Since the 1950s surfers have relied on neoprene to keep them warm when the ocean is cold. Petroleum-based, with a high level of toxicity, CO2 emissions, and other environmental impact, neoprene wetsuits are far from sustainable. Patagonia is hoping to change that with its new, neoprene-free wetsuit.
“Neoprene is nasty stuff,” says Hub Hubbard, Patagonia’s product line manager for wetsuits. “But for a long time we had no alternative. Through our partnership with Yulex, we’ve invested in a plant-based game-changer and built it into our entire wetsuit line — saying goodbye to neoprene forever.”
Patagonia’s new line of wetsuits utilize a rubber sourced from Hevea, a tropical South American tree grown on a plantation that is independently certified to the FSC standard set by the Rainforest Alliance. The FSC-certified natural rubber makes up 85 percent of the material used in the wetsuit; the other 15 percent is a neoprene-free synthetic rubber that improves the wetsuit’s durability through enhanced UV and ozone resistance.
Patagonia claims this innovation will reduce the CO2 emissions of its wetsuit manufacturing process by up to 80 percent compared to what it takes to make a traditional neoprene wetsuit. The wetsuits cover six temperature ranges, from 32 to 75 degrees. Added features like inverted thermal microgrid lining help make the suits warm, light, and quick to dry after a session.
Instead of protecting the new tech with patents, Patagonia and Yulex have made it available to any other company interested in wiping neoprene off the material map for surfers. The hope is that Patagonia can start a shift within the surf industry toward lower-impact materials.