Now I’m no authority on freediving wetsuits, but what I do know is this: none can be considered eco-friendly or green.
I know, because it’s the first thing I looked at when searching for freediving wetsuits recently. Quite a lengthy search returned only a tiny crop of wetsuit manufacturers designing eco wetsuits. And none were for the purpose of freediving.
Freedive-specific suits are designed slightly differently to surfing wetsuits; they feature a zipper less design with integrated hood, for increased heat retention and streamlining. A design it seems, that eco-minded manufacturers have yet to cater for.
But why should we care? A wetsuit’s just a wetsuit right?
To understand why, you must first know about traditional neoprene wetsuits.
The problem with oil-based neoprene wetsuits
Neoprene wetsuits are made from synthetic rubber (polymer) and lined with manmade fabrics; nylon and polyester. There are three main reasons why this is bad for the environment:
- For a start polymer requires crude oil, which is a nonrenewable and potentially hazardous raw material (think oil spills).
- Secondly refining the oil into the petroleum-based product (polychloroprene) for manufacture is an energy-intensive process, which uses a lot of water along with other precious resources, and emits climate altering CO2.
- Finally to make the dirty mix of petrochemicals strong enough to wear, the neoprene must be laminated to nylon and polyesters. Requiring the use of toxic adhesives, which are water pollutants.
Unfortunately the freedive market is flooded with oil-based neoprene wetsuits. The surfing industry however, has better eco-friendly credentials.
Yulex natural rubber wetsuits by Patagonia
Patagonia have led the way on eco-friendly wetsuits for some time now. They were the first to use limestone-based neoprene (more on that later), instead of the usual oil-based neoprene that most wetsuits are made from.
But they didn’t stop there. In 2015 they released a new wave of wetsuit that is a game-changer in terms of impact on the environment. The goal? Make a plant-based wetsuit that’s kind on water and less energy intensive than ever before.
Their line of Yulex natural rubber wetsuits are made from FSC certified trees from Guatemalan forests that support local communities (find out why this is important here). Plant sources are irrigated by ambient rainfall and a recycled water supply is used in manufacturing.
All this, without sacrificing on warmth or durability.
“Testing in the water showed us that the performance characteristics of Yulex natural rubber equaled or exceeded those of conventional neoprene.”
In fact, they rate Yulex natural rubber so highly that they’re using it in all 21 of their wetsuits. Even more impressively, they’re looking to share their pioneering technology with the rest of the surf industry to inspire a shift away from nonrenewable materials.
As I mentioned above, limestone-based neoprene is another green alternative to try if your budget doesn’t stretch to $300-500 for a Yulex natural rubber wetsuit.
Limestone-based neoprene is made from, you guessed it, limestone – or the calcium carbonate found in limestone. It’s considered more eco-friendly than traditional oil-based neoprene due to its use of more sustainable and less toxic resources during production. It’s also known to have a longer lifespan, helping to reduce the amount of waste in landfill.
The natural choice
When it comes to choosing the best wetsuit for water sports, the natural options made from limestone-based neoprene or even better, Yulux natural rubber, are the only smart, sustainable options for me.
Natural wetsuits grown with sunshine and watered with rainfall, rather than petrochemical wetsuits that as magicseaweeed author writes “drip crude oil like our sinuses drip salt water”.
It’s just a shame that freediving wetsuits don’t use the same natural materials and environmentally-friendly manufacturing techniques used by Patagonia.
But, with Patagonia promising to share their technology with the surf industry, I hope that it won’t be long before manufacturers of freediving wetsuits are using it too.
Or, better still, maybe Patagonia will start making freediving wetsuits!
Hint, hint 🙂