The modern wetsuit is a marvel of technology. Forming a second skin to your body, it not only keeps you warm in waters across the globe, but with high quality materials and careful construction, it can allow for fairly unencumbered movement, too, letting us perform our antics in the water.
However, wetsuits have a dirty secret – they’re made with neoprene. And neoprene is a fairly nasty substance. Derived from crude oil (already a red flag), they take a ton of energy to produce, and that production process has been linked to harmful effects on humans as well.
In 2016, Patagonia released the first line of all-Yulex wetsuits, using a natural rubber derived from Hevea trees instead of neoprene. However, Yulex wetsuits had a dirty little secret as well. Despite how eco-friendly they were, they just weren’t as stretchy and high-performing as neoprene. For the average surfer, and even professional watersports athletes, the reduction in “performance” wasn’t a glaring issue. But it was maybe difficult to justify shelling out more cash than your average wetsuit would cost for something that doesn’t perform as well.
Today, that’s all changing, as Patagonia releases its updated line of Regulator wetsuits. With various improvements, the suits are now finally on-par with the best suits in the industry in terms of stretch, comfort, and everything that goes with it.
The improvements include a new wetsuit foam that claims to be 20 percent stretchier than the previous generation of Patagonia wetsuits, and five percent lighter as well, with optimized seam placement for a better range of motion, lower-profile seam tape, and a softer and faster-drying lining.
“Usually we relaunch our wetsuits every two years,” Hub Hubbard, Patagonia’s Wetsuit Product Developer told me, “but due to the pandemic, this time it was four years, giving us plenty of time to get every detail dialed.” And with the repair team (and its massive workshop located at Patagonia’s Ventura HQ) also functioning as a prototyping unit, turnaround on prototypes and design tweaks took days not months. And the input from the repair team is invaluable, Hub told me. “For most wetsuit manufacturers, you’re pretty much sending a drawing to a factory and hoping that they interpret it right,” he says. “Whereas we’re actually cutting and gluing and building our ideas in-house. It’s a huge, huge advantage.”
For the past six months, I’ve been in a prototype Patagonia suit with strict orders to keep it on the down low. After plenty of water time in it, I can confidently say the difference is astonishing compared to previous generations, proving that Yulex as a material truly has the potential to fare just as well as neoprene in the surf. I’ve spent a lot of time in a lot of different wetsuits, so I feel comfortable saying that (I’ll be updating that guide ASAP with the new suits from Patagonia). I’ve got both previous-generation and new-generation Patagonia wetsuits next to me as I type, and there’s simply no denying the difference in the material.
Patagonia may not have reached the insane stretch of the Rip Curl E7 Flashbomb Heatseeker, but to be honest, so much stretch feels, at times, like overkill. Clocking in with stretch comparable to O’Neill’s Hyperfreak Fire and Dakine’s Cyclone, Patagonia has certainly done enough to show Yulex has changed.
Another big win for the new suits is the repairability. You may notice they don’t have the same “Power Seam” liquid rubber seal on the exterior of the seams. That’s because the seal made the wetsuits difficult to repair, limiting the extended lifetime. So Patagonia did away with those, as well as optimizing seam placement all over the suit, introducing a new zipper, and various other improvements like a lower-profile internal tape to reduce the chance of chafing. And when the suit can’t be repaired anymore, another huge win is Patagonia’s announcement of an end-of-life solution for the wetsuits they make. Retired suits will now be used to solution-dye new items like black hole duffels and new wetsuits – far better than the sending them to the landfill.
The new wetsuits are available online now, via the Patagonia website. The Patagonia repair team will be touring both the East and West Coast this fall to show off the new suits, repair old wetsuits, and answer any questions you might have. Stop by if you happen to be in the area.