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History of the Wetsuit

History of the WetsuitSome believe the modern surfing wetsuit is an Australian invention, but in reality it is hard to say who exactly invented the original wetsuit. There were a few people working on different wetsuit designs during the 1950s, but nobody patented the wetsuit. The first written proof shows that American physicist Hugh Bradner embarked on creating a product that would protect US Navy divers from hypothermia. In a letter dated 1951, Bradner wrote that “suits do not need to be watertight if thermal insulation is obtained by air entrapped in the material of the suit. The diver does not have to be dry to stay warm.” The wetsuit was born. In the meantime, American surfer and salesman Jack O’Neill produced his own neoprene wetsuit for the purpose of water sports. And the Frenchman Georges Beuchat designed the first isothermal wetsuit in 1953.

Improvements in design

The first type of wetsuit was made from sponge rubber and also untreated strips of foam called neoprene (which is still used in wetsuits today). Surfers used talcum powder on their bodies to prevent a rash, as there was no inner lining for wetsuits yet. These old wetsuits were poor quality and not very durable. The later use of glue and heat-sealed tape made the wetsuit’s seams stiff and uncomfortable. Eventually wetsuits became lined with nylon to make them softer to the skin, but it also decreased the flexibility of the wetsuit. It took another 20 years or so for a solution was found: double- backed neoprene, sewed together. But the sewing resulted in punched holes and the sea water flushed through the seams of the wetsuit. To avoid this, the seams became the focus of development and resulted in better techniques in seam binding, including seam taping and seam gluing.

Dry suits

There was also a need for a suit for colder conditions, where even a wetsuit doesn’t give enough thermal protection. So the ‘dry suit’ was developed, which as the name suggests, keeps the body completely dry and can be used even in extremely cold waters.

Modern wetsuits

Today’s wetsuits are very advanced compared to the first wetsuits of the 50s. With the invention of spandex (mainly Lycra), thermoplastic materials, moulded rubber and even the use of titanium for insulation, wetsuits have vastly improved. Seals and seams are also more secure, with computer-based precision cutting guaranteeing the quality and leaving little room for manufacturing errors in wetsuits.

Rash vests

Non-zip wetsuits called ‘dive skins” or ‘rash vests” were invented in 1989 by Body Glove. Rash vests are used when diving and swimming in warmer waters and are the ultimate protection against jellyfish stings, sunburn and abrasion. Rashies can also be worn under a wetsuit to prevent irritation caused by neoprene.

Click here to find out more about rash vests!


Did you know there are over 10 different types of wetsuits? There are surfing wetsuits, scuba diving wetsuits, spearfishing wetsuits and just about any type of watersport you can think of. Have a read of our Wetsuit FAQ for more information and frequently asked questions about wetsuits.

History of Swimwear - History of the Rash Vest