An Xcel'lent Interview with Lance Varon

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Xcel's Lance Varon plays an important role in the world of surfing. He's been with the company for over 27 years, first a Southern California sales rep, and for the last four years as the company's Design Director.

We've often dreamed about what it would be like to work for an authentic wetsuits-only company, so G+J Editor Skip Snead tapped Lance for an interview and here's what he said ….

Ghetto Juice: Kind of rad that one of the best wetsuit companies in the world originated in Hawaii …. In a nutshell, what's the history of Xcel?
Lance Varon: Xcel was the brainchild of founder Ed D’Ascoli, an avid New Jersey surfer. He traveled up and down the East Coast searching for waves until eventually he wanted more, which brought him to California. Originally building surfboards out of a San Diego shop, Ed soon fell in with Victory Wetsuits – and current Xcel President Greg Wade. Ed and Greg stayed with Victory for a time until Ed, who tended to follow the surf, sold his stake in Victory and moved to Oahu’s North Shore. It was there, the pinnacle of high-performance surfing, that Ed founded Xcel in 1982. He started with a single sewing machine working out of his bedroom at Backyards. As local demand increased, Ed rented a small space in Haleiwa and expanded the product offering into recreational diving and military products. Thanks to impeccable product quality and strong word of mouth, Xcel pretty much took off from there, and we’ve been growing incrementally year over year since that first suit was sewn up in 1982.

G+J: How did you get into designing wetsuits?
L+V: With Ed’s decision to step away from a full-time role, he asked me if I’d be interested in filling his shoes. These were big shoes to fill, so I was a little reluctant at first, but I’d worked very closely with Ed over the years in terms of product development and design, and I’ve always had a passion for the design side of wetsuits in my 40+ years of surfing. Ed would send product over to me for testing and feedback – your basic R&D. In other words, I had marching orders to have to go out and surf (dream job comes true). I’m glad that Ed felt I was the right person to continue building on his success, and I’ve applied all the lessons I’ve learned to trying to keep building the most premium, innovative, high quality product at the heart of the Xcel brand.

G+J: What's been the biggest change to the modern wetsuits compared to the wetsuits we all grew up with?
L+V: This is a loaded question. There’s no single answer, but if I had to take a stab at it, I’d say that the biggest change has been the fact that all aspects of wetsuit technology have evolved together to meet and exceed the needs of modern-day surfers. Better materials, multiple and varied entry systems, and construction (seam) techniques have all evolved collectively to the point where we’ve radically expanded what wetsuits – and therefore, what surfers – can do in the water. Taking materials only as an example: Twenty years ago, materials were bulky, stiff, and very cumbersome. We now have lighter and warmer foams (the central layer of neoprene) that are so much more comfortable than ever before. Depending on what combinations we choose, we now have much greater control over warmth, comfort, and durability. This allows us to better reduce fatigue and increase range of motion, all without losing (and oftentimes, improving) warmth.

G+J: The new Xcel suits are amazing, and you've been nominated by SIMA for Wetsuit of the year …. moving into 2015 and beyond, how can you improve on something so epic in the future?
L+V: Thanks. We’re really excited about this first phase of Thermo Dry Celliant, the first ever responsive (or active) textile wetsuit lining and Xcel’s warmest wetsuit lining ever. Thermo Dry Celliant, or TDC, works thanks to its mineral-enhanced Smart Fiber Technology that converts body heat into infrared energy, which is a proven warmth and athletic performance booster. TDC allows us to deliver greater warmth without having to make the wetsuits thicker – and perhaps even reducing thickness, which would be an exciting, game changing development. Nanotechnologies will also make their way into the picture; developments in that area are evolving as we speak.

G+J: They don't teach wetsuit design and technology in school, and it's far from apparel classes at FIDM, so what advice do you have for any kids out there thinking of making a career out of designing wetsuits and getting involved with a wetsuit company?
L+V: You’re right, it’s a pretty niche category and it takes a special way of looking at things. Being passionate in whatever you decide to do in life is my only and best advice. Interning at a company and getting first-hand retail experience helps to understand the market, its customers, and their habits. I spend a lot of time visiting surf shops and helping customers so I can better understand what works and what doesn’t. It’s important to listen and to understand the people for whom you’re ultimately designing – and then to be able to turn those needs into a finished product. So gaining these insights in the real world, I feel, is really important. You aren’t going to find that sort of knowledge in a textbook or classroom setting.

G+J: At the end of the day, what's the best thing about working for an authentic wetsuit company? Free suits? The R&D?
L+V: There are so many things, but the one that sticks out the most is the fact that you get to see your dream suit go from test prototype to market leader, and to set the standard for all other suits down the line. Xcel has been pioneering wetsuit design for over 30 years – the bar’s set really high, but I thoroughly enjoy the challenge and being involved in pushing the bar even higher. For me, as Design Director, it’s like Christmas every day because it’s not too often that a box isn’t waiting for me at my door with something new and innovative to test out.


Posted by: Ghetto JuiceGhetto Juice at: 28 Nov 2014 22:23




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Xcel's Lance Varon plays an important role in the world of surfing. He's been with the company for over 27 years, first a Southern California sales rep, and for the last four years as the company's Design Director.

We've often dreamed about what it would be like to work for an authentic wetsuits-only company, so G+J Editor Skip Snead tapped Lance for an interview and here's what he said ….

Ghetto Juice: Kind of rad that one of the best wetsuit companies in the world originated in Hawaii …. In a nutshell, what's the history of Xcel?
Lance Varon: Xcel was the brainchild of founder Ed D’Ascoli, an avid New Jersey surfer. He traveled up and down the East Coast searching for waves until eventually he wanted more, which brought him to California. Originally building surfboards out of a San Diego shop, Ed soon fell in with Victory Wetsuits – and current Xcel President Greg Wade. Ed and Greg stayed with Victory for a time until Ed, who tended to follow the surf, sold his stake in Victory and moved to Oahu’s North Shore. It was there, the pinnacle of high-performance surfing, that Ed founded Xcel in 1982. He started with a single sewing machine working out of his bedroom at Backyards. As local demand increased, Ed rented a small space in Haleiwa and expanded the product offering into recreational diving and military products. Thanks to impeccable product quality and strong word of mouth, Xcel pretty much took off from there, and we’ve been growing incrementally year over year since that first suit was sewn up in 1982.

G+J: How did you get into designing wetsuits?
L+V: With Ed’s decision to step away from a full-time role, he asked me if I’d be interested in filling his shoes. These were big shoes to fill, so I was a little reluctant at first, but I’d worked very closely with Ed over the years in terms of product development and design, and I’ve always had a passion for the design side of wetsuits in my 40+ years of surfing. Ed would send product over to me for testing and feedback – your basic R&D. In other words, I had marching orders to have to go out and surf (dream job comes true). I’m glad that Ed felt I was the right person to continue building on his success, and I’ve applied all the lessons I’ve learned to trying to keep building the most premium, innovative, high quality product at the heart of the Xcel brand.

G+J: What's been the biggest change to the modern wetsuits compared to the wetsuits we all grew up with?
L+V: This is a loaded question. There’s no single answer, but if I had to take a stab at it, I’d say that the biggest change has been the fact that all aspects of wetsuit technology have evolved together to meet and exceed the needs of modern-day surfers. Better materials, multiple and varied entry systems, and construction (seam) techniques have all evolved collectively to the point where we’ve radically expanded what wetsuits – and therefore, what surfers – can do in the water. Taking materials only as an example: Twenty years ago, materials were bulky, stiff, and very cumbersome. We now have lighter and warmer foams (the central layer of neoprene) that are so much more comfortable than ever before. Depending on what combinations we choose, we now have much greater control over warmth, comfort, and durability. This allows us to better reduce fatigue and increase range of motion, all without losing (and oftentimes, improving) warmth.

G+J: The new Xcel suits are amazing, and you've been nominated by SIMA for Wetsuit of the year …. moving into 2015 and beyond, how can you improve on something so epic in the future?
L+V: Thanks. We’re really excited about this first phase of Thermo Dry Celliant, the first ever responsive (or active) textile wetsuit lining and Xcel’s warmest wetsuit lining ever. Thermo Dry Celliant, or TDC, works thanks to its mineral-enhanced Smart Fiber Technology that converts body heat into infrared energy, which is a proven warmth and athletic performance booster. TDC allows us to deliver greater warmth without having to make the wetsuits thicker – and perhaps even reducing thickness, which would be an exciting, game changing development. Nanotechnologies will also make their way into the picture; developments in that area are evolving as we speak.

G+J: They don't teach wetsuit design and technology in school, and it's far from apparel classes at FIDM, so what advice do you have for any kids out there thinking of making a career out of designing wetsuits and getting involved with a wetsuit company?
L+V: You’re right, it’s a pretty niche category and it takes a special way of looking at things. Being passionate in whatever you decide to do in life is my only and best advice. Interning at a company and getting first-hand retail experience helps to understand the market, its customers, and their habits. I spend a lot of time visiting surf shops and helping customers so I can better understand what works and what doesn’t. It’s important to listen and to understand the people for whom you’re ultimately designing – and then to be able to turn those needs into a finished product. So gaining these insights in the real world, I feel, is really important. You aren’t going to find that sort of knowledge in a textbook or classroom setting.

G+J: At the end of the day, what's the best thing about working for an authentic wetsuit company? Free suits? The R&D?
L+V: There are so many things, but the one that sticks out the most is the fact that you get to see your dream suit go from test prototype to market leader, and to set the standard for all other suits down the line. Xcel has been pioneering wetsuit design for over 30 years – the bar’s set really high, but I thoroughly enjoy the challenge and being involved in pushing the bar even higher. For me, as Design Director, it’s like Christmas every day because it’s not too often that a box isn’t waiting for me at my door with something new and innovative to test out.

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