Do you know what wetsuits are made of?
Of course you do. They’re rubber — neoprene, spandex and some nylon. We don’t give it much thought, especially when we’re zipping up and tugging on our boots for a bombing winter swell. But, aside from a few companies that are working with limestone-based rubber, they’re all petroleum-based.
Just like most surfboards, surfing’s most important gear is more non-biodegradable stuff that will take up room in our landfills. That’s where Süga comes in.
They take those recycled wetsuits and turn them into something surfers use (or should be using) — yoga mats. And they do it right in the U.S.
“We didn't set out to make some Frankenstein up-cycled product,” says Brian Shields, Founder and CEO of Süga, in an interview. “Since we were starting from scratch, we wanted to improve on existing mats' problems using the unusual characteristics of the source material neoprene, all while closing the product loop completely.”
Shields took an interesting road to this point in life. Originally a Whistler quasi-pro snowboarder, he worked in sustainable development after college before moving to San Diego for law school and surfing. He’s into tow-in surfing, surfboard shaping, skydiving and wingsuit BASE jumping.
“I got sick of the bureaucratic and political headwinds in environmental law and sought to find a way to recycle all the wetsuits sitting in my garage,” said Shields in an interview. “Having practiced yoga since snowboard injury days in 1998, a yoga mat seemed like a natural fusion, especially living here in Encinitas, CA.”He considers Encinitas an important junction of surfing and yoga, which is something of an understatement. Here, if your car doesn’t have some San Diego garage-shaped board or a yoga mat in it, you are considered alien.
“If corporations are afforded personhood by law, we believe they should be held to the same ethical standards as humans. To that end, corporations should take responsibility for their products from cradle to grave,” Shields explains on the company’s website.
Now, as far as “performance” goes, yoga mats are obviously more basic than, say, wetsuits. It’s hard to imagine a yoga mat that doesn’t “work.” You pretty much unroll it and lay it down. If it gives a little more cushion than tile flooring, it works just fine. But the material gives it better traction, especially when it’s covered in sweat.
“Neoprene is naturally closed-cell, so it doesn't sponge up dirt, dust and bacteria like conventional open cell mats. Finally, we made sure the product could be recycled back into more mats at the end of its useful life; this allows us to create the SugaMat C2G,” explains Shields.
“It’s a cradle to grave cycle. A customer pays a slightly higher price point and they get a mat for life. If anything happens to it, they can return it to us and get a brand new mat, no questions asked.”
That’s certainly one way to stay flexible for surfing, not to mention a way to keep that stack of old wetsuits out of the waste stream.
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