Two women holding longboards and wearing yulex wetsuits.

Why choose Yulex over petroleum-based Neoprene wetsuits

Wetsuits have been around for ages, keeping us surfers warm and cozy in the water. With the surfing industry booming since the ’90s, wetsuits have evolved, now coming in various sizes and thicknesses. Today’s value of the wetsuit industry is around $2 Billion USD. Most of these wetsuits are made of synthetic rubber called neoprene. It is a petroleum-based material, which also has the commercial name chloroprene. Though this material has been the go-to since its development by DuPont in the 1930s, the surf community was largely unaware of its harmful and toxic nature for quite some time.

However, Patagonia started to bring some light into the darkness in 2008 when they introduced the first Yulex wetsuit made from a natural rubber sourced from the Guayule plant. It proved to be a more sustainable alternative to the conventional neoprene wetsuits that most were accustomed to. The revelation continued when Lewis Arnold and Chris Nelson started their documentary ‘‘The Big Sea’’ bringing more information about the harmful effects of neoprene to light.

Header: Credit: Aentonia | Zoé and Lili wearing an Ecoalf x Deeply Yulex summer wetsuit.

The Toxic Truth of Neoprene

The film takes us to the Denka factory, a Japanese owned chemical company in Louisiana. It is the only chloroprene plant in the US. Why it’s so problematic is that there is no home in the predominantly black community without having been touched by cancer. The U.S. Government Environmental Protection Agency acknowledges the high cancer risks of chloroprene, thus the majority of wetsuits sold today are made out of chloroprene from the plant in the Cancer Alley. 

Denka owns a second company in Japan, where Limestone chloroprene wetsuits are made by melting Limestone in an electric furnace. It’s not a petroleum based material, but the process to mine, crush and melt the Limestone requires a huge amount of energy. So, environmentally speaking, it’s not much better. Also, there is no data or public records that are kept about the chloroprene emissions in the second plant according to The Big Sea findings.

Since the toxic truth of chloroprene is becoming more evident, more and more companies are aiming to bring more sustainable wetsuits to the market.

Are Yulex wetsuits an alternative? 

Surfers are very picky when it comes to material. The wetsuit should be flexible, tight but not too and perform in its dedicated water temperature. These characteristic traits of surfers make it quite hard to introduce a new technology that might not directly have the same performance aspects. Yulex wetsuits have been around for a while now, gaining more and more trust and credit for a great performance.

Woman paddling on a surfboard
Credit: Lili Zwirner | Zoé wearing an Ecoalf x Deeply Yulex summer wetsuit.

Yulex is a natural plant-based material that can replace neoprene. Today, the rubber for wetsuits is sourced from the Havea rubber tree from different plantations from Sri Lanka to Guatemala. The trees produce natural rubber for 20 to 30 years, absorbing some carbon in their lifespan as well. Since 2016, Patagonia went completely neoprene free, making all their wetsuit-based products with natural rubber. To make the more sustainable Yulex material widely available, they decided to open up the material for the wetsuit market. Since then, many other brands such as Ecoalf with Deeply, Finisterre, Billabong and SRFACE started selling all-natural rubber wetsuits.

Woman wearing yulex wetsuit from Ecoalf.
Credit: Aentonia | Lili wearing an Ecoalf x Deeply Yulex summer wetsuit.

Yulex wetsuits offer several key sustainability advantages over traditional neoprene wetsuits, which make them a more environmentally responsible choice. Switching to Yulex reduces the CO₂ emissions from one wetsuit by up to 80% (Patagonia). The primary difference between Havea wetsuits and neoprene wetsuits lies in the material source. Neoprene is derived from petroleum, a non-renewable resource that requires energy-intensive processes to extract and refine. The Havea trees can be sustainably harvested for their rubber, providing a more eco-friendly alternative to petroleum-based neoprene.

The rubber used in Yulex wetsuits comes from responsibly managed plantations, ensuring sustainable harvesting practices that protect biodiversity and local ecosystems. In contrast, the extraction and refining of petroleum for neoprene wetsuits often lead to environmental degradation and habitat destruction.

Credit: Lili Zwirner | Zoé & Antonia wearing an Ecoalf x Deeply Yulex summer wetsuit and bathing suit.

And as the Big Sea documentary will show, the production of neoprene involves the use of certain toxic chemicals, including chloroprene. These chemicals can have harmful effects on human health and the environment. Yulex wetsuits, being derived from natural rubber, do not require the use of such hazardous chemicals, making them a safer option for both consumers and the planet.

We as surfers have an impact on where we hand our money. We can make an informed choice. Not everything is as black and white and natural rubber can not be the singular solution over a long time. We need to diversify sustainable choices.

 

 

 

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