I don't know if I'm just weirdly shaped or what, but I've never found a wetsuit that fits perfectly. Sometimes it's just a nitpick — as in it's just a bit too tight one place, or a little baggy somewhere else — and sometimes I'm right in between sizes for a brand and can't wear any of their suits (I'm looking at you, O'Neill).
So, when the new Los Angeles-based company Carapace announced premium, custom-cut surf wetsuits for the same price as other high-end wetsuits, I had to try one.
This suit is — by miles — the most comfortable wetsuit I've ever worn.
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What Is It?
It's a US-based company that makes custom-cut surf wetsuits and that's it. The EXO1 (the one I tried) is the company's premium model, whereas the EXO2 is its less-expensive "performance" line. It started as a Kickstarter, but now it's a full-blown company.
Why Does It Matter?
Other companies have done the custom-cut surf wetsuit thing before (Aleeda comes to mind), but they don't typically use the best materials. The stuff Carapace uses is top of the line, and you can really feel the difference in the EXO1. Plus, they've managed to keep the price tag in line with (or cheaper than) a lot of brands' flagship models.
The EXO1 uses Japanese Yamamoto neoprene which is, essentially, the rubber equivalent of butter. It's an incredibly light, flexible, closed-cell neoprene that the company claims is 99.7 per cent impenetrable to water. It's laminated with a blend of nylon and polyurethane to make it silky smooth to the touch. It's also a limestone-based neoprene, which is more environmentally-friendly and should last a long time.
It's a chest-zip suit (as in there's a flap that flips over your head from the back and connects to the chest panel, which helps flexibility where you need it) and the zippers are made by YKK. All of the seams are hand-taped for an excellent seal while maintaining flexibility. It has articulated, blast-proof knees for all your duck-diving needs. It also has a slick magnetic zipper stop, and there's a key pocket on the side of the left knee. Oh yeah, and it fits your body friggin' perfectly.
When you create an account on Carapace's website, you are guided through twelve different measurements. You'll need a flexible tape measure and a friend to help you with this, but there's a video for each measurement, so it's really hard to screw up. You enter each measurement as you go, and then they're saved to your profile. Once they're all in, you choose which style and thickness you want: EXO1 or EXO2, and in 2/2, 3/2, 3/3, 4/3, 5/4, or 5/4 with hood.
Then you pay up. Your measurements are passed through a series of algorithms, which are translated into cut-patterns for the neoprene. Then everything gets stuck together, and you should receive your fancy new suit within two to three weeks.
I get cold easily, so when I pulled out the 3/2 EXO1 and felt how light it was, I thought there was no way I'd be able to use it until spring. I underestimated just how warm it is. With the water temperature at 14.4C on a sunny day, I was actually really warm. On a windy, overcast day in Ventura, with the water temp at 13.8C, I was still very comfortable. It doesn't have a windproof chest or back panel, so when I was sitting around during long lulls and there was a gust I'd feel it, but as long as I was moderately active I was plenty warm.
I also tried out the 4/3 version of the EXO1 up in the colder waters of Santa Cruz, where it was a breezy day at 11.7C in the water. I was actually sweating a little. I've never been that warm in a 4/3 in Central California. It was really impressive.
The biggest wow-factor is the fit. It's just about as perfect as it gets. It doesn't feel too tight or too loose anywhere. I had zero problems with chafing in my pits and, best of all, it didn't impede my paddling at all. This is critical, because if your suit is providing resistance in your arms, it's like using one of those fitness rubber bands every time you take a stroke, which will wear you out much faster. This suit really gave me unparalleled freedom of movement.
The fit, the fit, the fit, the fit, the fit. I've spent the last eight years wearing high-end suits from Rip Curl, Xcel and Quiksilver (and I've tried on a lot of other ones), but I've never experienced anything that fit anywhere near as perfectly as this, and it's a real game-changer. Totally unlimited range of motion and less flushing (getting water down the back of your neck, or in through your sleeves) than I've ever experienced. I'm officially sold on the Yamamoto neoprene, as it's just so wonderfully light, flexible and soft.
The measurement process is quick, well-explained and easy to do. The suit is well sealed (I can pinch off an arm or leg, inflate it, and it won't leak), the knees are strong but flexible, and the magnetic zip-stop is a nice little bonus.
But, really, it's all about the fit.
The only major problem is that the point of entry at the neck is way too narrow. I have to pull it so tightly to get my shoulders through it that I'm afraid it's going to tear every time. I mean, it's really stretched to its max, which isn't good. I have particularly broad shoulders, but that was included in the measurements, so that's something that should have been factored-in. Coming in after a long surf, when your arms feel like spaghetti, it's a very frustrating struggle to get the suit down off my shoulders, with several failed attempts before I finally got it. Like I said, it does a great job of preventing flushing, but they've really got to fix this.
As I mentioned, I missed having windproof chest and back panels when it was gusty, but that's a minor gripe. Also, it must be said, while the EXO1 is priced similarly or better than other suits that use the same ultra-high-end neoprene (like the Matuse Scipio, which starts at $US590), starting at $US490 for the 3/2, it definitely ain't cheap either.
Should You Buy It?
If you're ok with spending $US500 for a wetsuit, then the Carapace EXO1 is probably the best bang for your buck. Again, the fit is just unbeatable, and the neoprene is incredibly comfortable. It's worth noting that you can upgrade it to a 4/3 for just $US20 (or a 5/4 for $US50), which is a really good deal. If you don't absolutely need that silky Yamamoto neoprene though, then check out the EXO2. It's still a high-end, limestone-based neoprene (the same that's used in suits like Xcel's Drylock, which starts at $US470), and it has a flexible inner jersey for warmth, but it starts at $US390 for the 3/2, which is more manageable, and again, you still get that custom-cut perfect-fit.
Basically, for custom-tailored surf wetsuits of this quality, these are a really solid deal, and once you go custom-cut, it'll be very hard to go back. [Carapace Custom Wetsuits]