Words by Michael Kew
Amid a wet land chilly West Coast January, DEEP chatted with John V. Campbell, founding partner, president, and CEO of San Diego’s Matuse, Inc.—a kingpin in the modern eco-wetsuit movement—to talk geoprene: your green friend in the black world of wetsuits.
DEEP: What’s geoprene?
CAMPBELL: Geoprene is limestone rubber that is 98 percent water-impermeable. Standard petroleum rubber—what most wetsuits are made from, especially the kinds that are initially ultra-flexible—is maybe 69 percent water-impermeable. This means a geoprene 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. Geoprene suits retain their insulation qualities because of their unique microcell structure.
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 Chinese versions of geoprene 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 the geoprene used by Matuse.
DEEP: Why are geoprene suits pricier than neoprenesuits?
CAMPBELL: The best customer understands the difference between price versus value. And consumption is the biggest enemy of our environment. The longest-lasting wetsuit is arguably the most eco, like a car that gets 200,000-plus miles of use before trade-in. The way for a wetsuit to last long simply means keeping the customer happy. Wetsuits that keep their customers happy are consistently warm, comfortable, flexible. Solid, reliable suits have an MSRP of $300 and above. Excellent suits have an MSRP of $500 and above. Either way, paying $200 or $300 more for a suit that lasts another two years equates to X amount of dollars per day over the course of 365 days—effectively a depreciation schedule via wetsuits.
...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.
DEEP: How do geoprene suits affect the environment?
CAMPBELL: Geoprene is essentially bubbles or foam that forms like a loaf of bread. 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 make 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, the 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 its worn compared to the 10th time it’s worn. Oil-derived suits function like kitchen sponges because they absorb so much water.
Petroleum is a dwindling resource. And tapping into the earth’s remaining petroleum reserves is either not economically feasible or is 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. 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, I think they look better.
Find out more at matuse.com.
Michael Kew is a freelance writer who first became involved in publishing when he was 12. Kew's second travel book is slated for 2017. He also plans to publish books of his photos. He lives on the southern Oregon coast.