Wetsuits are essentially a series of problems and solutions, each solution in turn generating more problems, leading to new solutions and so on. The most effective, elegant solutions combine to make the best wetsuit.
Take, for instance, the chest zip, itself a far superior solution to the problem that used to be solved by the back zip. There are two main types of chest zip: those that start with the slider on the right and zip down towards the left edge of the chest panel; and those that start with the slider on the left and zip up to the right.
The thing about the latter type is you actually have to connect the two halves of the zip yourself, feeding the “male” connecter into the groove of the “female” slider before you can pull it along the two sets of teeth. This docking process is fiddly, requiring, say, 30% concentration, which is awkward when you’re in a mega hurry, craning your neck to catch a glimpse of a promising set, or frothing uncontrollably (all standard carpark scenarios).
Mike Brindley - Factory Media
With the right-to-left sort, however, the zip’s already connected — it can’t be unconnected — so it’s a simple question of pulling the slider across. You can yank the neck-flap over your head, do up the zip one-handed, and scuttle towards the shoreline all in one seamless motion, without taking your eyes off the line-up. It’s a minor thing, hardly a deal-breaker, but the first sort is undoubtedly the more elegant solution, and it’s the sort generally favoured by Xcel.
But still, there’s a slight problem. Some sort of stopper is required to secure the zip and prevent the slider from unsliding itself in the push and pull of upper-body rotation. Most wetsuit brands go for the popper here, but this is itself slightly fiddly and thus marginally diminishes the elegance of the original solution.
“Think of the Comp X’s chest-zip as a microcosm of the whole wetsuit: effective, elegant, intelligently designed, sturdily built”
Well, Xcel’s only gone and swapped the popper for a bloody magnet. It’s an impressively powerful magnet and snaps shut irresistibly, almost violently, with a satisfying click. Basically it closes by itself. I thoroughly approve.
Think of the Comp X's chest-zip as a microcosm of the whole wetsuit: effective, elegant, intelligently designed, sturdily built. It incorporates plenty of technology but the emphasis is more on flexibility and performance than sheer warmth, hence the Comp appellation. Still, it's a toasty wetsuit; obviously you're welcome to follow Tom Curren's example and restrict your surfing time to intense 30-minute sessions, mimicking a competition situation, but if you lack the necessary discipline the Comp X will keep you warm for far longer than that.
Xcel Comp X 3/2
Weight: 1041g (for a large)
Materials: Limestone neoprene
Price: £285 / €350
There are no slick single-lined chest and back panels (which would increase warmth but hinder movement); the interior lining, which covers chest, back, and legs all the way to the ankles, isn't Thermo Dry Celliant but the less heavy-duty (and less heavy) Thermo Lite.
The zip itself, by the way, is a vibrant blue, making this possibly the first wetsuit I’ve ever seen to sport a colour zip. The suit comes in a classy, somewhat darker blue, with splashes of colour on the logos.