Freshwater wetsuits tailored to lake conditions

Lake Wanaka’s annual Ruby Swim has inspired the creation of a new kind of wetsuit.

Designed by Eddie Spearing, of Wanaka, the wetsuits are specifically for use in freshwater lakes and rivers.

Mr Spearing has a background as a mechanical design engineer and also worked in publishing, creating the UK’s first snowboarding magazine before moving to Wanaka.

Krystle  Theunissen, of Wanaka, tries out a new wetsuit inspired by Lake Wanaka.
Krystle Theunissen, of Wanaka, tries out a new wetsuit inspired by Lake Wanaka.
In 2015, Mr Spearing and Jamie Norman launched The Ruby swimming event which takes place each January on Lake Wanaka.

His experience of swimming in the lake led to wondering whether he could improve on wetsuit designs for freshwater lakes.

‘‘I looked at what would be the main attributes for a freshwater suit.’’

He concluded there were three key factors — buoyancy, visibility and warmth.

‘‘I like to swim all year round, and I know a lot of people do.’’

Mr Spearing put all those attributes together and began researching online to see if he could find wetsuits that fitted that criteria.

To his surprise he could not find any examples.

‘‘I couldn’t believe that there wasn’t a suit specifically designed for freshwater use in the way I saw it.’’

‘‘I just saw a niche and thought I could deal to it.’’

Mr Spearing began to investigate potential manufacturers, and in 2017 set up a project on crowdfunding platform PledgeMe to find investors.

‘‘I couldn’t afford to do it without having money up front, so it was a kick-starter campaign.’’

About 65 people ‘‘were prepared to take a punt’’ by pre-ordering wetsuits at a special discount price.

‘‘Without those early adopters I couldn’t have brought the design of my idea into fruition, so they were really, really important.’’

Key to his first phase was to turn his idea into reality by having his wetsuits manufactured.

‘‘The first step in any start-up is don’t try to be perfect, just get it done.’’

He was able to design and manufacture about 120 of his first iteration of the suits using a factory in China.

Next he began working on a new version of the wetsuit, using what he had learned from the first project phase to incorporate feedback to improve design elements.

He also moved production to a factory in Thailand.

‘‘Even though China can do anything it wants and it makes brilliant wetsuits, I do have an issue with other factors in China.’’

Mr Spearing was ‘‘much happier’’ moving to a factory in Thailand ‘‘with a different political setup’’.

Although he was pleased with the changes he had made to the improved wetsuit, the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic began to have an impact.

Out of an order of 250 suits only 30 suits had been delivered to date, with the remaining 220 due in the middle of April.

‘‘My suits, they were supposed to be here for New Zealand’s summer in October/November.’’

Despite that frustration, Mr Spearing is delighted by the response he has received from people who have ordered the wetsuits.

‘‘I get amazing reviews back from people who say it’s easily as good, actually better than suits they’ve been wearing almost their whole lives.’’

simon.henderson@odt.co.nz

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