEL might still be wet from the day before.
Both of these suits are a front entry chest zip, vs the traditional back zip. While they’re much more of a pain to get in and out of, they don’t let in nearly the water a back zip does. Be sure to size these properly if you’re ordering them online, as they come in a full range of sort, regular and tall sizes. As far as booties and gloves, I rock the 5mm XCEL split toe booties and occasionally the XCEL drylock 3mm gloves when it’s really cold.