Surfing and the environment
Surfing and other water sports are some of the most exhilarating and rewarding activities on the planet. There are few sports that are so connected and dependent on the environment as surfing. And it’s no big secret that one of the most natural sports ironically has a different side. The equipment that surfers use, mainly a wetsuit and surfboard, are constructed from man made materials that are highly toxic in nature.
Not until the 1950’s was the cold water wetsuit born in Northern California USA. Jack O’Neill, a surfer who declared he just wanted to surf longer in colder temperatures designed and developed the first neoprene wetsuits as we know it. Neoprene is the core construction of wetsuits and the material is an oil based synthetic rubber. This form is formed with very small layers of bubbles that are filled with nitrogen gas and sealed. The combination of synthetic rubber and nitrogen layered bubbles posses very high thermal and insulation properties and are the foundations of the modern wetsuit.
Latest advancements in wetsuit technology
Neoprene has come along way since it’s invention in California. Synthetic rubber alone is a very good insulator with high thermal properties however the down side of this was it’s lack of flexibility and robustness. It was common place for early wetsuit to tare and ripe when taking them on and off. The problem was finding a balance between optimum warmth and comfort and flexibility. Technology progressed by combining the synthetic rubber with other materials such as spandex or lycra to provide a more supple and stretchy material that would be easier to put on and off but also make the neoprene stronger, providing less restriction to the user. As new materials are found and tested neoprene is reaching unparalleled levels of flex. manufacturers are utilising panelling more and more with the design allowing for different composites of neoprene to be positioned were required. For instance the more flexible lighter weight neoprene is located at the arms, shoulders and legs where are the thicker, heavier neoprene is located at the front and back body area’s to minimise heat loss.
Where is wetsuit technology heading
This winter (2010/2011) sees the highly anticipated release of O’Neill’s Psycho RG8 series of wetsuits. Many years of research and development have been invested into the recycling of neoprene and plastics. The aim of O’Neill with a number of outside partners was to reduce and re-use as much waste product as possible without compromising performance. With between 30-40% of wetsuit neoprene never leaving the factory and discarded as waste it’s clear that not only the materials but the manufacturing processes are not environmentally sound. The main aim of this program was to regenerate old neoprene and used plastic to produce first grade neoprene. Named ‘Ultraflex RG8’, a limestone based neoprene with recycled plastics on the inner and outer layers this surely is not just a jump on the environmental bandwagon but a step in the right direction for an industry based on highly toxic materials.