Going green for the surf industry has been something of a journey, not unlike a surf trip in itself. The surf lifestyle has long been used as an influencer of our society, and surf brands have been a leader in sustainably produced products.
Picture a couple loading their hybrid pick up truck with gear. They’ve got a cooler made of recycled material loaded up with organic vegetables grown in their backyard. They don’t have any single use plastic water bottles or bags with them, but instead their surf trunks are made of recycled PET bottles.
Organic cotton clothes are stowed in bags made from recycled billboards. They use a minimum of fuel heading down the coast, only making purchases at locally-owned and sustainable businesses, and set up a no-footprint campsite. In the morning, they unload surfboards of plant-based resins from hemp boardbags and walk down to the break. Since the water is only in the high 50s, they start pulling on wetsuits – wetsuits made of toxic, petroleum-based neoprene.
“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’s 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.”
While surfing accessories and apparel made early strides toward eco-friendly products, it has long remained an ironic sticking point that surfboards and wetsuits were still derived of petroleum-based material.
The main polymer of Yulex, a natural rubber, is produced in trees, not factories. In the end, it reduces the CO2 emissions in wetsuit manufacturing by up to 80 percent.
Since its inception in 1973, Patagonia has not only strived to make a quality and responsible product, but also to set an example. They got into the wetsuit game a decade ago producing limestone suits with less environmental impact, then released the first plant-based fibers in 2014.
Patagonia partnered with Yulex, which is being grown on a reclaimed farm in Guatemala, to develop the material. The process is actually helping the local ecology, rather than accelerating deforestation, hence the FCS certification.
The two companies will be sharing the technology with other industries, in an attempt to make all the products we use less dangerous to the environment, across the board. It promises that the Yulex suits have the same performance quality as traditional petroleum suits. There are currently 14 men’s, six women’s, and one youth suit in the fall line, ranging from short sleeve R1 fullsuits to hooded R4 winter suits.
“Yulex could not have found a better partner than Patagonia to champion this breakthrough for the surf industry. The collaboration between our companies has been an example of how sustainable products can be brought to customers without sacrificing performance and cost competitiveness,” commented Jeff Martin, founder and CEO of Yulex Corporation. “Patagonia has an exemplary business model which Yulex and others continue to embrace.”