This Fall, when the water temperature dropped suddenly, I went to go buy my usual 5/4 (stands for 5 and 4 mm thick) hooded wetsuit from my favorite wetsuit company. I scrolled through the women’s section and became panicky when I couldn’t find any hooded 5/4 suits for women, just men. Having a great winter wetsuit is the difference between happily and healthfully surfing tons of uncrowded waves all winter and being sick and fuzzy headed and sitting out the waves most days. Plus, I just had my second ear surgery for Surfer’s Ear and I am not about to undo that repair job by not having a good hooded wetsuit.
So I started to research wetsuits brands that make hooded 5/4’s for women, other than a brand that I know from experience, doesn’t fit me well and lets water in through the hood, there was only the Patagonia R4.
For two months I researched the Patagonia suit. It was almost twice as much as my favorite brand, running almost 600 bucks but I liked that it was environmentally conscious, using rubber from actual rubber trees. I read reviews from New England and Washington State surfers’ blog posts, every Patagonia customer reviews I could find on their site and I watched Youtube videos from Norwegian surfers declaring how warm it was. They all said that it was tight and hard to get on but that it stretched out and was fine after a few wears.
“Jesus,” I thought to myself, “If it’s warm enough for Norwegians, it’s good enough for me.”
I decided to go for it. I dropped the money and got the suit in the mail a couple of days later. Boy it was thick, “But it’ll be fine,” I told myself. “You want a warm suit, it’s going to be thick.” I told myself, ignoring the fact that my favorite brand was not this shockingly thick.
The next day I took it out for a spin. It was very tight and very difficult to get on but I didn’t panic because all the reviews said it would stretch out. It was a lot of wetsuit. It was very thick and awkward as I walked down the beach to the water.
I stepped into the water and immediately my booties and legs became flooded. For some weird reason Patagonia put red cuffs of a waffled thin, porous wetsuit material that allows water in around the ankles. I’m all for color blocking but this was a real miscalculation. My booties were full of icy water, which had never happened to me before.
The only decent surf that day was at a quieter break that didn’t involve the endless duck diving in heavy waves that Ocean Beach would so I was concerned when I felt icy water leaking into my suit from the opening near the hood when I dove through even the smallest wave.
“Well, maybe it’ll be so warm it won’t matter.” I told myself.
And it was. It is a warm suit. There are inches of rubber and wooly insulation on the inside that keeps you warm the same way wool sweaters keep fishermen warm even when they’re wet. It’s not comfortable but you’re not freezing. This wetsuit will insulate you but it also acts as a sponge and soaks up all the water and becomes heavy and water logged.
When I used it a couple of days later at Ocean Beach it was so full of water and so restrictive and heavy that I didn’t feel comfortable taking off on some of the snappier waves because I knew I wouldn’t be able to get my body in the tight positions that would be necessary. It felt like I was wearing a onesy made of wool. The longer I stayed out, the heavier it became. Water was literally sloshing around inside my suit as I sat waiting for waves. I was staying warm but it was a sunny fall day. I couldn’t imagine being that wet and staying warm on a frigid, overcast winter day.
Like all desperate participants in bad relationships I was in denial and believed I could fix the problems if I just tried a little harder. I wanted to make it right, I tried to stick it out. I spent an afternoon Frankensteining my wetsuit by combining pieces I cut off of an old wetsuit. I sewed and sealed on new ankle cuffs to cover up the thin red ankle accents. Then I cut some Velcro seals and sewed and sealed them on the side of the front zipper to seal out water from pouring in when I duck dived. (This worked by the way and should be implemented Patagonia people.)
The next time I went out at Ocean Beach my handy work did help but as I made my way out of the water, my legs burning, trying to support the weight of the water logged wetsuit, it felt like I was carrying an extra 50 pounds of water. I slogged my way back to my truck and spent another 20 minutes trying to wriggle out of it when I had a high self esteem moment and I was like,
“What the actual fuck am I doing? This suit sucks.”
It suddenly dawned on me that I had been had. All those glowing blog posts and Norwegian YouTube reviews were probably written by people Patagonia paid with money or product. Patagonia is a big enough company that they probably scrub bad things from search engines and I found out later that they do not post any bad reviews from customers because I wrote a scathing one with bullet points and photos that has never showed up in their reviews.
Luckily, I am a grudge holder that doesn’t appreciate getting scammed into buying an overpriced wetsuit. And I feel like it’s double lucky that I happen to have my very own blog on my incredibly glamorous and independent website where I can post and then repost the bad review and never have it taken down by Patagonia. And if I work hard enough on my SEO results, it will one day always pop up whenever anyone is looking for an honest review of Patagonia’s stupid wetsuits.
As a fan of Patagonia, I am profoundly disappointed in this experience. I know that they do a lot of good things and push the envelope as far as not harming the planet and good work environments but I really cannot stand when companies act all holy but then they aren’t honest about the expensive product they are offering the public and are, frankly, ripping off their customers.
I feel even more betrayed because it feels very dishonest that they aren’t allowing any truth about their product to filter out into the world. And if they don’t let us see it than they probably don’t want to hear the truth themselves which means they’ll just keep pushing out mediocre surf products and wasting resources and peoples’ money.
In closing, I was going to advise them to just stick to winter and mountaineering products but then I realized that all my puffer jackets I buy from them get holes when they snag on even the tiniest thing. I’ve overlooked this fact for years but maybe I shouldn’t have.
A couple days after my breakup with my Patagonia suit, I thought I would try my favorite wetsuit company’s website again in case maybe they had gotten in a woman’s 5/4 hooded suit. I scrolled over to the women’s section and, like a miracle, there was my suit, in my size, waiting to be ordered. It arrived a couple of days later and I’ve never been warmer or more comfortable. Also, it turns out my preferred company uses recycled materials to make their suits.
Peace out, Patagonia.