Posted Oct 02, 2016
A lot of surfers don’t understand what Yamamoto neoprene really is. It does have a ring but why pay a huge premium for this kind of material? Good question. When you look at all the neoprene manufacturers in the world, it definitely follows the 80/20 rule where 20% (the top 2-3) manufacturers make 80% of the neoprene in the world. For the most part what you are getting is CR foam made from foamed rubber chips.
The top neoprene fabric manufacturers are supplying large corporations that are after producing volume count wetsuits making it challenging for smaller businesses to obtain neoprene fabrics. They're really pushing on volume wetsuit business.
Yamamoto takes a different approach in conducting business and instead focuses on developing new neoprene fabrics that give small businesses the edge in their material usage in wetsuits. All of their neoprene is manufactured out of limestone sourced from mountain ranges in Japan. One of the big debates in the wetsuit industry is how eco-friendly this material is. Is this what we’re paying for? You may have read the Patagonia article on why it might not be as eco-friendly, and I’m not here today to justify it one way or another, but to present statements from both sides. You can be the judge of whether or not you buy into it.
Yes, limestone is not a renewable resource but according to Yamamoto, there are over 3000 years of limestone left to manufacture neoprene. So although it is not renewable, it seems that we have enough limestone left for quite some time to produce. We have 118 years of coal left, just to give you some context, that's many Yamamoto Wetsuits we can build for some time.
Patagonia also mentions that limestone based neoprene requires a high temperature (3600 degrees) and this takes a large amount of energy, not all of which is clean. Yamamoto refutes this by saying that most of the energy is contained in their factory and used to grow orchids as well as eels. Every ounce of the thermal energy is put to use. Although Patagonia makes a good point in that it’s probably not fair to claim limestone based neoprene is “green”, there’s also not enough empirical evidence to support that it’s not at least a better alternative to traditional petroleum-based neoprene.
Now let’s look at performance. Yamamoto neoprene boasts 99.7% water impermeability. Compared to traditional neoprene this is a much higher number. This translates in a lighter, warmer wetsuit because it doesn’t soak up water. In addition, because of the uniform / tight cell structure of the neoprene, it doesn’t break down as fast. Ever see your neoprene expose fuzzy yellow moss? Or begin to thin out with puncture wounds? That’s the super high-stretch mass-market neoprene kicking in and breaking down. Yamamoto neoprene does come at a cost, up to 2x the price of mass-market neoprene. It's important that when investing that money into a Yamamoto wetsuit that you also consider getting the best crafted and fitted wetsuit.
Mass-market neoprene isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It makes wetsuits accessible, which is something we strongly believe in. In fact we also make our custom Japanese neoprene wetsuits accessible no matter where you are in the world. Check out our Premium SAFA Collection where you can get a tailored Japanese Yamamoto neoprene wetsuit specifically built to your body. If you want the premium stuff, go Yamamoto. You won’t be disappointed.