Chadd Konig, finless at Rincon in a Matuse Tumo 5/4mm.
In recent years, a niche of eco-friendly wetsuits has emerged, challenging the traditional manufacturers like Rip Curl and O’Neill with “green” technology and promises of longer-lasting, warmer, lighter rubber. For an inside perspective, I sat down with John Campbell, president and CEO of San Diego, Calif.-based Matuse, a major player in the modern “green wetsuit” movement.
KEW: Why would anybody want to wear Matuse’s limestone rubber instead of regular neoprene?
JOHN CAMPBELL: In 2005, when Matuse was still just an idea, only scientific aficionados and wetsuit wonks knew about limestone rubber. Today, limestone rubber has become much more commonly known among the surfing populace. There is—and probably always will be—a huge gap in quality between the “new” Chinese versions of limestone rubber and the materials made by Yamamoto in Japan. Moreover, to take things up another notch, there’s a marked difference between standard Yamamoto rubber and Geoprene used by Matuse. Geoprene is 98-percent water-impermeable. Standard petroleum rubber—especially the kinds that are initially ultra-flexible—is maybe 69-percent water-impermeable. Ultimately this means that a Matuse suit is lighter, warmer, and remains insulating for a longer period of time. Everyone knows what an old wetsuit feels like and what a poor job it does with insulation. Matuse suits retain their insulation qualities because of Geoprene’s unique microcell structure.
How do Matuse wetsuits differ from other so-called “green” suits, like those made by Body Glove and Patagonia?
Anyone who owns a Matuse can tell you that our suits feel and function differently. They keep you toasty and are the same weight in the dressing room as they are after a two-hour session. Because they don’t soak up as much water, they also dry amazingly fast. The best way to judge such claims is to test our wares against what else is offered.
How do your wetsuits impact the environment?
Our Geoprene is essentially bubbles or foam that forms like a loaf of bread. For Geoprene, the bubbles or cells all have the same size and “cell wall” thickness. With the constant compression and elongation every wetsuit endures, the pressure is evenly distributed throughout Geoprene’s perfectly aligned cells. Hence the cells remain intact. Long-lasting rubber cells makes for exceptional heat retention and efficiency.
Standard neoprene wetsuits have a cell structure with irregularly shaped cells and randomly thick and thin cell walls. Over time, oil-based neoprene cannot withstand in-use rigors and will not retain its water impermeability/insulation. This is why an oil-based suit is much warmer the first time it’s worn compared to the 10th time it’s worn. Oil-derived suits function like kitchen sponges because they absorb so much water.
Because our rubber stays functional for a longer period of time, the customer not only gets more value for their money, they’re also less likely to dispose of their suit every eight or 12 months. So when it comes to an “eco-friendly” wetsuit, the best item is the one that customers don’t buy.
On another eco-wetsuit front, many companies (including Matuse) are making their best efforts to establish long-term recycling programs. However, until this happens on a broad-scale level, the most worthwhile environmental effort for every wetsuit company is building the best possible product out of the best possible materials that are available. This is our day-to-day focus.
Finally, a quick comment on raw materials: Petroleum is a dwindling resource. And tapping into the earth’s remaining petroleum reserves are either not economically feasible or are costly from an environmental standpoint (Mother Nature doesn’t dig drilling big holes on speculation). By comparison, there are estimates that there are roughly 3,000 years worth of readily accessible limestone (99.7 percent pure), which is used to make Geoprene.
We believe Geoprene suits make for a compelling functional and environmental alternative, especially when evaluating the sustainable raw-materials they’re made from, the customer’s demands, and how they fulfill the intended utility of a wetsuits. Plus, we think they look better.