Neoprene is good at keeping surfers warm in the water, but producing it is a dirty business. Not only is the material non-renewable, but it's derived from petroleum or limestone, which means it's a product of mining or drilling. In an attempt to make your next session in the green room a bit greener, Patagonia's latest line of wetsuits drops neoprene in favor of natural rubber.
At the core of these new wetsuits is a new plant-based polymer called Yulex. It's derived from Hevea trees, grown on reclaimed land in Guatemala, and Patagonia says it reduces the amount of CO2 emitted in wetsuit manufacture by around 80 percent. Although the new polymer is reasonably resilient on its own, it still needs to be mixed with a "small amount" of synthetic rubber for improved durability and UV resistance.
"Surfers and wetsuit manufacturers - including Patagonia - have relied on neoprene for years, despite the fact that it's a nonrenewable, petroleum-based material with an energy-intensive manufacturing process," says Hub Hubbard, Patagonia wetsuit development manager. "Neoprene is nasty stuff, 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 fullsuit line."
According to the team behind their development, the neoprene-free wetsuits are just as warm as a conventional one. Six different temperature ratings will be offered, ranging from 75°F (24°C) down to 32°F (0°C), and Patagonia says its new linings dry faster than before. There will be front and rear-zip options, although the company is adamant the floating front-zip offers better stretch, seal and mobility than the old-fashioned rear-zip options.
The range of Yulex wetsuits has just hit the American, European and Japanese markets. Pricing starts at US$299 for a short-sleeved full suit, and jumps to $329 for the cheapest long-sleeve offering.
A Patagonia video about the production of the suits is below.