California University Professors Claim (Most) Wetsuits Are Being Made Wrong In Peppery Peer-Reviewed Study - Stab Mag
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Florence Marine X's wetsuits on the other hand incorporate Nessler and Newcomer's clever research. Photo by Florence Marine X

California University Professors Claim (Most) Wetsuits Are Being Made Wrong In Peppery Peer-Reviewed Study

“What the surf industry is marketing is not being driven by science.”

news // May 22, 2022
Words by Ethan Davis
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Sean Newcomer and Jeff Nessler are two kinesiology professors from California State University in San Marcos trying hardly to make Stab’s annual wetsuit test redundant. “We utilize our expertise in Kinesiology to study the biomechanical and physiological requirements of surfing while working with industry partners to develop and test surf related products” at the uni’s Surf Research Laboratory. For the past decade, they have been studying wetsuits extensively and revealed in a recently published peer-reviewed study that (most) surf co’s are doing it wrong. 

With the help of 40 undergrads and an indoor “surf lab” featuring motion cameras, a swim bench ergometer, a treadmill on hydraulics, and a surfboard simulator mounted on pistons, the two have been working on solutions to build warmer, lighter and more flexible wetsuits using hard data. Recently, their findings were used to inform the design of Florence Marine X’s first 3/2 full suit, which sold out in weeks despite its $750 price tag.

Not a meth lab. Photo by Surf Research Laboratory

One of their more striking findings, courtesy of using thermal sensors to measure skin temperature, was that the distribution of ‘thickness’ of wetsuits is all wrong. The data showed that the average surfer didn’t need the extra millimeters around their core (unless perhaps they were riding waves near the Arctic Circle). Instead, they needed the thickest neoprene over the lower half of their body— the calves, thighs, stomach, and lower back. Those were the regions submerged in water for the most amount of time and consequently the areas that lost the most heat. Those regions also received the least exposure to the sun and weren’t utilized as much as the upper body’s paddling muscles.” 

In 2002, shortly after Nike acquired Hurley, Bruce Moore, )(’s former VP of Innovation, began bringing wetsuits for Nessler and Newcomer to test. “We wanted to see whether they actually worked in the scientific setting or whether they’re just kind of marketing stories and people just selling snake oil,” he told Outside Magazine

Based on Sean and Jeff’s findings suggesting the upper body wetsuit design be tailored toward mobility while thermal insulation should be paramount over the lower body, Hurley launched the Advantage Max 3/2 Plus with the thickest neoprene in the legs, thinning as it reached the torso, then some more in the chest and arms. 

Wonderful? Yes.

No. Marketing team couldn’t figure out how to flog ‘em.

Traditionally, wetsuits are named by their thickness. A 4/3-millimeter suit, for instance, is understood to mean that the thickest neoprene (4 millimeters) is wrapped around the core, while the thinnest neoprene (3 millimeters) covers the extremities.

Simply put, it was confusing to people familiar with those traditional measurements, and while the wetsuits are still available, )( have since fine-tuned their language to the effect of “adds warmth where it’s needed, and eliminates bulk where it’s not.” The higher-order tech specs/explanations have been shrunk to fineprint. 

Thicc in the legs, nimble up the top. JJF by WSL

Following the breakup of Nike and )(, Bruce Moore joined forces with JJF at Marine X as their Director of Innovation and Sustainability. The 3/2 full suit is the first suit to incorporate Nessler and Newcomer’s research on regional temperatures in the body since the Hurley Advantage Max 3/2 Plus, using 3 millimeters of neoprene on the legs and lower torso, while covering the arms, upper chest, and upper back with 2 millimeters of rubber.

Currently it is sold out.

You can read more about Sean and Jeff’s work here.

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