Although winter isn’t quite in full swing, we’ve seen a dramatic drop in water temps here in So Cal. So when I started seeing sales on last year’s models of Matuse fullsuits, I couldn’t resist. I pulled the trigger on a Matuse Hoplite 3/2/2 V.08
at 30% off with free shipping from WetSand Surf Shop
is a relatively new wetsuit manufacturer quickly gaining traction in the higher end segment. What you’ll immediately notice about Matuse is their subtle yet very deliberate sense of style. You won’t find anything imposing or glaring about a Matuse wetsuit yet those that know about them can spot them from a mile away. What you’ll realize about Matuse is that these wetsuits are not made of traditional neoprene but rather a limestone based material that promises to be more comfortable and warm.
As of writing, the current model Hoplite 3/2/2 (V.09) fullsuit retails for $430; the 4/3/2 for $489; and over $500 for the 5/4/3.Ichiban Game
In Japanese, ichiban
refers to the best
– the very essence of what Matuse had in mind when choosing the materials for their wetsuits. And the material that Matuse chose is called “geoprene.” Rather than using the conventional petroleum based neoprene as do most other name brand wetsuit manufacturers, Matuse inked a deal with Japan-based Yamamoto Corporation to use their limestone-based rubber. In addition to making this material more earth friendly, geoprene boasts some pretty impressive properties.
Geoprene is constructed of an independent closed micro cell structure. If you ever look at the cross-section of a wetsuit, you’ll see tiny little chambers or pockets of space not dissimilar to a sponge. In conventional wetsuits, these tiny cells are interconnected. As such, if any single wall of any single cell is compromised, the entire structure of the wetsuit is compromised. In contrast, the cells of geoprene material are structured to be mutually independent. Structural failure in one cell will not affect adjacent cells. The implications of this independent cell structure are far reaching not the least of which is warmth and longevity.The Surfer’s Hoplon
is a reference to the soldiers of ancient Greece renowned for their discipline and focus. The word itself derives from hoplon
, the imposing shields carried by these soldiers which were not just used as defensive tools but became an extension of their very being. Similarly, the Matuse Hoplite was designed not only to shield surfers from the elements but to be an extension of the surfer wearing it; a second skin.
When trying on a Matuse Hoplite, the most apparent difference from other wetsuits is its tighter fit. Anyone considering purchasing one of these would be highly advised to try on as many different sizes as it takes to find the most comfortable one. Across O’Neill, Quiksilver, and Rip Curl, I’ve always been a medium-short, however the best size for me in the Hoplite was a large-short. At 5’6” and 160 pounds, I fell in between the Matuse size levels and was advised by a Matuse representative to up-size. They also made a point to mention that although the wetsuit’s arms and legs may break in slightly over time, geoprene generally does not stretch like traditional neoprene wetsuits.PLEASE SEE THE 11/22/09 UPDATE BELOW REGARDING SIZING.
The reason Matuse labels this wetsuit as a “3/2/2” and not simply a “3/2” is due to the fact that the Hoplite is mostly a 2 mm suit with only some 3 mm paneling. The front of the wetsuit has a slim 3 mm “thermobelt design” which is a smooth-skin material that runs across the chest and merges into the back panels. I was really attracted to the fish scale pattern on this smooth-skin which gave it a hint of far east flavor.
The arms are sheathed in a slightly different smooth-skin material which is more flexible than the chest and back smooth-skin paneling. The shoulder and under-arm paneling is designed to provide a lot of flexibility while still adhering to the upper body during movement.
The back of the Hoplite is a continuation of the smooth-skin fish scale paneling from the chest covering most the surface area. The zipper is not as long as conventional wetsuits minimizing the area prone to leakage. Surprisingly, the smaller opening does not make the suit any more difficult to get into.
A sort of tank top is stitched inside the wetsuit which provides additional support and keeps the suit from riding downward. Getting through this tank top to put on the wetsuit was awkward at first, but I got used to it quickly.
The Hoplite has glued, blindstichted, and “satin seal” taped seams. Although there are no bands around the wrists and ankles, the Hoplite maintains a very impressive seal. Duck dive after duck dive and I never once felt any evidence of water rushing through the back. The Hoplite also has a key pocket integrated into the suit along the lower left leg next to the kneepad. The kneepads are not made of hard rubber but are an integrated padding which keeps the knees flexible. The neck collar is made of a single panel to avoid irritation. I personally felt that the neck collar rode a bit high and found myself tugging at it to keep from chaffing. One thing I noticed about the material which I might find more interesting than others is that the velcro sealing the collar does not stick to the wetsuit. Nothing annoys me more when rinsing off a suit than that stubborn collar flap stuck to the inside of the wetsuit.Behold, the V.09
The current (2009) model Hoplite reflects a number of changes focused on increasing flexibility:
The Tao of Matuse
- Neck seam with 360 degrees of constant smooth material.
- The smooth skin along the arms have been removed for increased durability and stretch.
- Silver taping for increased flexibility.
- Improved zipper for increased reliability.
- Removal of under-bicep seam for increased flexibility and comfort.
- New texture smooth skin used to increase durability from abrasion, nicks, and cuts.
Matuse is about balance. That is immediately evident in their styling which is decidedly subtle yet effectively eye catching. What is not as evident is that balance also dictates their technology. When I first learned of Matuse, my impression was that these were hot suits. Really hot suits. Magically hot suits. There were even stories abound of the 4/3/2 not being sold in Southern California because it was simply too hot. So you could imagine my disappointment when I first paddled out in the Hoplite and I wasn’t hot. I wasn’t cold, but I certainly wasn’t hot. I was just ... comfortable.
That is precisely the intention of the Hoplite – to keep you comfortable. The properties of the geoprene material, the strategic design and placement of the paneling, the manner upon which the seams are bonded were all designed to maintain this sense of balance – the surfer’s “thermostatic line” – from slightly cold to extremely frigid water temperatures. What’s impressive is that this particular Hoplite can maintain heat temperatures in this comfort zone despite being mostly only 2 mm thereby offering maximum flexibility in the process.Verdict
Even without the discount for being a “vintage” model, I and other surfers I know all agree that the Matuse Hoplite is well worth the price. The few things I found annoying are far outweighed by the benefits. In fairness, I have not used the Hoplite for more than a handful of sessions, and it is essentially brand new. Whether the suit will hold up as advertised in terms of structure and functionality in my own experience remains to be seen. But so far, the Hoplite has made that otherwise annoying transition from boardshorts to fullsuit something I actually look forward to.Updates11/13/09
- Aaron over at Matuse wanted to clarify that " ... the entire suit is comprised of Geoprene. Only the finish or exterior of the material differs. Either HydraSilk Nylon is laminated to the Geoprene or Titanium smooth skin is created on the surface of the rubber." Thanks, Aaron.11/22/09
- Having had the chance to use the v.08 Hoplite for a couple weekends now ... well ... it stretched. More than a couple friends of mine have confirmed that this thing is a tad big for my size. It doesn't leak and it maintains its seal but there are folds developing along the arms and armpits and torso which I can easily grab and pull on. Even my eBomb doesn't have this sort of slack. I will say that I did get my hands on a v.09 in a medium-short and all I can say is ... wow. What a difference in fitment. So now I would say go for your usual size
and just expect it to fit tightly at first. Full review after I've had the chance to get it wet.12/07/09
– Check out the comparison review to the v.09 Hoplite
– Tribal Surf member, absoludicrous
, is seeing the glue securing the shoulder straps start to give in his v.08 3/2/2 Hoplite. Click here
to read more about the situation.01/17/11
– Tribal Surf member, trifish
, experienced a massive rip along the chest panel of his v.08 4/3/2 Hoplite. Click here
to read more about the situation.DISCLOSURE: THE AUTHOR OF THIS ARTICLE PURCHASED THIS PRODUCT AT MSRP FOR PURPOSES OF TESTING.