Before trying the bespoke Bohemian, I doubted the benefits of a custom fit; Afterward, I wonder if any wetsuit feature matters more.
Backing up: the process. First you discuss with a trained Axxe retailer the suit’s ideal thickness for your home break (some combination of 2mm, 3mm, or 5mm neoprene), then he measures you (at 27 points on your body), and lastly you choose your options—lining, cuffs, logos, etc. The specs are sent to Japan, where a dozen tailors in a 35-year-old workshop on the coast cut and assemble your suit from different rubbers, all of which are exclusive to Axxe. After a thorough quality check and some three weeks, your suit arrives in an unassuming brown box.
The contents astound. My 5/3mm Bohemian was easily the most limber of all suits tested. The perfect fit means that the neoprene isn’t pre-stretched—around your thick thighs, for example—so all of the rubber’s stretch can be taken advantage of on the water. And what a lot of stretch that is. The gummy arms were twice as stretchy as that on the O’Neill Heat, for example. On top of this, the Bohemian’s butt and knees are nicely articulated. The upshot: During a six-hour session in frigid water and strafing winds, I often felt like I was surfing Malibu in my baggies. Driving back to the city, I was astounded to see the roadside thermometer read –4 degrees Celsius, or 25 degrees Fahrenheit.
Aside from the top-quality, proprietary rubber, and ideal fit, that amazing performance is thanks to inspired design. Take just the arms. The smooth rubber is not only gummy but also cheats the wind. And in the pits, where heat is so often lost, small swatches of thick neoprene up the warmth without adding significant bulk. I couldn’t tell if the “Drain Espa” lining trumped Rip Curl’s or Patagonia’s linings, but it easily equaled another millimeter of neoprene, and, unlike competitors’, the cozy, chamois-like fabric covers only what you want. (In my case, torso and thighs.) The super-flexible hood makes looking down the line effortless even on backhanders, and attaches to just the inner back, thus freeing the shoulders even more. Inside, a triple-layer collar secures with hidden, flat snaps. During a rare swell from Greenland, on a day so heavy that my leash snapped, hardly a dram of water seeped in through the hood.
I could go on and on. Suffice it to say, the Bohemian is nothing less than a perfect product. Surfers on the mid Atlantic couldn't find a better suit for November to May. Those elsewhere might want to check out Axxe’s thinner and less expensive Bohemian Feathered.
Judging by the meticulous fit and finish, I doubt any Bohemian will fall apart or lose its flex prematurely. If one does, you’ll want to repair it, and, thankfully, replacements are reasonable. The factory in Japan can fit you with a new, custom-sized sleeve, for example, for about $120.