Billabong V1 CZ Inflatable Spring Wetsuit
Shane Dorian and Billabong innovate with self-inflating big wave survival wetsuit.
IRVINE, CALIFORNIA - After a near-drowning incident in 2010, big wave legend Shane Dorian wondered if he would ever be able to face 50-foot-plus waves again. But today Dorian is back out in the largest surf he can find, thanks to greater peace of mind provided by his new invention. Working together with Billabong Wetsuits and Mustang Survival Corporation, Dorian created the first wetsuit with a built-in instantly inflatable air bladder. With a quick tug on a ripcord, the wetsuit quickly lifts the wearer from deep underwater to the surface.
The revolutionary suit has been dubbed the “Billabong V1” with the V standing for Vertical ascent and the 1 indicating positive altitude, or one foot above sea level.
Dorian, from Kona, Hawaii, is widely regarded as the best big wave surfer in the world today, having paddled into a half dozen of the most amazing waves ever ridden in the last 18 months alone. But it was one of the waves he wiped out on which made the biggest impression on the 38-year-old father of two.
The disastrous ride happened during Dorian’s first trip to Maverick’s, the notorious cold-water break south of San Francisco, California during February 2010.
“I took off on the wrong wave and had a horrible wipeout,” recalled Dorian. “The wipeout was terrible, I got held under for two waves, I almost drowned. After that I had an idea to incorporate an air bladder, something like the airplane vests where you pull the tab and it inflates immediately with a CO2 cartridge.”
Dorian wrote an email to Hub Hubbard, the wetsuit product manager at Billabong USA, describing the idea, and the project was underway.
Hubbard’s research quickly lead to Mustang Survival Corporation, a well-known manufacturer of dry suits, flotation systems and other marine lifesaving gear. While most of Mustang’s products are designed for use at the surface, they had experience in creating heavy duty polyurethane bladders for the US Military and fabricated a new bladder system for Billabong.
The design evolved over time. “Their initial thought, as was mine, was to position the bladder on the chest of the suit so once the wearer surfaced it would help them to be face-up,” said Hubbard. “Not so, as Shane pointed out, because once you have surfaced you still need to be able to paddle your surfboard. So logically we decided it should go on the back, which still keeps the wearer face-up while inflated.”
With the Mustang bladders in hand, Hubbard worked with Barbara Mau at Express Wetsuit repair to develop a prototype.
“The design of the suit is pretty simple actually,” said Hubbard. “We added a large zippered pocket on the back of the suit to contain the bladder, which is attached to an inflator and CO2 cartridge which are ‘docked’ between your shoulder blades so you don’t even notice it. A pull cord runs over the shoulder to a handle on the upper chest…you just pull it like a parachute and up you go.”
Dorian tested various prototypes in calm water and in small surf and with refinement the Billabong V1 suit precisely fulfilled his vision for greater safety, bringing back the confidence to push the limits in larger and larger waves.
“The first time I used it was at Cortes Bank this winter, 100 miles off the Southern California coast,” recalled Dorian. “The waves were super big and I paddled into a really big wave and had a bad wipeout, got pushed under super far and I thought ‘this is the perfect time to test this thing.’ I pulled my cord and I went from nearly panicking to being totally relaxed. I didn’t swim, I just let the thing bring me up.”
CAUTION- READ BEFORE USE
THIS PRODUCT IS NOT A U.S. COAST GUARD APPROVED PERSONAL FLOTATION DEVICE AND THEREFORE IS NOT APPROVED BY THE U.S. COAST GUARD OR ANY OTHER AGENCY AS LIFE SAVING EQUIPMENT.
THIS PRODUCT IS DESIGNED FOR USE BY EXPERIENCED SURFERS ONLY. IT SHOULD BE USED ONLY IN CONDITIONS WHERE ADEQUATE SUPERVISION ENSURES CONSTANT MONITORING OF THE WEARER, AND WHERE PICK-UP BOATS ARE BEING USED.
THIS PRODUCT DOES NOT HAVE STATED OR IMPLIED WARRANTIES CONCERNING ITS BOUYANCY OR PERFORMANCE. THE BOUYANCY DISTRIBUTION IS NOT SUFFICIENT TO FLOAT A PERSON FACE-UP IN THE WATER. THIS PRODUCT SHOULD NOT BE USED BY NON-SWIMMERS AND WILL NOT PROTECT WEARERS FROM DROWNING OR INJURY.
THIS PRODUCT COMPRISES SEVERAL PARTS THAT NEED TO BE REGULARLY MAINTAINED AND CHECKED THAT ALL PARTS REMAIN OPERATIONAL. THE SMALL CO2 BOTTLES ARE ONE USE ONLY. LIKE ANY MAN MADE PRODUCT, IT IS NOT FAIL-SAFE.
WEARERS USE AT THEIR OWN RISK. IF THE WEARER IS UNCONSCIOUS, THIS DEVICE IS NOT DESIGNED TO KEEP THE MOUTH AND NOSE OF THE WEARER ABOVE WATER.