Headquartered in Ventura, California, Patagonia’s founder, Yvon Chouinard, chose the company’s location for its proximity to one of California’s most consistent point breaks so he and his employees could run out at lunchtime and catch a few waves. In 2005, Yvon and his son Fletcher, decided that the wetsuits they were using were not lasting long enough and set out to build a one. They recruited Dan, Keith and Chris Malloy as well as Gerry Lopez and other surfers to help them develop a wetsuit that was warmer, more durable and more environmentally conscious. The result was a wetsuit that integrates chlorine-free wool into a recycled polyester mesh. Patagonia supports its employees’ active lifestyles and many surf, kitesurf, run or play volleyball in the sandpit at the back of the building during their lunch breaks. Patagonia’s Jason McCaffrey tells us what motivated the company’s foray into kitesurfing and answers our questions about some kite-specific products.
Patagonia is a non-traditional kitesurfing brand. What has motivated the global action sports apparel brand to invest in kitesurfing?
Too easy; we invest in the things we do. Fletch has been kiting since the beginning and eventually his interest started to get other people involved. Once we started traveling to kite we noticed that Patagonia gear had a bit of a presence in the community as many kiters crossover into so many different sports. Given that kiting is an extension of surfing, it seemed like a natural progression.
What is new in terms of wetsuit design or technology for 2016?
There is some BIG news on the horizon. Let’s just say that something we have been working on for a great number of years is finally coming to fruition!
While many companies describe the warmth of the wetsuit in terms of thickness, how does Patagonia’s R-rating compare to the standard 4/3/2mm designations?
Great question. When we started building suits, we knew right away that our liners were game-changing, so much so that our R2 suit was much warmer that the standard unlined 3/2. We also knew that if we didn’t figure out a way to tell people how warm they were, they would think they performed just the same as the industry standard.
To clarify this point we came up with a temperature rating system because no matter where you live in the world, 55° is 55° and everyone knows what they need to be comfortable in the specific water temperature in which they surf or kite. We could have done the normal industry thing; put a pro rider in it and said it’s the stretchiest, lightest and warmest suit in the history of the universe… but that’s a bunch of crap. People are smarter than that. We felt if we said, “this is our suit, it works at this temperature and it’s got the best guarantee in the business”, people would figure it out.
For performance kitesurfers, the wetsuit booty is likely the most important piece of equipment, as it is the most crucial connection between the rider’s input and board. What are the design concepts/technology used in Patagonia booties?
Currently we have a R2 sock that we like a lot for kiting. The dexterity is amazing, it has good grip and is about as close as you can get to riding barefoot. We’ll be expanding this product group starting in fall 2016. Interestingly enough, they’re a favorite for surfing too. These will work for both so you don’t have to buy separate ‘kite boots’ and ‘surf boots’.
Patagonia is a leader in promoting fair labor practices, safe working conditions and environmental responsibility throughout your supply chain. What are the unique challenges in applying this guiding principle to the wetsuit category and how are your efforts translated into the performance of your products?
It’s actually been surprisingly mellow. Sheico, our partner in production, has been very open to our audits and recommendations for social compliance in the factories we work in. Their leadership is interested in things like having blue sign approved materials and FSC certification. Without their level of interest we would be unable to live up to our mission statement and deliver the innovative environmentally-minded products we build. It’s truly a partnership and I think they see that the future of all business now relies on making smart choices. Like David Brower said, “There’s no business to be done on a dead planet.”
Last year was the first year for your kite-specific drysuit. How has that product performed and have you made any changes for 2016?
The drysuit was well received and we had nearly 100% sell-through. That’s the good news. The bad news is that we lost the factory that was producing them, so they’re gone for a season. We’ll be reintroducing that style again with some updated features in fall 2017. This one is always a fun project to work on because we get to go to some weird and chilly places and test them out!
What are some other Patagonia products besides wetsuits that kitesurfers should look at?
For warm weather, I think the coolest thing is the stretch Terre Planing jacket which will be available starting January 2016. It’s basically a jacket made from our boardshort material that provides 50 UPF, stretch, is harness compatible, has a roll-up hood and is pretty much just plain awesome. For cold weather, I think the Nano Air is a great piece, as well as the Nano jacket which is more windproof. As I said, there are so many people that kite that also crossover into other sports that I think they’re pretty well versed with our product offering. Basically, if you need to stay dry, warm and comfortable, you can probably find something from our Alpine, Snow or Sportswear lines to keep you in the game.