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The Rise of Natural Rubber in Surfing

The Rise of Natural Rubber in Surfing

, 1 min reading time

If you're a surfer, chances are you've spent countless hours in neoprene wetsuits, unaware of their environmental impact. For years, neoprene was the sole choice for wetsuits, but now, with more eco-friendly options available, more manufacturers are transitioning to natural rubber wetsuits.

It's time to discover these alternatives and understand how natural rubber is produced and why it can be a great alternative to neoprene…

Refreshing our memory: what exactly is neoprene?

Wetsuits are made from panels of foamed rubber that are usually covered in a knitted fabric for protection and durability. Traditionally, this foamed rubber has been neoprene, the trade name for a synthetic rubber made from either limestone or petroleum. 

Petroleum is widely known as one of the top contributors to climate change and other aspects of ecological damage. Firstly, petroleum is a non-renewable resource that is quickly running out. Secondly, the processes of extracting and transporting petroleum are environmentally harmful. In contrast, natural rubber comes from trees and presents a more sustainable solution.

What is Natural Rubber?

You might know natural rubber as Yulex, or simply neoprene-free rubber. These names refer to the same material. It is a sustainable rubber that originates from rubber trees and can be used in the production of wetsuits and other water sport-related gear.

Evolution of Natural Rubber Wetsuits

  • 2012

    In 2012 Yulex revolutionised the wetsuit industry by introducing natural rubber wetsuits, harvested from rubber trees, in collaboration with Patagonia. Initially, these wetsuits weren't as flexible or durable as neoprene wetsuits. However, due to constant innovation, Yulex was able to improve these characteristics and match traditional neoprene quality.

  • 2014

    Where patagonia had the first and exclusive rights for yulex foam. They made it available to the rest of the surf world in 2014 in the hopes that other companies would join them to move away from neoprene.

  • 2016

    In 2016, Patagonia switched to Hevea rubber, making a big difference in quality and to ensure that hevea rubber was sourced only from plantations that preserve biodiversity and ecological integrity.

  • 2022

    Fast forward to 2022, more wetsuit brands like Billabong, Wallien, and Rip Curl are making the switch to Yulex foam and becoming neoprene-free. 

    This spring, C-skins also introduced its own neoprene-free wetsuit line, sourced from the HEVEA tree.

NATURAL RUBBER: HOW IS IT MADE?

The main source of commercial natural rubber is the Hevea tree, often called the rubber tree or rubber plant. Its Latin botanical name is Hevea brasiliensis, which gives a clue to its origin in the Amazon rainforest of South America. The Hevea tree produces a liquid called latex, a milky fluid found in its stems and roots. When exposed to air, latex transforms into a crucial ingredient for natural rubber.

As more wetsuit companies start using Yulex or making their own natural rubber, there's a risk of cutting down forests. That's why at least Yulex and C-skins come only from certified plantations by the Forest Stewardship Council. These certifications ensure forests are managed sustainably.

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