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When Bob Meistrell started surfing in the aboriginal 1950s, 20 account was about all he could angle in the frigid littoral amnion a Santa Cruz. Despite the connected blitz of adrenaline, afterwards three or four acceptable waves, the Anatomy Cuff co-founder was hightailing it aback to a dry anhydrate in the amore of his car. With baptize temperatures aerial in the mid-50s, the cream was algid abundant for a swimmer to t hypothermia in an hour.

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This abhorrent absoluteness is in aciculate adverse to accepted depictions of aboriginal American surf-culture, which are all deficient swimsuits and suntanned skin. Bands like the Beach Boys and films like Annette Funicello’s “Beach Blanket Bingo” anchored an angel that revolved about the southern tip of California or the apathetic amnion of Hawaii. In fact, best beaches on the California bank were artlessly too algid for surfers to get their fix, alarming antecedents like Meistrell to alpha tinkering with some artistic solutions.

However, the aboriginal neoprene wetsuit wasn’t developed by a surfer, but by a Berkeley physicist alleged Hugh Bradner, whose contributions are sometimes overlooked. In 1951, Bradner was animate in affiliation with advisers at University of California, Berkeley, and the U.S. Navy to architecture a diving clothing for the aggressive that didn’t charge to ahead baptize advance to accumulate the wearer warm. Hence the name “wetsuit.”

Top: Anatomy Glove’s aboriginal wetsuit admeasurement blueprint acclimated this accurate diagram. Angel address of Anatomy Glove. Above: Diver John Foster wears two of Bradner’s aboriginal neoprene wetsuit prototypes, about 1952. Images address of Scripps Institution of Oceanography Archives, UC San Diego Library.

A adolescent researcher appropriate Bradner try a foamed neoprene absolute fabricated by a aggregation alleged Rubatex. (At the time, extruded neoprene strips were primarily acclimated as a adhesive about gaskets for automobiles and airplanes.) Neoprene was abounding with tiny, compatible air bubbles that helped insulate adjoin the cold, alike afterwards actuality skintight. Defined animate with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography activated Bradner’s aboriginal prototypes, and his best designs activated the thick, foam-rubber absolute with absurd results.

An aboriginal 1950s ad for EDCO’s sub-mariner wetsuit.

Apparently, Bradner adopted his wetsuit analysis to account the U.S. Navy rather than profiting from their production. In a letter anachronous December 8, 1952, Bradner wrote, “I plan to get addition started to authoritative the cream apparel commercially aural the aing ages or two, if all goes well. I do not ahead any accurate difficulty, aback I accurately ambition to abstain any accumulation to myself. I don’t appetite to accommodation my position of aloof appointment on swimmers’ problems.”

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Instead of blame for his own patent, Bradner accustomed the appliance to canyon to the University of California, which alone the activity afterwards free the bazaar for watersport accessories was too limited; in 1952, there were almost few surfers and defined about the world.

True to his word, Bradner formed the Engineering Development Company, or EDCO, with some colleagues in adjustment to accomplish his “Sub-Mariner” suit. As quoted in an ad from Bark Diver magazine, a abbreviate adaptation of the Sub-Mariner awash for $45, which would be about $400 today, while the abounding clothing amount $75. Regardless of price, Bradner’s aggregation couldn’t attempt with brands developed by the absolute athletes who acclimated wetsuits, like surfer Jack O’Neill.

Two defined abrasion frogmen-style drysuits, like those beat by O’Neill during his aboriginal surfing days. Angel address of Scripps Institution of Oceanography Archives, UC San Diego Library.

The aforementioned year that Bradner’s aggregation got started, Jack O’Neill opened the aboriginal cream boutique in his barn a Ocean Beach in San Francisco. As an ardent surfing and diving enthusiast, O’Neill had been testing assorted methods to accumulate balmy while surfing off the Northern California coast. These included assimilation sweaters in kerosene to accomplish them added baptize aggressive and experimenting with elastic drysuits beat by Navy frogmen, or underwater divers. The two-part frogmen apparel were deeply closed at the wrists and ankles to ahead baptize from entering the suit, and beat over connected underwear to breach warm.

O’Neill’s ancient wetsuit ancestor was this belong coated in PVC plastic, about 1953.

“They’d cycle the top and basal calm to allowance about the waist,” explains Brian Kilpatrick, O’Neill’s Director of Business Communications. “You’d be acceptable for bisected an hour afore the allowance would breach and again the cossack would ample up with water, and you’d be advantageous to survive. You can brainstorm how alarming that was: He’d be surfing at Ocean Beach basically in elastic overalls abounding with water. Super scary.”

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Though the drysuit let O’Neill breach in the baptize a bit longer, he accomplished it wasn’t a safe solution. About the aforementioned time that Bradner was administering his abstracts in Berkeley, O’Neill got wind of neoprene from a pharmacist friend, who appropriate it as an insulator. O’Neill activated a attenuate band of PVC artificial bedding to one ancillary in adjustment to strengthen the material, and again hand-cut neoprene panels to the adapted size. Beginning with a swimsuit abrupt and vest, O’Neill complete and activated his aboriginal wetsuit designs himself.

Then in 1956, O’Neill alien the wetsuit to a added audience: At a antic appurtenances barter appearance in San Francisco, he set up a abounding pond pool, and had his kids float about in their feature wetsuits forth with surfboards, inflatable rafts, and big chunks of ice. The orders started rolling in.

Jack O’Neill’s kids floated about in their custom wetsuits at a 1956 barter appearance in San Francisco.

Meanwhile, bottomward in Redondo Beach, Bob Meistrell and his accompanying brother Bill had been experimenting with their own wetsuit designs. Having developed up in landlocked Missouri, the Meistrells were bugged by the ocean, and aboriginal attempted diving in a bounded pond application a vegetable-oil can as a helmet chic up with a bike pump to bear beginning oxygen. In 1944, at age 16, the Meistrell brothers confused to Manhattan Beach, and were assuredly able to analyze the sea as they’d consistently wanted.

Fresh out of aerial school, the boys were drafted to accompany the Korean War accomplishment in 1950, with Bill branch to South Korea and Bob to the Fort Ord abject in Monterey, California. Abounding evenings, afterwards accepting off his shift, Bob would accommodated up with accompany to cream at Pleasure Point a Santa Cruz. In the dim afterglow of his car headlights, Meistrell was appropriately engulfed by the frigid water, at one with the waves. “I surfed there for two years at night by car light,” explains Meistrell, “and with aloof a sweater on, an army-issued absolute sweater.” The blubbery absolute kept Meistrell’s anatomy balmy for a few acceptable rides, but bound blood-soaked through and let in the cold.

After Bill alternate from Korea, the brothers became two of the aboriginal certified SCUBA advisers in the state. But years afterwards they’d collapsed in adulation with the sea, they still couldn’t breach in the algid baptize as connected as they capital to. As luck would accept it, their acquaintance Bev Morgan had been alien to Hugh Bradner while he was accomplishing analysis at Scripps. Morgan created his own wetsuit ancestor based on a architecture Bradner aggregate with him, and connected authoritative them for surfer accompany like the Meistrells.

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Bill and Bob Meistrell affectation in a mid-1950s ad for Dive N’ Surf.

In 1953, Morgan opened the aboriginal Redondo Beach Dive N’ Cream shop, and anon asked the Meistrells to become ally in the business and advice aftermath his wetsuits. “We were aloof acid them out by hand,” says Meistrell of the aboriginal Dive N’ Cream designs, “and we’d sew them up with a cement and again block them calm with a clamp.”

A backward ’50s ad for Dive N’ Surf’s “Body Glove” wetsuits.

But best surfers weren’t awash on the allowances of wetsuits, and abounding connected to adventurous the algid amnion afterwards one. Aboriginal designs generally belted mobility, and their asperous elastic interiors affronted the skin. Additionally, the blubbery neoprene absolute and abridgement of zippers fabricated them actual difficult to put on, so abundant that the Dive N’ Cream aggregation would host contests to see which surfer could get in and out of their wetsuit the fastest.

“Wearing a diving wetsuit aback the baptize was algid wasn’t such a adopted idea, but it aloof didn’t action to us that this allotment of diving accessory would construe to surfing,” says Steve Pezman, a constant surfer who founded The Surfer’s Journal. ”The dive apparel were so gnarly that you’d get these absolutely bad rashes beneath your accoutrements from paddling. They aloof weren’t fabricated for active arm use. You could bathe in them, but mostly diving is about blame with your feet. Aback the added end was affective you while you were surfing, the architecture bare to advance at the top.”

Until that happened, the wetsuit had a bit of stigma absorbed to it. “For a while, they said alone sissies would abrasion those wetsuits,” Meistrell credibility out. Though not for long, as Bill began analytic out a lighter, stretchier material, which took him aback to the address of Rubatex in Bedford, Virginia, to apprentice about their altered elastic articles and assignment with the aggregation to aftermath the best attainable wetsuit fabric.

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The Meistrells adopted the appellation “thermocline” for their wetsuit branding, which describes a area of air or baptize area the temperature changes quickly. But Duke Boyd, whom the brothers assassin as a business consultant, acquainted that “Dive N’ Cream Thermocline Wetsuits” was an bulky name for hip, new cream gear. According to Bob Meistrell, Boyd asked them, “What makes your apparel bigger than anyone else?” And the brothers replied, “They fit like a glove.” A few canicule later, Boyd alternate to their boutique with a accomplished adaptation of their classic, annular duke logo labeled “The Anatomy Glove.”

By the 1960s, surfers were accustomed with the wetsuit-clad Anatomy Cuff cream team.

The brothers went on to aftermath their wetsuits for anyone who bare them: Able divers, aggressive personnel, blur actors, and alike a few animals. “That’s how far assembly companies get agitated abroad with their stories,” says Meistrell. “They were afraid if Lassie went in the baptize and wasn’t able to bathe that a wetsuit would advice Lassie float. So we concluded up authoritative one, and it included a blanket of fur on the top, so that he didn’t attending any bigger aback he got wet.”

Since those aboriginal days, both Anatomy Cuff and O’Neill accept connected to advance their wetsuit designs, but the axial abstraction has remained unchanged. By 1966, aback the ultimate cream film, “The Endless Summer,” was released, watersports enthusiasts had a array of apparel to accept from, and no best bare to expedition above the apple to abstain colder waters. Surfing took off, in absoluteness and the accepted imagination, growing into a able action and all-embracing pastime.

“I don’t anticipate Jack anytime foresaw this acceptable an industry, the cream industry,” reflects O’Neill’s arranger Kilpatrick. “When you allocution about the industry, about him actuality a agent and an administrator or any of that stuff, he aloof action and says, ‘I’m a surfer.’” Last year, O’Neill Wetsuits acclaimed its 60th anniversary, and Anatomy Cuff is currently accomplishing the same.

“I bethink actuality a little kid,” continues Kilpatrick, “and my aboriginal wetsuit was a aholic tail, aloof the jacket. Trying to accomplish it through winter with aloof a anorak with no shorts was a nightmare.” Kilpatrick, who lives in Santa Cruz, says that he never surfs afterwards a wetsuit today. “I can’t accept how far we’ve come. All these accessory adjustments and improvements on material, durability, entries and exits, and alike your knee pads, your wrist seals, all this fine-tuning of these minute capacity absolutely improves the user acquaintance and makes your affair that abundant added fun.”

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O’Neill and addition surfer authenticate the immense account of wetsuits by adequate account the cardboard at sea.

Not alone did wetsuits advance the acquaintance for acclimatized surfers, but they fabricated the action added attainable for millions of bodies who ability never accept approved it. “When surfboards went from redwood planks to fiberglass and balsa forms in the 1940s, that was the aboriginal breakthrough,” explains Pezman, “because the surfboard became user-friendly, lighter, added durable, and added available. Again the aing big accord was the wetsuit, because it accustomed year-round surfing. Today, there’s no abode that’s off banned due to baptize temperature. In the northeast, they cream in the snow. They cream in Iceland, they’ve surfed in Antarctica, so it’s apparently quadrupled the bank that’s acceptable for waves, and some of the world’s best after-effects are on those colder coastlines. So it’s had a huge, abstruse aftereffect on the action of surfing.”

“The wetsuit afflicted watersports in a huge way,” agrees Bev Morgan, the aboriginal Dive N’ Cream founder. “A being could be adequate in abundant colder water, so the division broadcast to become year-round, for all watersports. The closed-cell accommodation aural the absolute additionally fabricated the user buoyant, which additionally fabricated watersports safer.”

Bob Meistrell additionally stresses the wetsuit’s life-saving capability, a account that goes far above the concrete abundance they accommodate for defined and surfers. He’s heard endless belief of the lives they adored afterwards addition was abandoned or agape benumbed while in abysmal water. “A activity anorak will accumulate you afloat until they acquisition your body,” says Meistrell, “but a wetsuit will accumulate you afloat until they acquisition you alive.”

Australian surfer Simon Anderson cutting a circumscribed wetsuit during the 1980s.

(Special acknowledgment to the Scripps Institution of Oceanography Archives, UC San Diego Library.)

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