Surfing and caring about the environment go hand in hand across the globe, but for decades we’ve relied on equipment that’s harmful for the planet. Finally neoprene free wetsuits are a reality, and the company behind this innovation want the rest of the surf industry to follow their lead.

Surfing and caring about the environment go hand in hand across the globe, but for decades we’ve relied on equipment that’s harmful for the planet. Finally neoprene free wetsuits are a reality, and the company behind this innovation want the rest of the surf industry to follow their lead.

For years, neoprene foam has been the go-to material used to make wetsuits. It might not be the first thing that crosses your mind as you hit the waves, but wetsuit manufacturers and surfers have relied on this synthetic rubber since 1951, when the first neoprene wetsuit was made. It’s a synthetic rubber that’s made with petroleum, it’s non-renewable, but until now it’s all that we’ve had.

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Photo by Al Mackinnon

Now American-based outdoor clothing company Patagonia has revealed the world’s first neoprene free wetsuit line, a groundbreaking move for the industry. The new suits have been developed in partnership with rubber company Yulex, and are made of a natural plant-based rubber from sources in Guatemala that are Forest Stewardship Council certified by the Rainforest Alliance. It’s a certification that ensures Patagonia’s manufacturing process doesn’t contribute to deforestation, and even the lining is made from 100% recycled polyester. In short, surfers can now really reduce their carbon footprint while ensuring their gear is up to scratch.

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Photo by Tim Davis

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Photo by Tim Davis

By manufacturing wetsuits with natural rubber instead of conventional neoprene, carbon dioxide emissions will be reduced by up to 80 percent, Hub Hubbard, Patagonia’s wetsuit Product Development maestro tells us. “Part of our mission statement is to reduce unnecessary harm, so the chance to replace neoprene with natural rubber is part of our DNA… making the switch is a no-brainer.”

Neoprene has been favoured for its insulation properties, durability and chemical/weather/ozone resistance, but the non-renewable material isn’t known for being eco-friendly. The petroleum used in neoprene in a non-renewable resource, drilled up from the depths of the earth with disastrous consequences for the planet.

Unlike most companies and corporations, often keen to trademark and patent technology to keep them ahead of the game, Patagonia is keen to share their innovation with other companies to encourage the use of sustainable materials throughout the industry. It’s a bold move. “Hopefully by drawing a line in the sand with our wetsuit line, and going fair trade on our entire board short and swimwear line for Spring ’17, the surf industry will take notice and start to turn the ship in a positive direction,” says Hub.

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Photo by Mark Mcinnis

For Hub, working on the Yulex wetsuits was a particularly special experience, even with 20 years of wetsuit craftsmanship under his belt. “I saw that first little chip of rubber from Yulex and know how many hurdles have been overcome to make this happen. It’s literally the biggest shift in the surf/wetsuit industry since there’s been an industry.

The launch of the Yulex natural rubber wetsuits proves that it is possible for surf and sustainability to go hand in hand, and lighten its global impact on the environment. By using renewable materials to construct surfing gear, the industry can reduce its dependency on petrochemicals and ultimately, their carbon footprint.

Can complete sustainability truly be achieved in the surf industry? Hub believes that those in all parts of the industry can work together to do their bit to take better care of the environment, and each other. “If you look at the beautiful places we get to play, it goes without saying we should do everything we can to keep them pristine. It’s not just about the materials and products we use, but also the health and well-being of every person along the supply chain.”

The Natural Rubber Yulex wetsuits can be purchased from Patagonia and Down The Line Surf.

To test them for yourself, catch the Patagonia Yulex Wetsuits Tour in locations across the UK, 20th – 28th August.

 

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