A year later, the idea, an instantly inflatable wetsuit for big-wave surfers, is now reality and in its prototype stage, said Hub Hubbard, wetsuit product manager at Billabong USA in Irvine, Calif. He has created six of the wetsuits so far.
The concept is simple. Using wetsuit material, Hubbard creates a zippered pouch that he sews onto the back of the wetsuit between the shoulder blades. A palm-sized carbon-dioxide cartridge screws into a durable bladder. The whole thing fits into the pouch.
A cord then hangs over the surfer's shoulder. Pulling it releases compressed air, filling up the bladder instantly. Deflated, the bladder looks like a small lump on the back of the wetsuit. Blown up, it's about the size of a surfer's head.
"If you get in trouble, you pull the cord just like a parachute," Hubbard said. "It's the same thing on instantly inflatable lifeboats, jackets that you get on airplanes, and paintball guns."
The bladders, which were created by the Mustang Survival Corporation for use by the United States military, are reusable for up to five years, Hubbard said. Cartridges are single-use, but they screw on and off, making them easy to replace on a boat between wave sets.