There’s been a lot of chatter about inflatable safety vests in the big wave line up as of late. On one hand, it’s an obvious responsible decision for an experienced deep water surfer to utilize every measure of safety tech available. On the other, the vests seem to create a false sense of security for non-experienced riders which puts the whole line up at risk in waves of consequence. While one can buy an entry level inflatable vest online for a few hundred dollars, professional vests have not previously been available to the general public. Quiksilver and Patagonia have offered them to a select few high profile big wave surfers for R&D.
“Big wave riders all over the world are pushing the limits of what’s possible – surfing the biggest waves in the most powerful surf the oceans can offer. The PSI Vest has already played a huge role in giving surfers the confidence to take the sport of big wave surfing to the next level.” said Jason McCaffrey, Patagonia’s Director of Surf. “We invested heavily in testing and refining the PSI Vest, and sought feedback from hundreds of the best surfers in the world, in order to bring to market the best product possible.”
Last month, Patagonia announced that it will begin selling its professional-level Personal Surf Inflation (PSI ) vest to the public, but only to surfers who meet certain qualifications and in-store training. Qualifications like attending the Big Wave Safety Summit in Oahu. The organization who hosts the event, the Big Wave Risk Assessment Group, was formed by Kohl Christensen and Danilo Couto in the wake of the death of fellow North Shore resident and big wave surfer Sion Milosky at Mavericks. The two day workshop at Turtle Bay includes high surf risk management, open ocean first responder training, case scenario analysis, on-water training and demonstrations of safety products, apnea training, and CPR and AED certification.
Sounds great- right? Not so fast. In the same paragraph of the press release, Patagonia states it “will also share this groundbreaking technology with other manufacturers in exchange for licensing fees that Patagonia will donate to help save Punta de Lobos, an iconic and endangered Chilean surf break.” Wait- what? Patagonia will closely regulate who receives their vests, but anyone who pays a licensing fee can do whatever they please. Sounds like Patagonia is limiting their exposure to litigation in a potentially life-threatening sport – all wrapped up in a little feel-good, save the waves spin.
In a recent interview with GrindTV, McCaffrey said “I think the way we’re doing it is the highest road we can take without being exclusionary. Because what if someone wants to really surf big waves and something happens? I wouldn’t want to have that on my shoulders either.” It will be interesting to see if licensees follow Patagonia’s lead.
You can read the press release at PatigoniaWorks.com.