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Meet a man who designs wetsuits for a living

Hub Hubbard knows neoprene & the future
Hub Hubbard © Patagonia





The Surfersvillage Interview

Hub Hubbard knows neoprene & the future

Surfersvillage Global Surf News, 31 August, 2014 - Each week Surfersvillage takes a look at ithe broad range of people involved in surfing. From freesurfers to industry execs to the designers who create and shape your equipement. We also drop in on a few culture icons as well. Welcome to the Surfersvillage Interview...

Wetsuits. Most of us wear them. We know enough to tell if one works better than another. But who designs them? We’d like to think it’s some guy in a white lab coat with a Swiss accent and a flurry of assistants. But most in most cases it’s just some bro sweating it out in an industrial park in suburban California.

Hub Hubbard has had a hand in several incarnations of the modern wetsuit. He’s worked with Billabong and most recently has been the driving force behind Patagonia’s Yulex wetsuit line. 

In his deadpan bro-surf-clerk accent Hub walked us through a few of the ups and downs in regards to modern wetuit design...

There seem to be two schools of wetsuit history: Jack O’Neill or the Meistrell brothers. In your opinion who was first to design a surfing wetsuit?  

{HUB} From what I can tell, both, or all rather, were pioneering the wetsuit around the same time in the early ‘50s. However, what is not widely known is that a physicist from U.C. Berkley named Hugh Bradner apparently created the first neoprene wetsuit in 1952.  However, I believe all deserve equal credit for revolutionizing cold-water surfing.  

How would you describe what you do for work to a very small, inattentive child? 

{HUB} You mean like I do to my kids? Daddy makes wetsuits for surfing, now turn off the tv!

How did you get started designing wetsuits? I mean, it’s not like you can major in it at college.

{HUB} I don’t really consider myself a designer, but do believe I have an innate sense for product. I’m kinda more of a cross-breed mutt; a product manager type. I got a huge break in life when Mark Machado offered me a job. If you remember he was the one who brought us the first (patented) zipperless wetsuit in the late 90’s and I guess he saw something in me and brought me under his wing in ‘98. 

Hub Hubbard © Patagonia / Eduaro “Lalo” Mendoza / Punta Escondida Surf Resort


What was it like working on that first generation of zipperless wetsuits?

That was really cool because at the time it was the first functional wetsuit sans zipper and he actually won an IDEA award for it from the Industrial Design Society of America. I was helping out with accessories, snow and wetsuits and that eventually led to a singular focus on wetsuits. Mark, along with another big influence in my life, Terry Strumpf, really mentored me and really changed the course of my life. For that I am forever grateful. 

Share with us something that the average surfer is totally unaware of when it comes to wetsuit design and production.
{HUB} One thing is probably just how long it takes to develop and produce a wetsuit. Especially at Patagonia where every raw material and product is under intense scrutiny throughout the whole development and production process. I joke sometimes it’s like that old schoolhouse rock cartoon where the Bill is trying to become a law. It’s pretty intense! There are so many little things that can go wrong with a wetsuit, like you move a seam slightly, or change a material and it totally alters the fit and functionality. It’s so important to have a collaborative team.  

What is that you do professionally that you are most proud of?

{HUB} There are so many, but most recently, the Yulex wetsuit. I was involved with the folks at Yulex in the early days of this project when they were just starting to explore turning this material into an alternative to neoprene. They were seeking a true partner to share in the development of the material, and that’s where Patagonia stands alone; they do actually invest in innovation and not just put a fancy spin on something selected out of a supplier’s showroom. Even though the Yulex material was finished right about the time I started at Patagonia, it makes me extremely proud to be a part of that team that brought this to fruition.

I was so stoked to be able to use one of the very first Yulex suits produced. Now I get to work with the Yulex crew again and help figure out the next steps. I still get warm and fuzzy when I see people out in the water using a product I’ve worked on. That makes me happy. I always like to reach out for feedback too, what they like or dislike. You get the most honest criticisms that way.  

Hub Hubbard © Patagonia / Eduaro “Lalo” Mendoza / Punta Escondida Surf Resort


Tell us what has been your biggest mistake?

{HUB} Getting too excited about something before it’s baked. You can easily kill or delay a project by putting it out for testing before it is ready, and at the same time make yourself look like a fool. I’ve been a fool many times. 

What did you learn from that mistake?

{HUB} You have to really learn to be patient with new developments and rely on the safety net of your core team. Everyone needs to be in agreement before you put a new product out there for evaluation. 

If you weren’t doing this, what would you be designing?

{HUB} I really have no definitive answer to this question. Without some very special people in my life I could’ve been on a completely different path. I think it boils down to following your passion in life and learning to recognize opportunities when they arise. I’d like to think it would be something involving surfing, but could easily be designing cocktails behind a bar.

OK, you get to drop into five moments in history – surf or otherwise. Please name them and why.

{HUB} Marley! If I could only pick one act to see, living or dead, it would definitely be Bob Marley. 

It would be great to drop into the north shore in the 70’s. Seems like that was an incredible time to be there when you talk to anyone who was there. Actually the late 60’s and early 70’s in general just for the music- Hendrix, Janis, The (early) Dead, Dylan, Led Zeppelin and on and on.

Sorry to keep reverting back to music, but I’m bummed I never took the opportunity to see Nirvana, Blind Melon or Sublime. Does that count as one or three??

I would really like to meet my dad when he was younger. To get to know the part of him I never did, which might shed some light on who I am. 

Can I please just go back to Mexico last week?? 

Bryan Dickerson

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