Choose a wetsuit that's kind to the environment
Modern advances in wetsuit materials and design bring both sustainability and style to the discerning watersports enthusiast.
The first wetsuits appeared in the 1950s, intended for use by cold-water divers rather than adrenaline-hunting surfers. The design of wetsuits has changed dramatically over the years, with modern suits keeping users warmer and more comfortable than their predecessors. A wetsuit has become an essential piece of kit for any watersports lover, keeping cores warm and extending the time users can spend in the water.
Until relatively recently, wetsuits were all made from neoprene, a synthetic rubber often referred to as oil-based neoprene. While favoured for its insulation properties, durability and weather resistance, neoprene is a non-renewable material making it rather eco-unfriendly. It hasn’t been until recently that the wetsuit industry has taken a look its eco-credentials. Thankfully, increased awareness, new processes and materials have resulted in innovative designs that support the planet while allowing the wearer to enjoy the elements. We take a look at some of these recent sustainable advances in wetsuit technology.
Limestone neoprene offers a greener material due to its reduction of environmental impact. While mining limestone does take its toll, this is far less so than oil. It also has the benefit of being warmer than traditional neoprene. Other derivatives for eco-friendly neoprene include recycled tyres and plastic bottles.
Sustainable neoprenes actually perform better than traditional alternatives in terms of elasticity, durability and impermeability. The also fit better, weigh less and are warmer – a win for both people and planet. Here are a few of our favourite brands:
These wetsuits use nanoprene, a material produced from earth-mined limestone, which also contain eco-carbon black (a substance pyrolyzed from scrap rubber tyres). Laminated with water-based glue and stitched with dope-dyed polyester yarns made from recycled plastic bottles Xcel suits offer unrivalled performance combined with excellent eco-credentials.
Brand new for this season, Rip Curl suits are at the forefront of advancements with their flashbomb lining and continue to bring new technologies to the market. Their new suits boast E6 Neoprene, Flex Energy technology, Liquid Mesh, Thermo Shield panels and E6 Heat Generating Super Stretch Flash Lining.
Impressively, Rip Curl owns its own facility for testing and making wetsuits. This means it can incorporate feedback from the team into design at a very fast pace and put prototypes together just a few days later. Inevitably, this leads to market-leading tech that translates into some stellar suits for those who take their surfing seriously.
The products pride themselves on benefits that every surfer can enjoy – more flexibility, faster drying, enhanced warmth (a real bonus here in Cornwall). There are products for everybody; those who feel the cold might opt for ultimate warmth and therefore choose the Rip Curl Flashbomb suits. Those who are happy to brave the frigid waters of winter, preferring an outfit with more flexibility and therefore better performance, will be well equipped with an E-Bomb. There are even some suits that meet the need for a happy medium, for example the Flashbomb Zip Free. This suit, with Rip Curl’s E6 super stretch neoprene in the arms and shoulders, promotes flexibility where it’s needed, but employs the E6 flash lining in the chest, body and legs to help keep the core warm.
Another brand committed to building products you can trust whilst reducing their impact on the environment, is Dakine. From using recycled materials and designing outerwear with recyclable fabrics, to increasing plastic-free and compostable packaging, Dakine is dedicated to reducing its impact on our planet whilst pushing the envelope of what’s possible when it comes to technical performance.
As an example, let’s take a look at Dakine’s Mission wetsuits. Built from the ground up with flexibility, warmth and durability all at the forefront of the process, the Mission sets a whole new benchmark for wetsuits. Think unbelievable stretch, glove-like fit and supreme comfort. Designed with an ‘easy in’ chest zip and a Hexo_Therm lined and taped core, this wetsuit is one of the best on the market for those seeking an all-rounder for performance.
With ‘Sustainably Minded Wetsuit Design’ as its mantra, Vissla is a company for whom sustainability comes first. The brand uses limestone-based neoprene, specifically Japanese limestone, to replace petrochemicals in all of its wetsuits. The material comes from nature, in other words, and therefore has less environmental impact. What’s more, the Carbon Black it uses (a key ingredient for neoprene), is pyrolyzed from scrap rubber tires, significantly reducing energy consumption and cutting CO2 emissions (by 200g per wetsuit).
As well as all of this, a selection of Vissla suits are knitted with recycled nylon and polyester; the company has switched out conventional solvent glue for water-based glue, thus eliminating an excess of chemicals that are known to be harmful to the planet; it uses dope-dying to reduce the amount of water and energy required and also reduce water pollution; even its fabric mills have received the Bluesign System Partner certification, which means the mills’ energy and water use, and waste disposal all comply with the most demanding standards in the global textile industry.
This all sounds great, but it means nothing to the everyday surfer if the products don’t live up to their needs. Fortunately, at Mad Water Sports, we can testify to their quality and say, without a doubt, that they do! The High Seas II suit, for example, was completely redesigned in 2021 to create even more stretch, comfort and warmth. This high-performance wetsuit is 100% I-Foam neoprene – the lightest, warmest and stretchiest Japanese limestone-based neoprene available. It also boasts Thermal Fever Fibre lining with more stretch, insulating you during a surf and drying fast when you’ve finished. Having been anatomically engineered with minimal seams, it allows for unrestricted performance and warmth – a real winner on Cornwall’s winter waves.
Whichever brand you choose, it’s not just wetsuits that benefit from improved neoprene technology. While a well-chosen, sustainable suit will keep your core warm, the addition of boots, gloves and hoods mean you will be able to enjoy the waves and water for longer. Making a sustainable choice not only has a positive impact on the environment but also brings a benefit in terms of advanced technology.