Patagonia is a global action sports apparel brand based in Ventura, California. With strong roots in surfing, many of its employees take advantage of its location next to one of California’s most consistent point breaks, strategically chosen by founder Yvon Chouinard. Fletch, Yvon’s son, has been kiting since the beginning and his interest has encouraged many in Patagonia’s broader action sports community to get involved. Given that kiting is an extension of surfing, Jason McCaffrey tells us about some kite-related products he thinks kiters will be stoked on in the 2017 lineup.
For lifelong water people, it’s amazing how little attention goes into the materials we surround ourselves when wearing wetsuits doing what we love. Can you explain how Patagonia’s Yulex based wetsuits take an unparalleled approach to using both natural materials as well as promoting environmental sustainability?
As we began our research into how conventional wetsuits were made, we found that neoprene, due to its complex and highly energy-intensive manufacturing process, was the most environmentally damaging component of a suit. Neoprene, or polychloroprene, is a substance developed in 1930 that’s most commonly made by chlorinating and polymerizing butadiene, a petrochemical refined from crude oil. It’s been the base material for surf and dive wetsuits since the early 1950s, and there were no viable alternatives when we designed our first generations of suits.
We partnered with a company called Yulex to develop a renewable, plant-based replacement for neoprene. Originally avoiding hevea — the world’s main source of natural rubber — because of its association with deforestation in the developing world, we introduced the first wetsuits made with rubber from the guayule plant. But when we discovered that hevea was being grown on Forest Stewardship Council certified plantations in Guatemala, it changed our thinking — hevea rubber was the best-performing alternative to neoprene, and it could be sourced in a way that didn’t contribute to deforestation. As of Fall 2016, the Yulex natural rubber in our wetsuits comes from sources that are Forest Stewardship Council certified by the Rainforest Alliance. After being tapped from hevea trees, the raw latex is refined by our partners at Yulex in a proprietary process that removes over 99% of impurities — including the proteins that cause latex allergies — and results in a stronger, non-sensitizing natural elastomer.
We were excited to find a renewable material that performed as well, or better, than traditional neoprene. Our environmental assessments revealed another benefit that was just as encouraging — because the polyisoprene polymer was produced in trees instead of factories, using solar energy instead of generated electricity, up to 80% less climate-altering CO2 was emitted in the manufacturing process when compared to traditional neoprene. Natural rubber is both stronger and more flexible than its synthetic substitutes. Its strength, elasticity and consistent stretch transfer superbly into wetsuits—meaning that not only are we not contributing to deforestation, Yulex natural rubber is a step forward for performance, too. Most importantly, since only 0.5% of the world’s rubber supply currently comes from FSC certified sources, we hope our choice will motivate other businesses to incorporate more sustainable practices in their supply chains.
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?
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 and built suits to perform within a specific range rather than calling out the thickness and letting people wing it. It put the onus on us to build better suits, but we’re trying to do that anyway so we might as well give people a confident guide to help them pick the right suit.The Nano puff hoody is Tkb’s staff’s personal favorite for pre and post kitesurfing sessions on Santa Cruz’s always cold north coast. Do you have any other recommendations for cold weather tops to keep us in the game?
Ours too! This is a successful product and there are more silhouettes to choose from: pullovers, hooded versions, vests, and basically just about any style you can think of. The Down Snap Tees are pretty cool, and the Windsweep 3 in 1 hoody is great for looking ‘normal’ and not all teched out.We’ve heard that Fletcher has a new line of kite surfboards that he’s developing. What’s the story with these boards and when will we see them?
These have been a long time in the making. We’ve let a lot of people try them and we’re pretty stoked. We’re just getting dialed now with our web presentation, finalizing sizes and material combinations to offer. I hope to have these up on www.fcdsurfboards.com by January just in time for the clearing winds in spring.
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