Ian Walsh has experienced situations while big wave surfing that most mortals could never dream of. On more occasions than he would care to recall, the zipper on Walsh’s protective life vest failed due to the force of a bad wipeout in big waves. Quite literally busting open from end-to-end, his life vest left him nearly defenseless and scrambling for survival.
As Walsh explains, “I hit the water so hard on one wave that the life jacket I had on broke. It blew the zipper open, so when I hit it was a like a parachute just opened on my back and put me to a dead stop. I was probably going like 40 or 50 miles an hour.”
Walsh set out to find a solution to this and other problems he experienced with some of his big wave safety gear. He soon reached out to TECNIQ, the San Diego, CA based product development consortium, and explained his concepts. The staff at TECNIQ jumped at the chance to work with Walsh and Red Bull.
“Ian presented a real design challenge,” said Rob Falken, Managing Director at TECNIQ. “He wanted his new custom life vest to incorporate an improved zippered entry and to have a reduction to the overall bulkiness, while maintaining or increasing the desired buoyancy.”
The first breakthrough in Walsh’s newly created life vest was the invention of the half-zip pullover design. This design utilizes a shortened zipper on the lower front half of the life vest. The primary advantage of this patent-pending design is that the life vest remains secure and cannot blow open. An added benefit is that the upper front chest panel now includes more floatation foam to increase the buoyancy and likelihood of face-up orientation. The second breakthrough was the use of a custom formulated neoprene made by the Yamamoto Corporation in Japan. This neoprene is the lightest and most buoyant in the company’s offering to date.
But the team didn’t stop there. Drawing on their past success with a foam manufacture, Zotefoams Inc., TECNIQ set out to develop the lightest and most buoyant floatation foam possible. While working with Zotefoams, a new type of floatation foam came to fruition that was nothing short of remarkable. The foam has been dubbed HydroZOTE™, it is approximately 30% lighter in weight and approximately 10% more buoyant than competing floatation foams in the same class. HydroZOTE™ is a “green” foam in that it doesn’t use any blowing agents and contains none of the carcinogens found in competing floatation foams. The team utilized this material in Walsh’s new half-zip pullover life vests and floatation wetsuits for big wave surfing.