There are many advantages to a wetsuit and while they will help provide some additional buoyancy while in the water, they are never to be used as a flotation device. You need to be sure you know how to swim well when you jump in the water with a wetsuit because it won’t be able to keep you above the water. That is, unless you are wearing an inflatable wetsuit made by Shane Dorian and Billabong. While not designed for people who can’t swim, this great new wetsuit can help save big wave surfers in emergency situations.
Big Wave Surfing
The sport of big wave surfing can be very dangerous. The waves these individuals are surfing are typically 40 to 60 feet high and in some cases much more. The biggest wave ever ridden was in Nazare, Portugal and it was estimated to be over 90ft high! Waves like this can really push you hard and fast, and if you get caught in the wrong spot it can force you deep underwater very quickly.
To make it even more dangerous, when you’re pushed underwater by these huge waves it often happens that just as you’re approaching the surface of the water a second wave begins crashing down on you forcing you under again. Surfers have been held underwater in situations like this for minutes at a time, and sadly some of them were unable to survive. When preparing for big wave surfers people go through difficult training for these types of situations where they have to keep calm, control their heartbeat through meditation and above all, keep calm so you can preserve your oxygen. Check out Chasing Mavericks, a Hollywood flick on surfing Mavericks that gives you some idea on how they prepare for this stuff.
Now tow-in surfers are towed into the waves by a jetski. Since they don’t have to paddle they can wear a life vest. But paddle surfers usually don’t use life jackets which leaves them in potentialy very dangerous situations. Even somewhat smaller waves can be extremely dangerous.
When Shane Dorian went through the worst wipe-out he ever experienced at Maverick the wave completely engulfed him and pinned him underwater. Without ever breaking the surface to get a breath of fresh air the next wave slammed into him keeping him below the surface until he nearly drowned. After this experiance he came up with an innovative idea to help make the sport he loves safer for himself and fellow surfers. Here is Shane Dorian explaining the new inflatable wetsuit:
An inflatable wetsuit
The inflatable wetsuit was designed with an inflatable bladder attached to the back which would be quickly inflated during emergencies with the pull of a string. You’ve likely seen similar items on the life jackets on airplanes which you place around your neck and they quickly fill with air when you pull the proper cords. With his idea in mind he contacted Billabong and began development.
The pouch which is located on the back of the wetsuit is enclosed with a zipper. Within the pouch is an inflatable bladder connected to a full carbon-dioxide cartridge. It is activated by pulling a cord which is hanging near the surfer’s shoulder. The C02 is immediately released into the bladder filling it up to help the surfer reach the surface much more quickly. In situations like this every second below water can be the difference between life and death so this innovative wetsuit may help keep these extreme surfers much safer than before. BTW – this system is quite familiar to freeride skiers and snowboarders that use similar airbag solution to help them stay afloat if the are cought in a snow avalanche. So the thing is not completely new but it was never used in water.
When wearing the wetsuit you’ll barley notice the pouch on your back which looks like a small lump, but when it is inflated it is about the size of the surfers head.