By Tim Ryan
After 13 days in California – many in the surf from San Francisco to San Diego – my final review of Patagonia’s state-of-the-art front zip R4 full wetsuit is ready.
I have to premise this first, however. I haven’t worn a full suit for more than 10 years since I live in Hawaii. And when I did it a decade ago it was a time worn O’Neil Animal Skin that did the trick for its time with seal tape, super snug neck, and back zip. But it did leak consistently – they all did – at the seams, back zip, even a bit down the neck. Hey, it was state of the art then too.
For my long anticipated and planned recent surf trip, I opted for the new Patagonia suit. I’m a believer in the company’s products, environmental consciousness, and lifetime guarantees.
I didn’t test other current wetsuit brands for this trip and for all I know they may be as good or better than Patagonia. But I doubt it.
Coming from Hawaii’s 76-degree water to SF’s 52 degrees was not something I looked forward too. It would be an adventure, I rationalized.
The R4 suit – Patagonia’s warmest – is comfort rated for 48 to 55 degrees.
At Ocean Beach along with the full suit, I wore Patagonia’s hoodie, booties and gloves. All are lined with merino wool; more about that later.
The first thing I noticed when stepping into the chilly water at Ocean Beach was absolutely no water seeped into the lower submerged part of the suit. None.
As I paddled out and got slammed by a consistent 3-foot set, the same result. No water seepage; none.
I expected that would change as my session lengthened, and it did but very little. And that was my fault. I hadn’t tucked the booties’ tops under the legs of the suit but outside. What a dummy!
In Santa Cruz where the waves were larger and water a few degrees warmer, again there was no water seepage. In fact, after 2 hours of surfing my back and chest were still dry when I got out. Imagine that.
By the time we hit Santa Barbara and Ventura and the phenomenal waves of a 3-5-foot Rincon and later at a bit smaller California Street, I didn’t need to wear the wetsuit gloves or hood. That wasn’t just because the water was warmer. My body core – back and chest – remained dry and warmed by the merino wool and lack of water seepage through both sessions.
The front/torso/back and thighs are lined with heavyweight merino wool for core warmth, stretch and comfort. The sleeves, inner/outer thighs and lower legs are lined with mid-weight merino wool grid for warmth and flexibility
The only time my chest actually got wet was at beach break at Terra-Mar in Northern San Diego County when an overhead wave pitched directly on me. I got blasted off my board with whitewater rushing over me and a small stream of water slipped through the front chest zipper.
In no surf session be it an early, foggy morning or late afternoon did I ever even feel chilly.
Did I need a R4 rated wetsuit south of L.A. County? Probably not. But not too many surfers can afford a variety of rated Patagonia suits so I suggest if you’re going to buy one get the highest rating that you think you may need.
I haven’t even mentioned the suit’s flexibility. They may fit like a glove, but miraculously they don’t restrict your paddling motion, or surfing. My R4 really feels like a second skin.
The R4 has a one-piece front and back construction, an overlapped front yoke, and neoprene underarm panels with nylon jersey on both sides (instead of wool) for maximum stretch. There also are durable and flexible PVC-free kneepads and Supratex cuffs to reduce flushing. All critical seams and stress areas are secured with glue dots, 1cm bartacks and Melco reinforcements.
The suit contains soft chlorine-free merino wool/recycled polyester grid lining. Merino wool dries quickly and reduces odor for the garment. The overlapped front yoke makes for easy on/off. Well, easy is relative. But having a front zipper is the tradeoff for keeping water out.
There are what’s called 1cm bartacks, glue dots and Melco reinforcements secure wear points and critical seam locations; seams are single-needle blind stitched on the outside with nylon-bonded thread and triple glued for extra durability and strength; crotch seams are internally taped
The front and back torso, and seat are 5mm neoprene. Sleeves and legs: 4mm neoprene. Underarms, 3mm neoprene.
When I first started wearing the R4 suit it took me more than 15 minutes to get it on. It was frustrating and took patience and practice. Perhaps a small victory but by San Diego it took me a mere 10 minutes plus time for the booties.
The suit isn’t cheap, about $589. But as I wrote earlier how much is warmth and comfort worth? For an old guy it’s priceless. The suit’s weight comes in at about 57 ounces.